"If you want a slice of the cycling scene over here ... Golden Saddle is the spot," Taylor Phinney texts me as a good place to meet.
The Loz Feliz neighborhood bike shop is esoteric to its core, equipped with amazing cycling visuals and the same genuine characters you would expect at your own local bike shop.
Fresh from a tune-up, Phinney's beautiful BMC cross bike awaits outside in the warm afternoon air, and the Olympian is eager to ride.
"One of the things I will always look forward to in my career is the Olympics. I think about Rio every time I get on my bike," Phinney tells me.
The cycling protégé is taking a different approach to his offseason work this year, with fewer races at the beginning of the season and more concentrated training in the United States.
"I love being in America and being in communities that have the rich cycling culture...even if it's not bike racing culture," Phinney adds.
The 25-year-old rider for BMC is certainly enjoying his new digs in Los Angeles. No doubt the young man is training like mad, but La La Land has the eccentric sort of stimulation his evolving interests crave.
What might seem like an odd choice of a winter training venue for a cycling professional, L.A. is actually the perfect locale for a young pro looking for a change of pace from his familiar Boulder surroundings. Set to spend some of his formative young adult years exploring new territory, Phinney has naturally found a place among the stars in the Hollywood hills.
"Everyone goes someplace warm in the winter to train whether it's the South of Spain or Maui, but it's been 75 degrees here the last few days," Phinney says, noting that warmth is good for morale. "I love racing in the cold but training in the cold doesn't work great."
BMC has shown great trust in its colorful young rider by allowing him the freedom to craft his training and race programs for the year. But since signing Phinney to his first World Tour contract five years ago, the team trusts its rider.
And the feeling is mutual. Following Phinney's crash at the 2014 USA Cycling Championships that resulted in a broken lower left leg, Phinney was never concerned about BMC dropping him from the team. Then again, with Phinney's pedigree and profile, it's unlikely BMC would have released him anyway.
But now two years after meeting and surpassing a pain threshold from that harrowing compound fracture, the young Phinney is more ready than ever to prove his pedigree hasn't been wasted. With the spring classics blooming, he is showing extraordinary form on the bike, a maturing approach to weight management and an undeniable confidence that bodes well for the season.
Q&A with Taylor Phinney
Ryan: So your schedule is coming into focus now....I know you have forgone some of the middle eastern races to stay in California and train.
Taylor: The goal of the early season is still the same with the big races Flanders and Roubaix but because I was only able to do one version of a classic last year (The World Championships in Richmond) and how my leg responded to it, it was tough on my knee and tough on the body and I wanted to continue to focus on my rehab. The stuff I was doing in the gym and continue to focus on my strength on the bike throughout the winter and not have to focus on the races that I find unnecessary...i'm fine with not racing until the end of February a lot of riders start their race season in early February and even as early as January to be ready for April.
Ryan: Do you feel any different about Flanders than you had in the past? Do you feel stronger as a climber and prepared to tackle Flanders?
Taylor: I definitely have struggled in Flanders type races in the past and was always good at them but I wasn't as great as I wanted to be and Paris-Roubaix, because it is flat; is strongly suited to my style. But since coming back from the injury my body type has changed as well as my mentality when it comes to climbing. Flanders is really just an intense, short effort. With the cobblestones and coping with the mental aspect of bouncing around and suffering, I do look at Flanders and am less frightened by it and if anything I look forward to stepping up to races in the Ardennes and doing Liege and arriving at the point of being able to climb...(laughs) but i'll think of that in a couple of years!
Ryan: You're 25 now and entering your physical prime. Do you considered the races you can win, the masterpieces in a sense that you can make?
Taylor: Yeah, I mean I don't really have a plan written out. One of the things I will always look forward to in my career is the Olympics. I think about Rio every time I get on my bike. Beyond that the cycling calendar is the same every year and every year I like to go into the season with fresh ambitions. This year I am working on a different approach with less racing at the start of the year, more concentrated training with that training occurring in the US. I love being in America and being in communities that have the rich cycling culture...even if it's not bike racing culture.
Ryan: A good physio works wonders as does access to great food, a masseuse. Have you found a good physio that you're working with?
