I decided to contact Phil Gaimon to ask for an interview on a bit of a whim.
I’d recently listened to the latest edition of his podcast, ‘The Real Talent‘, and had just placed an order for his then-upcoming book, ‘Draft Animals‘. I’d read his previous books and had listened to his podcasts for a while, and Phil was in the limelight with his ‘Worst Retirement‘ King of The Mountains hunting on youtube, and recent effort on the Taiwan King Of The Mountains Challenge.
To be honest, I never expected to even get a reply from him within the next 24 hours, let alone a ‘yes’. Then arose the small matter of, what am I actually going to ask?! I’m no pro journalist, and didn’t want to pretend to be one. I know about Phil’s career and the pro peloton, but thought I’d try to ask some more revealing (i.e., off the wall and potentially stupid) questions that he may not have been asked before, and try not to dwell on the usual topics of book – youtube – life after retirement etc.
[If you don’t know who Phil Gaimon is, then a quick bio would be that he’s a US former pro-cyclist, who most recently raced for Cannondale-Drapac. He entered the World Tour relatively late in his life and did it the hard way, via numerous years earning little in smaller American teams. Throughout his career he had a strong media profile, writing blogs and contributing to American publications such as VeloNews and Bicycling. He retired in 2016 and took on a mission on stealing Strava KoMs from all and sundry, but notably those who had doped.]
So, here goes, a quick chat with Phil, to discuss being cold, eating cookies and racing Cadel.
N.B. Phil was actually very open and insightful on the interview, and was very thoughtful and honest on some topics I thought he may not want to discuss…. so what follows isn’t entirely idiocy….
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Right, so I’ll warm you up with an easy one… you’ve been out on a massive ride, and you totally blow, an hour left to ride from home. What’s your go-to service station saviour snack, if there’s no good cookies available?
I’d never go with a packet cookie; if there’s no good cookies, I’d rather go without. I’d go with a cola, and oftentimes I like cashews for the salt, and, you say I’ve got an hour left? Then I’ll go with a Reese’s. Yeh…. A Reese’s beats a shitty cookie hands down. Basically, a load of sugar and salt is what you need from a service station in that situation.
So, what if you’re at this service station and you’re totally screwed, but you know about 20 minutes down the road there was an awesome cookie bakery. What then?
Do you push on through the misery to get a cookie or make do with Reese’s, cashews and cola?
Oh, I’d push on for sure if it’s only 20 minutes. Even if I was totally screwed it would be worth it.
Next question is, I’m like you, pretty long and thin, not as skinny as you, but getting there. Life as a skinny guy can be kinda rubbish, y’know, I’m cold a lot, I get looked down on by general society, I get pushed out of line by girls, that type of stuff.
How do you find life as a skinny guy?
It’s funny being an athlete, but not looking like an athlete; that’s something I’ve always had to deal with.
When I was setting up my Cookie Fondo, my business partner, who’s a runner and quite big muscly guy and me go to meet this sponsor who we’ve been talking to for a while by email.
It turned out he thought my partner was the ex-pro, not me, coz he had nice calves and I don’t really have any calves! He’s like a hobby runner and just runs a few days a week but he just has good genes!
Ha, yes, they just thought you’re some emaciated homeless guy.
Yeh, I look like a smoker who doesn’t eat.
Yep, you do take a bit of a back seat in society when you’re unusually thin.
I totally hear you on the cold thing, I always wear a jacket because everyone out here uses too much air conditioning. I live in L.A. so you never need a jacket outside, but you go into a restaurant and someone’s set the damn air conditioning to 68 degrees and I’m dying!
Yes, I’m similar – I tend to have one more layer on than everyone else!
On that note, I saw that you’d been in the weight room, are you going to turn yourself into Mario Cipollini?!
So, it’s funny, although I’m not a pro anymore, your body just gets into those cycles. It’ll take me a few years to not be in the rhythm of ‘this is when you’re on form and this is when you’re not’, and I’m still riding a lot and kind of training like I did when I was a pro, only half as much.
I eneded up feeling super-tired at the end of October, which is when I would have eased off when I was a pro, so I took a break. If you’re just riding, you need to build bone density and that type of thing, and this time of year is right to work on that type of thing, so I went into the weights room.
So, the new EF Education First – Drapac kit has come out, and it’s very pink, with only a few bits of the classic green and argyle. What are your thoughts on that? Do you dig the pink and white?
Well, here’s the thing, I can barely dress myself so I’m not really qualified to have any thoughts on fashion. Whatever shirts I buy, I’m never sure if anyone’s going to like it. I just buy five of the same shirts in a solid colour and then that’s all I ever wear. As long as the kit has argyle, I think it gets a pass.
