American Phil Gaimon has called an end to his professional cycling career at age 30 after not succeeding in finding a WorldTour contract for the 2017 season.
Gaimon raced for Slipstream Sports in 2014 and 2016, racing with Garmin-Sharp and Cannondale-Drapac those years, but when his best bet to continue on next season with Dimension Data did not materialize, he decided to quit rather than take a role as big fish in a smaller team.
"I went to Tour of Alberta with the feeling it might be my last race," Gaimon told Cyclingnews. "I had offers from Continental teams that were honestly for more money than I'd ever made from cycling. But I looked at all these young, fast kids, and they are me when I was 23. I could take the offer, but it would be a job for me and it would be a dream for them. It wouldn't feel right taking those spots. I don't want to be the highest paid guy on a small team. That would feel gross."
Gaimon made his professional debut with Jelly Belly in 2009, rather late in the cycling world at the age of 23. He held the record for the Mount Washington hill climb before he began to turn out some strong results in races, including a second place overall in Tour of Taiwan in 2010, the overall victory in the Redlands Classic in 2012 and 2015 and second overall in the Tour de San Luis in 2014.
After returning from a year at the Continental level with Optum, Gaimon realized he'd reached the limit of his abilities in Europe this year.
"I went to Optum with a pretty big fire to get back to Europe and prove myself. My mission was always to get to the WorldTour, and I had to do it twice. I think I gave everything of myself to get there. Once I was there, my ceiling was reached. I'm good, but I'm not that good," Gaimon said.
"By the time I got to Europe I had either hit my peak or I definitely saw it. This year I hit power records in races and I wasn't getting results. My best 30-minute power ever was in Criterium International on a mountain top finish and I was 11th. If that's my best, then I'm not really going to do a whole lot in Europe. And it was time to get out of the way. It wasn't like the challenge I was trying to face was going from 11th to 9th."
Gaimon said he would have been happy to keep going, but it became clear this week that no WorldTour offers were going to materialize, and he had to turn his focus to promoting his Gran Fondo - the Malibu Gran Cookie Dough, which takes place on November 6 in Malibu, California.
"It would have been fun (to keep going). It's a great life over there, it's magical living over there in Girona and being in the show. Even if you're not winning races it feels great to be a part of it when your teammates are doing well. I would get a lot of satisfaction when I helped someone else win something, it's a team sport and it feels great to be part of that world.
"But I don't want to keep racing past my relevant time, and I don't want to be in the way of someone else living the dream."
What happens next?
Gaimon has already written one book, "Pro Cycling on $10 a Day", and has plans for two more. And in a unique long-shot in the post-cycling retirement world, he said he has been pitching a television show in Hollywood.
"The idea is it's a travel show based around bikes. It's about the places - the basic pitch is (like) Anthony Bourdain but during the day and healthy. So rather than drinking beer and eating fried food, I'm outside and seeing nature and stopping in weird little places. I'm friends with the celebrity chef that's cooking for my Gran Fondo (Chef Jeff Mahin), he's always on the Food Network. It's a long shot to try and get a TV show, but honestly it's been a really fun process trying."
More than anything, the television show idea is a new challenge to test the limits of what he can do.
"It's something I didn't get out of bike racing the last couple of years - let's see what I can accomplish - there are other parts of life where you can do that," he said, adding that he is not optimistic that it will actually go through.
"It would be the best exit that ever happened if it does, which is why I don't believe it will happen - things don't work out that well for me. But I've gotten meetings... and people try for 30 years to get in those rooms, so it's been fun. I'm not going to hang my hopes on it, though. I don't need any more impossible dreams. But I'm going to take it as far as I can. I get paid by the team until the end of the year so I may as well have those meetings."
Like many riders who hang up their wheels, Gaimon says won't be hanging around the pro cycling scene for a while.
"I think I need to hide from pro racing until I've lost enough watts I don't feel like I should be in it," he said. "I don't want to watch it or be in it. I set a power record on a ride yesterday and was like, dammit it's going to waste. I can do this and I'll be in an office somewhere. But I'll get over it."
Want to say good-bye to Phil Gaimon in person? Register out his Gran Fondo here.