Taylor: I found this lady in Pasadena, her name is Julie Vanarelli and she is probably the best physio therapist that I've seen in my whole recovery. She can tackle all the knocks in my body and she's good enough to where I don't need a standard massage therapist and standard chiropractor. I can just see her. She is very focused with body work and manual manipulation and she's finding her stride. I would have to be in Belgium to have access to that level of care and I'm not trying to live in Belgium year round (laughs)
Ryan: So I understand there is an over 1km climb on the Olympic Course?
Taylor: There is a long climb in the road course and there are a couple of climbs in the time trial course...I think almost 2km. There are two laps and two fairly hard climbs on each lap from what I understand. They are short but pretty hard.
Ryan: And you haven't previewed it?
Taylor: No. I will just see it when I go down there. It's a looong way to Brazil.
Ryan: Looking at it on paper you think it's possible to podium?
Taylor: Yes. The best hour-long time trial I have ever done was in Valkenberg at the 2012 World Championships when I got second to Tony Martin and that was a super hilly course that featured a very solid, steep 1km climb though the whole course was up and down. That was before I could mentally grasp climbing. I guess I've always had a handle on climbing it's just when other people are involved.
I like to go my speed, which is why I like time trials. But now as I've gotten a little bit lighter and become more comfortable on climbs, I'm more excited that Rio is hilly than the flat time trials that were featured in London in 2012 and Richmond. Rolling courses suit me as I can go way over my threshold but I need a tiny bit of rest and I can maintain that for a really long time but i'm not a diesel type of rider, keeping one speed the entire distance. That relates to my success on the track where I can benefit from a little bit of rest that comes in the bend. I always looked forward to that little bit of rest that comes in the corners. Some guys always held the same speed but my wattage was like this (gesturing up and down with his hand)
Ryan: Getting back to Los Angeles. I know you keyed on the weather earlier...would it be a shock to have to travel to Belgium immediately?!
Taylor: Everyone goes someplace warm in the winter to train whether it's the South of Spain or Maui but it's been 75 degrees here the last few days. It's good for morale. I love racing in the cold but training in the cold doesn't work great. You're stopping, you're sweating, you get cold, you gotta get warm again.
Ryan: Does training in cold weather also affect weight loss? Do you think your body would be more susceptible to holding onto weight rather than being in a warmer place?
Taylor: For sure. When you are sweating more and intaking water, you're likely to stay lean. Being a Colorado boy, I bulk up in the winter because thats what happens when it's cold but cycling's progression into a year round sport demands that you have to be skinny all of the time. I do like being here because I don't get winter hunger.
Ryan: So if you're training road intensities, what are your climbs around here that you enjoy?
Taylor: I've been going up Highway 2, The Angeles Crest Highway into the Angeles Forrest to Mt. Wilson and it's a 30km climb. You don't find 30km climbs in a lot of places and here I am close to a place where I can do an hour and a half threshold climb just outside of Pasadena. If you continue past that there are a not of other bikes or cars for that matter to be found. You can escape the buzz of the city. I also like all of the climbs I can access off of Mulholland Drive. You can drop down into the Valley, back down in to look at the homes in Bel Air and Beverly Hills...there are 8 or 9 different canyons you can ride and they all have somewhat of a shoulder.
Ryan: Do you feel safe riding here in L.A.?
Taylor: I lived in outside of Florence in Italy and although, you are on great roads; there is a lot of traffic and it feels more dangerous than riding in L.A. People can be aggressive but they are not used to seeing bikes on the road...they seem timid. Drivers in Italy are used to seeing bikes so they just boost by you whereas in LA they take their time.
Ryan: So where are you getting your time trial training? I would assume for that you would ideally seek something long, flat and straight.
Taylor: Here I go to the Rose Bowl where there is a circuit of maybe 7 minutes when I am doing a solid time trial effort. It takes me 35 minutes to ride there and I do laps. No stop signs. Tons of people walking and exercising and me...doing time trial efforts.
Ryan: What have you been doing with your free time in L.A.?
