With two-time defending champion Tejay Van Garderen out of the 2015 USA Pro Cycling Challenge, skipping the event this year, an unexpected storyline has taken center stage.

Boulder native Taylor Phinney returned from his 15-month hiatus after a scary injury to win the first stage of the seven stage USA Pro Cycling Challenge through Colorado. Phinney, who rides professionally for BMC Racing Team, won the 156 km opening stage through Steamboat Springs, outlasting everyone during the flat run-in to the finish on Main Street in Steamboat Springs.

Phinney was overjoyed after crossing the finish line.

“I was pretty much blown away crossing the finish line and it’s going to take awhile to fully process the whole day,” Phinney told the race website. “I can tell you crossing the finish line and the roar of the crowd was really special and it was really emotional and was the electric moment that we all live for.”

While this is a tremendous achievement it didn’t look possible several months back. At the United States National Road Race, Phinney suffered a career-threatening crash after slamming into a guard-rail while attempting to avoid a motorcycle. He would require surgery after suffering compound fractures to his left tibia and fibula and a severed patellar tendon.

Initially given a six-to-eight week layoff period, the recovery would take over a year before Phinney would be return to competitive cycling and a what a return it was!

Talking to race media after winning stage one, an emotional Phinney discussed the challenges he had to overcome: “The first eight weeks when I was on crutches was the most difficult part. When you lose general mobility it makes it hard to hang out with your friends, you’re just crutching along and holding everybody up.”

During the 2014 USA Pro Cycling Challenge, Phinney was in the midst of his recovery but was still attending several stages and was working as a commentator. However, the stress of not racing persuaded him to distance himself from the cycling community.

“Being around the race atmosphere and just limping around — ugh, this didn’t make me feel good, it was a bit too much. That’s when I decided to take a break from the sport. I realized I needed to eject myself from the sport and from thinking about the sport as much as I possibly could. I removed myself and tried to find other things that inspired me in the ways that riding a bike inspired me.”

Now, the 25-year-old cyclist is back at the top and inspired to go for more. Having the yellow jersey is something that Phinney has longed for and he is cherishing every moment.

Phinney told Cycling News, half-joking, “I will just kinda prance around in yellow a couple of hours tomorrow. It will be a difficult prance, but, that’s how this race goes, and that’s how we like it.”

Take a look at a very happy and emotional Phinney talk after the race…

The 186 km stage 2 will take place Tuesday afternoon from Steamboat Springs to Arapahoe Basin. This is a crucial stage of the race and the finish should be exciting featuring a five-mile climb to a finish at more than 10,000 feet.

Sammy Mugharbil, a Mile High Sports intern and MSU-Denver student, contributed to this report