Kenda/5-Hour Energy team leader Phil Gaimon, perhaps equally as well known for his quick wit as he is for his speed on the bike, took an indirect path to the top of the USA Cycling National Race Calendar standings.
The 26-year-old, who climbed to the top of the rankings following an impressive overall win at the series-opening Redlands Bicycle Classic, shot into the pro peloton after the 2005 season, when he moved from category 5 novice to Continental professional in the span of about 10 months. But unlike many athletes who bring fitness to cycling from other sports, Gaimon's background in competition was limited to computer games.
"My parents are both college professors," said Gaimon, who was born in Georgia. "I played computer games in high school, and I was kind of fat. So I started riding when I was a senior in high school because I didn't want to go to college fat. I lost like 45 pounds that year, and then I went to college and joined the cycling club just to make some friends."
Gaimon did more than just make cycling friends at college in Florida, he thrived in the local scene and quickly earned the attention of the VMG team that eventually morphed into the Holowesko (and now Chipotle) development team of Slipstream Sports. But when VMG signed a deal to partner with the USA Cycling Development Program in 2006, Gaimon was left in the lurch and went back to the elite amateur level with the New York-based U25 Sakonnet team. In 2008 he rode for Fiordifrutta, an amateur team from New England.
Gaimon's results over those two seasons got the attention of Jelly Belly's Danny Van Haute, and the then-23-year-old signed a one-year deal with the oldest Continental team in the U.S.
"I had some results," Gaimon said of his year on Jelly Belly. "I won [a stage of] the San Dimas Road Race with them, but as a first-year pro I was in my head a lot. You put a lot of pressure on yourself the first year when you're not making much money. You really need to prove yourself over and over. Now that I'm a pro and I look at the new guys on the team, I realized I was trying to prove myself way more than I needed to. So I crashed a lot that year, and I DNF'd California, Tour of Missouri."
Gaimon turned down an offer from Jelly Belly for the 2010 season and briefly wondered what would be his next step when he got a call from Frankie Andreu, the brand new director of the second-year UCI Continental Kenda-Geargrinder squad.
"Honestly, I probably wouldn't have wanted to ride for the team if it wasn't Frankie who made that first phone call giving me the offer," Gaimon said, adding that Kenda has given him the time and experience to grow. "I was always trying to do 10 percent more than I was capable of. It took me a while to sort of settle in. Kenda gave me the space to be able to do that and kind of grow into a leader."
Kenda's patience has paid off. Gaimon took the leader's jersey at this year's San Dimas Stage Race by winning the prologue time trial before teammate Andy Jacques-Maynes took the overall win three days later. At Redlands, Gaimon once again won the opening time trial and this time held yellow throughout the four-stage race.
He said moving to Athens, Georgia has made a big difference in his early season performance, but he also credits his first NRC overall win to moves the team made in the off-season.
"I'm living in cycling community for the first time," he said. "So there's opportunity for massage, and all the good doctors and stuff like that. And I've never really had a chance to use those resources. And the team is strong this year. I mean, I wasn't winning time trials last year, but we didn't really have the team to contest stage races even if I was. And now we do, and I think that gives me a little bit more fire in my belly that I know we can defend, and I know we can win. Because, you know, if I would have won the Redlands prologue last year it would have been horrible for the team. Everybody would have been screwed for two days."
Team director Andreu gives the credit to his team leader for taking the steps to improve his early season form.
"I've said this before," Andreu said. "He really invested a lot in himself, moving to a warm climate to be able to train all winter and paying for himself to be able to get to races to have some early season fitness, and it's worked out. He thrives in the heat, so racing down in Florida and living in Athens is good for him."
Also good for Gaimon is the relatively loose attitude the team seems to thrive under.
"I've always said that Kenda, whether we win or lose, we have more fun than anybody else in the peloton," Gaimon said. "I've always noticed that, and it's my favorite thing about the team. Like at the Tour of California, everybody's siting there huddled around all the tables last year, all the Euro guys staring at their pasta, and our table was just a laugh riot. So that atmosphere has always been there, and that's one thing about the team – we have a blast. And I wouldn't have it any other way."
The current NRC leader is also a burgeoning business man with the Podium Legs compression recovery system he founded back in 2009.
"Now it's four employees and a little too much time and energy going into it," he said. "But it's a large part of my life, for sure."
But the major focus for Gaimon continues to be his cycling career and his current team, two things from which he'd like to see continued growth.
"I'd like to see Kenda grow," he said of the team that aspires to Pro Continental status. "The caliber of riders is not proportional to the races we got to. I think Kenda deserves to do more with what we have. I hope that works out and we can bring more dollars to the team. I want to race in Europe, I'm not too old, and I'm not over that dream yet. I'm sure I can do it, so one way or another that is my ultimate goal."