Taylor: I love just trying to explore the City. A week ago I took some friends visiting up to Mulholland and showed them the views I see on my bike that a lot of locals have never seen. I like to visit the Westside. I have friends in Venice but I enjoy the vibe and feel more at home here on the Eastside.The first couple of years I came to LA I stayed on the Westside so I could go ride the Malibu Canyons but the single way in and out made it a bit difficult. It's also an hour to get to the roads that turn up. In this area, I have a few different directions to hit right out of the gate. I ride through Pasadena on the way to the Verdugo Mountains and La Tuna Canyon. You could also boost over to Burbank and get into the Angeles forrest from another entrance to the North. (Big Tajunga Canyon Road) Or you can hit Mulholland and take that until it turns to dirt....you kind of have it all.
Ryan: What galleries do you like here?
Taylor: I haven't gone to any galleries yet.
Taylor: Yeah man...I've been training. But I do want to see the Rain Room exhibit at LACMA and i'm pissed because I missed the James Turrell Breathing Light exposition (also at LACMA which is designed to entirely eliminate the viewers depth perception) Once I arrived in LA I just started training. That's partly why I want to get a spot here so that when I actually have time to chill I can go do things...when i'm not training i'm doing stuff like this. (Laughs but couldn't have been cooler with the amount of time he gave for the interview)
Ryan: Your seriousness in making art only came about in the past couple of years?
Taylor: Yeah, just over a year ago.
Ryan: Did you ever know you had that sort of ability in you?
Taylor: I used to draw a ton when I was a kid and my mom kept all of these drawings that I would make because they were super weird. They had all of these weird southwestern motifs and even similarities to (Jean-Michel) Basquiat drawings. I had a Basquiat kids book. My favorite artist. His work had a child like quality. He was from New York and died when he was 27 he died in 1988 but he was part of the Andy Warhol, Keith Haring (The Factory) art boom in the 80s.
Ryan: What does a Basquiat kids book look like?!
Taylor: It had his paintings, drawings along with Maya Angelou poems. He had a very childlike way of drawing and painting and worked in such large scales and some of his writings were in there. So...my mom found all of these drawings she had kept and was showing them to me after the injury and at the same time I had this girl who is a really close friend of mine, her name is Sophia; she is an artist but she had not been into it for a couple of years, but she was a really talented artist that was pushed out of wanting to be an artist because she was SO talented and a lot of people expected a lot from her. It sucked the creative life out of it with people wanting commissioned work as well as trying to attend art school where all she was being told was how to paint. She didn't think that's what art was, and I agree. I feel I got her back into painting and she introduced me to painting. That and my mom showing me all that weird stuff I had made when I was younger. Once I realized you didn't have to know anything about art or painting to do it I was like, "Sick! I'll get into this." You're just playing with colors. Making colors and then you play with how the colors interact with each other and placing different weird figures in there.
Ryan: So you don't necessarily have a plan when you start? You're improvising like a jazz player?
Taylor: No, I've never been able to start a work of art saying, "here's what I want to make" and then actually make it.
Ryan: What contemporary artist do you admire currently?
Taylor: There's this Norwegian dude I can't think of his name but he does this show called 'acid bunny party' or something. Very intense colors. Just weird stuff. I'm into weird things. One of my favorite artists who is not alive anymore is Egon Schiele, (Austrian Impressionist) who painted a lot of intense, weirdly colored works. I love the way he made his hands. The fingers are very long and profound and it had an airiness about it. Kind of hard edges but very evocative. I'm interested in the point in history where artists started to experiment with weird art when it wasn't a thing. People would judge a piece by saying, "that's not art" and now all we know is abstract stuff. Before if you could paint a person or a scene...you were an artist and you're an artist if you can capture this weird essence, this sort of...4th dimensional undertone of what's happening or if you're just putting something out there and having other people interpret it.
Ryan: Do you see parallels between improvisation in painting to bike racing?
Taylor: Yeah I definitely see a parallel in the way I like to approach my life with painting. I feel it's completely improvised. I love not having a plan for anything...ever. (laughs) I like to wake up in the morning...and my ideal day would be nothing going on. That does not mean i'm going to sit on the couch and watch tv all day but just go out and do whatever whether thats a bike ride or try someplace new to eat or check a museum. I had a Halloween party I planned at four in the afternoon day of and it was a raging party. For me that's the best way to do it.
