Q&A: Phil Gaimon signs with Optum Pro Cycling

After a season at Garmin-Sharp in the WorldTour, Phil Gaimon has decided to move back to the US and ride for Continental squad, Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies. Having signed a one-year deal with the domestic squad, Gaimon is looking forward to a number of high-profile objectives and still dreams of returning to the highest level of professional cycling.

Cyclingnews: How did the move to Optum come about and how long is the contract for?

Phil Gaimon: It’s a one-year deal. They're the top team in the US. I know the team organization and riders well from my years racing over here, so they were my first choice if I couldn't be in Europe.

CN: Do you know what your race programme will be for next year?

PG: They do a Europe trip early in the year with some races and then it'll be similar to my program this year, with the Tour of California, nationals, Utah, and Colorado as the big targets.

CN: You've had a year at the WorldTour. What have you learned in that time?

PG: Every year, I realize I can flog myself harder in training, and after all the hard races in 2014, I know the work it takes, and I'll definitely be able to dig a little deeper to prepare for my big events in 2015. I also know the kind of recovery and focus it takes to stay fit from January to October. In the past, I'd always come in hot from work over the winter, and then fizzle out in the summer. This year, I still came in hot, but with the help of my coach and the team, I was able to hang onto it most of the season.

I learned better how to read and control a race. If the team said they wanted a small break to get away with no one from a bigger team, I was able to attack and follow to orchestrate that, which is a difficult art to master at 500 watts. I got much better at moving around in the pack and fighting for position, because in Europe, they didn't just give it to me.

I could write a book about what I learned this year, and I probably will someday.

CN: What have been your highlights and lowlights?

PG: Highlights were definitely Tour of San Luis, and our great teamwork at Utah and USA Pro Challenge, where I was able to use the education and fitness I got in Europe to really be a part of a big race like I never had before. Catalunya was a highlight as my first WorldTour race, but also a lowlight, with a few snowy stages that weren't fun for anyone, and a humbling experience against the best guys in the world. I'm writing this from a cab in Los Angeles at 5am. This is definitely a lowlight, but I'm looking forward to finishing out the season at the Tour of Beijing and Japan Cup.

CN: Was there an option to stay on at the new Cannondale team for next year?

PG: The new team was not an option. Spots were limited with the merger, and a lot of great riders are out of jobs. I think it just comes down to budget, supply, and demand. I do believe that I deserve a spot at the WorldTour level, but it takes time to prove it and for people to notice, and I'll keep doing that.

I do want to thank all the Slipstream teammates, staff, and organization for helping me along this year and making me feel at home in Girona.

CN: Optum have a proven track record on the domestic scene. What are you hoping to add to their roster?

PG: It's funny that I was the clueless new guy at the beginning of this year, but now I think I'll feel like a weathered old veteran on Optum. I'll be doing a lot of events in the US, where I'm already a proven GC rider. At the bigger events, I think I'll get a chance to see what I'm capable of against the big guys. I'll be attacking [Tom] Danielson instead of bringing him bottles. HEAR THAT, TOMMY D? I'M COMING FOR YOU. Please don't hurt me, Tom.

CN: Do you see yourself racing in Europe the following season?

PG: I'll do the Europe trip with Optum and get a little taste of it in the early season, and I do think I can make it back in 2016. I think I impressed a lot of teams and got their attention this year but timing and luck weren't on my side when contract time rolled around. I deserve to be over there, and I think it'll happen. In the meantime, I'll get to bring what I learned in Europe back with me, train my butt off, and hopefully remember what winning is like. You put your arms up when you cross the finish line, I think. 

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