American almost quit racing after 2012
By signing a one-year deal with Garmin-Sharp for the 2014 season, Phil Gaimon has come full circle with CEO Jonathan Vaughters and Slipstream Sports, the management company that owns the team.
After an introduction to cycling while studying at the University of Florida, Gaimon's first pro ride came in 2005 with the VMG UCI Continental squad that would eventually morph into Slipstream-owned Holowesko Partners and finally the now-defunct Chipotle Development Team. But when VMG joined up with USA Cycling in 2006 to be the de facto U23 national team, Gaimon was left out of the picture.
"My second year racing I got on VMG, and I guess during that year Vaughters was kind of courting Holowesko for sponsorship," Gaimon explained. "He sponsored the national team first and then he eventually went over to Holowesko-Garmin. So I did kind of go full circle. They did fire me in between there once; I wasn't asked to stay on VMG that second year. So I've been begging him for something for seven years."
After his season with VMG, Gaimon plied his trade with several amateur squads in the Northeast US before signing with Jelly Belly in 2009. He moved to the Kenda/5-hour Energy team for three seasons in 2010 and 2012, and he signed with Bissell this year.
Gaimon’s palmares include first overall at the 2012 Redlands Bicycle Classic; time trial wins in the San Dimas Stage Race in both 2012 and 2013; first overall and first on Stage 1 in the Merco Cycling Classic; and second overall at the 2013 Tour of the Gila. He also won the Mt. Washington Hillclimb in 2008 and 2009, and he recently took home the jersey for most courageous rider at the US professional road race championship.
But following an off-season of turmoil within the 5-hour Energy/Kenda team, the 27-year-old from Georgia said he almost threw in the towel before Bissell stepped up with an offer.
"If that hadn't worked out I wouldn't have stayed around in the sport this year," Gaimon said. "Some nasty things went down with my team last year, so it wouldn't have been worth it if I didn't have a great set up, and Bissell has been a huge asset. The support this season has been great."
Gaimon said he has been "in touch" with Vaughters and Garmin-Sharp since early last year, but when Gaimon's team ran out of money to send riders to races toward the end of the season, his contacts with Vaughters also faded. Early season success this year with Bissell re-opened the lines of communication.
"I continued where I should have been when the season started," Gaimon said. "Vaughters kind of noticed, and we got back in touch and have been chatting most of the year."
Those chats led to the deal for next season and a chance for Gaimon to test himself on the sport's biggest European stages. Despite lacking any previous European racing experience, Gaimon said he's anxious to tackle the division-one peloton and races.
"I feel like it should be suited better for me than the American stuff, actually," he said. "I think it's harder and there is less fighting with your arms and elbows and more fighting with your legs. The races that I've done well at in the US are always the ones that are kind of a notch harder."
Gaimon will be 28 next year and will have to learn the ropes at another level of racing, but his age and relative maturity could be a bonus compared to riders who head off for Europe in their early 20s.
"I'll probably pick it up faster than if I had come over there at 21," he said. "But the difference is I don't really have the time to screw that up. It took me a lot of years to figure out how to do things over here, and I cannot take that long again. But bike racing is bike racing, so how bad could it be?"
The rider who has proved himself to be a versatile talent in the US peloton is looking froward to finding out where he will fit in when he crosses the Atlantic Ocean.
"I don't really know what I'll be more suited to over there," he said. "I've done pretty well at stage races here. I've done pretty well in one-day stuff here. So I'm guessing I'll get a shot at both, and we'll kind of see where I sink and where I swim."
And Gaimon said that continuing support from Garmin-Sharp team management and riders should help him along the way.
"I have good support from the team, they're already helping out," he said. "[Tom] Danielson has been a huge help already with training this year and teaching me the ropes, and I think he'll continue that. I won't be left to my own devices."
But before Gaimon can get too worried about what will happen next year, he's got to finish off this season with the Bissell team he credits with reinvigorating his goals and motivation. He'll ride Tour de Beauce next before focusing on the Cascade Cycling Classic in July and then the big UCI races in Utah, Colorado and Alberta.
"I guess having a contract in hand takes some pressure off, but it's not about that," he said. "I still want to race my ass off every time I get on the bike. I want to prove that I deserve the opportunity that I have, and I want to help Bissell out as a team. I'm not going to mail in the rest of the season because I've got something signed."
Gaimon will also have an ulterior motive to perform well at the remaining North American UCI races against WorldTour competition.
"In the late season stuff I'll be racing against the guys who I'll be dealing with all next year," he said. "So I can get my feet wet there – let them know who I am."
So "Phil the Thrill," as he is called by some fans and fellow competitors, will have plenty of motivation for the rest of the season. Even so, Gaimon admitted that signing with a WorldTour team is a huge relief after years of hard work and after many bouts with disappointment.
"I never thought it would happen for a while there," he said. "So yes, it's unbelievable when things actually pay off and work. You stay in this sport too long and it's not surprising that you get a little jaded and you turn into a bit of a pessimist if you read too much of the news. I didn't get the short end of the stick this time."