July 01, 2008, 11:21 a.m. (ET)

Track cyclist Taylor Phinney made it look so easy. On his very first race around a velodrome, he won a US national title. Six months later, he secured an Olympic berth in the individual pursuit.

It happened so fast that Phinney, 17, can still remember the first time he took a spin around a concrete track shaped like a potato chip. He spoke to teamusa.org about that rookie run.

"I was just taking it all in and enjoying it," he recalled of that day in Colorado Springs in 2007.

Phinney quickly adapted to the 33-degree banked turns, but stopping on a fixed-gear bike without brakes was another issue.

"I was hauling balls," he said, and decided to end with a flourish.

"I go to throw my bike forward at the finish, and when I did that, I stopped pedaling. The back wheel stopped, both feet unclipped, and I landed on the top tube of the bike frame. I rode about a lap like that before I could get off.

"But I didn't crash. I was proud of that."

The relatively flat Colorado Springs velodrome, however, was nothing like his first ride on a tight, steep, wooden, 250-meter indoor oval like the one built for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

At the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles, where the walls reach up to 46-degree angles, Phinney walked in and immediately said, "Oh My God. How do people ride on that?

"I was with one of my training buddies. We walked over to the apex of the turn and looked straight down. It reminded me of a big dam when you look down. I was scared to death."

But he had no choice.

"So I was rolling around [the track] with my friend Robin," he said, "and we had the groove dialed in.

"We were testing our courage by the rail at the top of the track, and I had race wheels on, which are not as stable on the turns, so when the wheel's at an angle there's no traction at all.

"I slipped and started sliding down. I tried to grab the rail, but that was a bad idea. I fell 25 feet. It was not pleasant.  And this was two minutes before my first pursuit training."

But Phinney was a quick study. Less than a month later, he captured the 2007 US National title in the 4000-meter individual pursuit - on that very same track in L.A.

Since Phinney doesn't live near a velodrome and had to finish high school this winter in Boulder, Colo., he did much of his World Cup track training at home on rollers, but there are approximately 20 functioning velodromes in the US, and many of them offer beginner sessions.

The chances of making an Olympic team within a year of your first ride are miniscule, but Phinney offered some advice.

"People get really nervous about the turns and being off balance, but you have to have confidence. You have to be calm," he said. "It helped me to watch others riding slowly. If they can do it, I can do it. If you feel any sliding, just angle the bike back down the track."

Although Phinney's long-term plan also includes road cycling (he won the 2007 junior world championship time trial) for now, he is having a great time on the track and is looking forward to competing in Beijing.

"It's pretty fun to have that G-force effect - to feel propelled around the turn," he said. "It feels faster when you're just going in circles, and speed is why most cyclists are cyclists."

 

Aimee Berg is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.

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