Ryan: The last time we met, I was telling you about researching for our meet by watching youtube clips and somehow stumbled across the 1995 Liège-Bastogne-Liège and you knew (Michele) Bartoli was in the final group and you were mimicking his riding style. You're kind of a historian of the sport right?
Taylor: Yeah, I think I am getting more and more into the history as I go along. Cycling is a sport with with such rich and cool history and really intense and personable characters. I respect a guy like Bartoli. I've hung out with him a few times. He lives close to where I used to live near Florence. He was a stylish rider in that same class and era as Pantani which I think are the last time we saw riders with the same spirit of style as previous icons in the sport. I feel like the sport has separated itself from that history in the past 15-20 years and I think technology has a lot to do with that. Now it's about the tightest, most aerodynamic clothing, the most aerodynamic helmets. The bikes. The wheels. It takes away from what the sport originally was...just all of these crazy dudes basically loading up on amphetamines and going out and racing! But there was such an aspect of style to the sport. You can look at all these pictures of (Fausto) Coppi and he was wearing this little watch with a leather strap and these cool, busted up gloves and they were just flying! They were style icons. Nobody at the top of the sport now can be considered a style icon. Because you can't be by wearing these heavily branded, crazy colors....there is no room left for personal expression. I feel like we've been missing this from the sport.
Ryan: Maybe it's because of a fear of criticism that a rider might feel would be heaped upon them from their teams or the media?
Taylor: Yeah, I feel like Team Sky dampened the style of the sport. They have sweet outfits but are so numbers oriented, so robotic and now all of the other teams, even my own; wants to emulate Sky. I love sports science and seeing the sport progressing but it's like...we are not robots and we can't be treated in a way where it's overtly numbers based because it's such a mental sport. It's all about pain and suffering and you can do quantitive analysis all you want but at the end of the day if you don't have it your head then you won't be able to do it. There's a soulful, hard aspect to cycling and it hasn't changed in 100 years.
Ryan: There is a common thread I've seen visually in the photos of Coppi, Anquetil, Merckx, Hinnault and it's in the eyes.
Taylor: Absolutely. I think Wiggins is in that mold as well. I definitely looked up to him and still do a lot because he's different and he's weird and not afraid of being himself. He's also into the history of the sport although he's quiet about it. It's important to stay in touch with the history of the sport. It's been an aspect that I may have taken for granted before the injury and now i'm rediscovering why I love racing my bike because i'm like..."you know, this is really a cool sport." It was just something I got into at 15. And what do you know about life when you're 15? I turned professional at when I was 20....what do you know about life when you're 20? Nothing.
Granted, I'm 25 now and not like I still know anything more about life but to think you would have made a lot of different decisions between the ages of 15 and 25...it's weird to still be in this thing that has been part of my life since I was that young but I've found out what it's meant by diving into what the sport is and what it's done for people. It's inspired me a lot.
Sport is very powerful for communities, families, nations for pride and morale. I think about how positive a factor my success has had on my family. It's been huge for us as well as my home town of Boulder. That's partly why I love the Olympics. You have this amazing energy of an entire nation supporting you and although you may not be known to everyone, they are going to cheer for you just because you have USA on your back. It's more than just riding my bike.
Ryan: Awesome...thanks for the time Taylor. The last thing I wanted to ask is if you've spoken to Lance lately?
Taylor: I haven't spoken to him on the phone in a long time. I saw him last summer.
Ryan: Do you hate how he's been persecuted at this point? Everyone seems to have piled on. I think you know him as a good guy right?
Taylor: Yeah, I definitely know Lance in a different way than most people view Lance. I've seen that he can be...
Taylor: Yeah, he can definitely be negative, but he has been overwhelmingly generous and positive and there is a lot of psychological behavior tendencies that he's working on that caught him up in a lot of shit. I don't condone his actions, but I know what he did in building contributions for cancer research and the cancer community and how positively he affected sufferers.
I saw the negative things that he's done to our sport by contributing to a tradition that was already in place of abusing performance enhancing drugs. But, without his fall, the use of PEDs would still be a lot more prevalent than it is today. In a way, that whole generation suffered. Some didn't which is unfair but life is unfair.
If you're comfortable with yourself and your own decisions, that is all that really matters. Lance has a great family, a great girlfriend who I still talk to once in a while. He's always working. Always hustling. He's always doing something.