Garmin-Sharp rider Phil Gaimon made a big impression in his first outing with his WorldTour team, and no one was more impressed with the 28-year-old American's second place finish to Nairo Quintana at the Tour de San Luis than his own teammate Tom Danielson.
Gaimon was not one of the team's general classification hopefuls going into the race - that honor belonged to Danielson and another new recruit, Janier Acevedo, but when Gaimon entered into the winning breakaway on the opening stage and opened up four and a half minutes on the rest of the contenders, the team went all-in to back his position, with Danielson even sacrificing a shot at a mountain stage win to protect Gaimon's GC spot.
Danielson told Cyclingnews that the day on Mirador del Sol, the final stage of the race, was "one of my top experiences in the sport".
Gaimon and Danielson's relationship goes back to last season, when the two met on a training ride in Florida. Danielson was impressed by Gaimon, and invited him to come train together in Tucson, Arizona, and said he thought he would be a good addition to the Garmin-Sharp team.
"I like his story - a college kid who found cycling. It's the true American cycling story. You need [riders like] Taylor Phinney, Tejay van Garderen and Nate Brown - but the reality is that a lot of guys find the bike later or come from other sports."
After riding together on Mt. Lemmon in Arizona ahead of the 2013 season, Danielson knew that Gaimon had the potential to do great things.
"I told him last year on Mt. Lemmon - if you don't finish on the podium at Tour of California this year I'll be so pissed... but he crashed on his face [at the San Dimas Stage Race in March -ed.] and he had obstacles to overcome."
Those obstacles included a head injury that caused him to lose consciousness for a couple minutes and be airlifted from the course, and which resulted in a lengthy recovery. "He did a great job overcoming them," Danielson said.
Gaimon came back to finish second overall at the Tour of the Gila in May, but there were bigger accomplishments in his future, the first of which came when he signed with Garmin-Sharp for the 2014 season.
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The next came when he debuted with the team and wound up in the race lead. Although his sizable lead nearly evaporated on the climb to Alto del Amago and turned into a deficit to Quintana in the time trial, Danielson was determined to keep Gaimon in second overall in the crucial final mountaintop stage finish.
"At 1km to go, when he got dropped, I said 'Phil, I think I can win the stage, but I'm going to wait with you, I'm going to pull you to the front. You see Quintana? He's one of the best in the world and you're right here ... you're doing it. I'll ride alongside you all the way to the finish line."
"It was unbelievable. It was one of my top experiences in the sport. That's what our team's about in a nutshell - to give people the vision, resources and the people to make dreams and objectives like that [come true]."