Two years after he jumped onto the professional scene in emphatic style, Phil Gaimon (Cannondale Pro Cycling) finds himself back at the Tour de San Luis in markedly similar circumstances. After spending the past season riding at Continental level, Gaimon is once again riding the Argentinean race with the team that gave him his first big break.
Gaimon made his professional debut with Garmin-Sharp at the Argentinean race in 2014, winning a stage and finishing second overall. Cyclingnews caught up with the 29-year-old in the team’s San Luis hotel before stage 2 to see how he was settling back in.
“I’m not nearly as freaked out as I was the first time around,” he told Cyclingnews. “I don’t know, I think this is like my home I think I’ve kind of adapted and figured out how things work and what to expect so I knew going back what I was in for. The last time around I was just asking a lot of dumb questions. I got through that phase just in time to go back to the US.”
Cannondale’s Tour de San Luis got off to a shaky start after they went out too hot in the opening team time trial, resulting in nearly a minute lost in the GC. The team appear relaxed as they focus more on testing themselves rather than chasing specific goals. Gaimon knows that a repeat performance will be difficult and tells Cyclingnews that perhaps he peaked too soon in 2014, however, looks back at the race with fond memories.
“There are a lot of nice memories around here,” Gaimon said. “Of all the years waiting in the US you’re just looking for this moment and grinding through and hoping to have that good luck. I never really had it and I just grinded my way to the WorldTour and then all the luck showed up on one day at the same time here and that was just a great moment. I’d been hanging on for dear life for that for close to a decade and somehow I got it.”
Gaimon was a late bloomer in the sport and after five years on the American continental circuit he finally got a professional contract at the age of 27. All was going well and his performances should have seen him get at least another year on the team but Gaimon found himself squeezed out of the team when they merged with Cannondale at the end of the year.
“It was really tough, it was a rough time trying to figure it out,” he explained. “Knowing that it had to happen and that I was left standing, it was difficult emotionally but I trained and I was determined to get back and make that happen. I never put that away.”
Gaimon went back to the US to race for Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies but he never had his eye off a return to the top and his hard work paid off. “I could tell at the end of that year that he [team manager Jonathan Vaughters] didn’t want me to go and that it sort of just had to happen. There just wasn’t space. At that point I knew that I was going to try and force my way back. Then in April or May JV let me know that they were going to make it happen,” Gaimon said.
“Optum was great, it’s the most professional team in the US by far. The budget is like a tenth of what it is here and you can feel that but that’s all. It certainly wasn’t bad last year, I wasn’t miserable at any point but this is the big leagues and this is what I’ve always wanted.”
After the Tour de San Luis, Gaimon will head to Europe to set up base in the team’s adopted home of Girona. His first race in Europe will be the Volta ao Catalunya followed by a trip to the Ardennes Classics before returning to the US for the Tour of California. This season is a second chance for Gaimon and he’s keen to see what he can do.
“My goal in the sport is to see how good I can be. It’s not that I have to win a stage of the Tour, if I’m good enough to win a stage at the Tour then I would like to do that someday but I just want to see what the potential is without making mistakes and having all the pieces in place, which I’ve never really had the luxury of,” Gaimon said.
“I rode good support two years ago and that was the sort of role that I found I was good at, going to the front on the climbs and on the flat or whatever. Helping out in a way that not a lot of guys in the world can do. I sort of define my role as that, and if there is a chance that one day I can become a better climber than somebody else then that is awesome.”