What did you make of the whole takeover by EF, did you follow that much?
I didn’t follow it all that closely. It was hard to watch the whole crowdfunding thing; that whole situation was a bummer. But I’m super-glad all my buddies still have jobs!
Regards your youtube channel and the KoM hunt; in the UK, out climbs are typically only 10 – 15 minutes max, but a lot of them can tip up to over 10% gradients. Would you ever come over a do a famous UK climb? Have you heard of Box Hill for example? It’s kind of pathetic compared to what you guys can get in the US.
Yeh, I’m definitely interested. I like the UK folks! I don’t know what it is, I think I have a British sense of humour. Americans don’t think I’m funny half the damn time, I make a joke and nobody gets it except for people in London.
Yes, you have quite a dry sense of humour like we have over here.
So, yes, I’ve made a mental note I need to get over there. I have plans this year, nothing’s firm yet. I’m going to try to do something with the GCN guys…. I need to wait out your winter first though!
Yes, don’t come in winter; it’s pretty rubbish. Wait til at least April!
Physiologically though, do you think UK climbs will suit you?
The only races I ever really won were those with 5 – 20 minute climbs, longer than that I was never really so good. Hour long climbs I’d be hanging on to the front group, but I was never really all that. For example, at the one in Taiwan I was rubbish, and that was like three and a half hours! Also, where I am now (Phil lives in L.A.) it’s easier to train for a 5 minute climb, but it’s very hard to do endurance rides, so I can see myself maintaining fitness for the shorter climbs since I was a pro, but it’s a lot of work to do those longer ones.
You beat me to it a little – I was going to ask you about the Taiwan KoM Challenge. So, you think you did rubbish, but didn’t you come 6th?
I didn’t do poorly, but I was certainly a long way from being able to win. I thought I’d do better and the field was better than expected. Like, when I signed up, I thought it was going to be me vs Nibali, and then I saw who had signed up I was like, oh shit! I was very far from being in the hunt for a win, like I’d hoped.
How did it feel to be racing Cadel and Nibali again?
So, here’s the thing…. I’ve been in races with those guys before, but I’ve never raced against them; I would have been racing for a teammate who was racing against them. Cadel did his own thing at Taiwan, which was smart; he paced his own effort and finished damn close to us guys. It was really the first time I’ve properly raced Nibali, like being on his wheel and trying to attack him and that kind of thing; which was pretty funny, I had to retire to race Nibali! But a three-and-a-half-hour climb wasn’t really a race for me; it was more a ‘hang on for as long as you can until you’re not there’.
So, regarding the new book – Draft Animals – which has just come out in the UK, and mine’s in the post: tell us the one reason to buy this book (other than to fund your life of course!).
Don’t do it to give me money because the royalties aren’t that good! If you’re trying to give me money I could just give you my paypal.
I’m not sure if this infected the UK too much, but in America, everyones’ a winner, everyone should follow their dream, and everyone can do what they want with their lives, did that happen to you guys too?
Hmmm that ‘American Dream’ thing that you’re referring to, it’s not so prevalent over here, so no.
That’s good. I think that’s part of what I wanted to write this book. I’m 31 now and everyone I know has either given up on their dream or never tried.
I think a big part of my message was ‘this is what happens when you follow your dream ALL the way, and when you don’t listen to anyone who says you should stop, and here’s what it feels like’. It’s a ladder that you never see the top of.
That’s sort of the message; if you don’t make it to your dream, it will most likely have sucked anyway, and no one gets to feel like they ever made it for real. It’s kind of a mythical top to that ladder. Plus, if you’re a cycling fan, it’s about what it’s really like to race in the world tour: here’s some of the names you know and here’s what they’re up to. Here’s what’s great about it and here’s what’s not.
I won’t dwell on this point too much as you’re probably a bit bored of it, but yesterday, when the book came out, people read it and they saw the thing about the motordoping, your comments regarding Fabian Cancellara at the Tour of Flanders.
So, this is just a silly question – if Fabian came up to you and was like ‘Hey Phil, what are you talking about’, and was to try and start a fight with you, what would be your move to try to take him down in a fight?
Note: The release of Phil’s book had provoked a furore in response to his discussion of the age-old rumour that Fabian Cancellara could have used a motor on his bike in the 2010 Tour Of Flanders. The comments had been seized upon by the cycling press, and in a sort of Chinese Whispers, were taken out of context and became a hot topic. The frenzy escalated to the point that, around a week after speaking to Phil, Cancellara’s lawyers called for Draft Animals to be pulled from sale. I don’t want to linger on this too much as it’s a volatile topic, but you should definitely read Phil’s statement:
The following question was asked prior to the full escalation of the witch hunt and the wild statements from Cancellara and co.
