Phinney finds way back to win Tour's 1st stage Cyclists' next trek leads to Columbia

May 11, 1991|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Correspondent

WILMINGTON, Del. -- Less than a month ago, Davis Phinney didn't know whether he would even make it to the Tour Du Pont. Trying to adjust a faulty foot strap during a race in Arkansas, Phinney fell and was nearly run over by one of the support vans riding along side.

"I thought he had broken his leg," Len Pettyjohn, the manager of the Coors Light team, recalled yesterday. "I was really scared."

Phinney's leg was badly bruised, but the more serious injury he suffered was a twisted pelvis. A week later, Phinney collapsed at home in Boulder with severe back spasms, and the race he calls "our Tour de France" was even more in doubt.

"I was completely immobile," said Phinney, 31. "Another couple of days and I would have called Len and told him I couldn't race."

That phone call was never made. With therapy, the spasms stopped and yesterday Phinney became the Larry Bird of his sport when he out-sprinted Australian Phil Anderson over the last 300 meters of the Tour Du Pont's 106-mile first stage.

Erik Breukink of Germany, who won Thursday's prologue, remained the event's overall leader going into today's Stage 2 since all the riders were credited with the same 4 hours, 33 minutes, 9 seconds that it took Phinney to cross the finish line. Stage 2 begins in nearby Newark and will finish 136 miles later in front of the Columbia Mall.

"We were just trying to keep the pack together, and I didn't do anything today," Breukink said. "The plan was for [PDM teammate Sean] Kelly to make the sprint today, but he wasn't feeling well."

Phinney was, and it showed. Long considered one of the sport's top sprinters, Phinney is a former Olympic bronze medalist who has been a presence on the international circuit since becoming the first American to win a stage of the Tour de France. He did it twice, in 1986 and the next year.

But Phinney's career has not always been a smooth ride. Three years ago, at the prestigious Liege Bastogne Liege in Belgium and France, Phinney went headfirst over his handlebars and into the back window of a support vehicle. The injury required 150 stitches. "You've seen 'Beauty and the Beast'?" he said on Thursday. "I was the beast."

Yesterday, he was merely a beast down the stretch. In a race that had countless lead changes after the field caught up with fading Klaus de Muynck of Belgium -- even three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond led on four brief occasions -- Phinney got help from Coors teammate Steve Oravetz.

Oravetz enabled Phinney to get behind Anderson, a world-class Australian cyclist not noted for his sprinting. With about 500 meters to go, Phinney got behind Anderson's rear wheel. Two hundred meters later, he moved in front and beat Anderson easily, by two bike lengths.

"I never had the opportunity to sprint against Davis," Anderson said. "I wasn't expected to sprint against him."

Said Phinney: "It was a long hill there and I was as close to passing out as I could be. Boy, it was long."

So is the Tour Du Pont. There are nine days and nearly 1,000 miles left.

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