Ummmm the thing is, when you read it, you’ll get it. I wasn’t accusing anyone of anything; I’m just saying what I think happened, and I do think that’s what he did – of course, I don’t know for sure.
It’s ironic, because everyone who’s talking about motordoping today, it’s clickbait, it’s a headline. My whole thing in the book is that no one’s motordoping since then. Everyone who talks about it now is just trying to get clicks, and I’m just a sort of victim of the whole thing. Aargh, I’m not a victim, but I think the sport went down a lot of dark deep holes, and I think it would be a disservice if I didn’t try to tell the truth as best I can. That’s the inside view from the angle that I was at, that yeh, I think that guy was playing with that for a while.
OK, back to the easy ones – when you were handed up a musette back in the day, say when you were at Cannondale, what was your favourite thing that you used to get in the bag?
So, I’m really pissed that Clif Bar came out with those nut butter filed bars after I retired, have you tried those?
I think they may just be in America. We have ones with little chunks of Peanut Butter inside, but not bars filled with it.
They’re so good! They came out with those just when I stopped racing. But once in a while they’d put a snickers in there.
Aah, nice. A snickers and a coke would have been my choice for the service station emergency recovery food actually.
Yeh, if I could choose, I’d stick with a Reese’s, but if not, a Snickers would probably happen.
OK, so do you have a single worst day on the bike in the pro peloton? Was there one day that stood out as the most awful day you’ve ever had?
Interesting. Ummm, Roubaix was a huge disappointment when I did that. I didn’t have huge expectations of it, but that’s the one race that I ever did that anyone’s ever really heard of, y’know.
So, I got in the early break, and the break got caught, and I got stuck behind a million groups, and I was just one of the many riders who unceremoniously drops out of that race. It was funny, all my whole career built up to that one start, and it ended up with me climbing into a car at the half way mark.
(Phil was called up last minute to race at the infamous Paris-Roubaix Monument race – a parcours as far from his speciality as is possible; read his account here: http://www.velonews.com/2016/04/rider-journal/phil-gaimon-journal-paris-roubaix-adventure_402233).
On the flipside, is there any one day that stands out to you as being the most awesome, that you have the fondest memories of?
Mmmm, there’s a lot of good days. Every notch that I’ve moved up was a big moment. Possibly the day that I won Redlands, which is a really big race in the US, would be a number one. There were years when I was pretty sure that I was wasting my time, y’know, sleeping in my car, with a salary of $15,000. There were a lot of tough years, and that was the first time that I knew it was going to be ok. That was in 2012. It’s not a big race internationally, but that was the first time that I was ‘on the map’, and I knew that people were going to have to pay me something next year.
Redlands isn’t so well known over here, I only know of it through reading American racing websites and listening to American podcasts.
Yeh, it’s not big internationally, but it’s probably the oldest and most prestigious race that we have over here that the European racers aren’t coming over for. If you win Redlands then the European teams take notice, and then you can go over to Europe and become the worst guy in the peloton; that was my situation!
Ok, so last question, when you’re preparing for one of your KoM efforts, what’s your preparation regime, are you reconning the road, and are you tapering etc?
I think that’s why my worst retirement thing did so well this year; I’m the first pro to treat it like they would a real race. I’m not doing as much training for it, but before a big goal I’ll do some specific efforts the week coming up to it; I’ll do a four day taper, so a big couple of days, a day off, a day easy, a day of openers to get the legs moving, and then the final day I’ll do that effort. I’ll treat it as I would have a race or a time trial or something back in the day.
Is there anything more particular about the nature of the climb you’re looking at too, are you looking at gradients, road surfaces etc.
I do as much recon as I can. Generally a climb is pretty blissfully simple; it all boils down to power to weight. I just do the basic pacing stuff – so, on the flatter parts try to save a bit of energy, and on the steeper parts push it a little harder. If there was a secret I don’t know it!
That’s it! Training to come today Phil?
Yeh, just a couple of hours easy, nothing to stress about.
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Huge thanks to Phil for taking the time to speak to me. Nice to know that pros (and ex-pros) are approachable and normal human beings and grounded in reality… if, of course, racing bikes around at about 50kph is normal….
Oh, and one final comment from me:
Photo credits: Velonews.com, Cyclingtips.com, Cyclingweekly.com, GranFondoGuide.com