Editor’s note: Phil Gaimon opened his 2013 season with a stage win at the Merco Cycling Classic on Thursday. He filed this journal on Wednesday evening.
Time to get serious.
Leading into the 2012 season, I was living in Athens, Georgia, and training was going well, but I faced a few distractions: I wasn’t quite making a living wage, so I had to pick up a lot of work on the side, running a small business, and writing absurd jokes in my Velo “Ask a Pro” column. (Ok, only one of those qualifies as work.)
Given my modest salary, and lacking incredible optimism that I’d ever do better, I couldn’t stand the idea of throwing money out the window paying rent, so I bought a beat-up foreclosure and started the renovations. I was getting all my training done, but recovery was subpar already, and soon I found myself carrying boxes and moving furniture. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, as they say, but I was worried it would affect my season. Two weeks later, I won the Redlands Classic, and I started to look at my bike racing job a little differently.
My season was cut off after that, missing out on the Tours of California, Utah, and Colorado, but Bissell Pro Cycling showed some faith, and signed me up for the 2013 season. Thanks to the team, and a ton of support from my coach, friends, and family, for the first time in my life I’m able to do this bike racing thing right, or close to it, anyway.
In mid-January, my friend Isaac Howe flew down to Athens from the Vermont tundra, and drove with me to Tucson, Arizona, where we met up with Gregg Brandt, another former teammate. We spent a few weeks there, staying at the home of a former team sponsor, choking on sand and dust, and dodging cactus, but the riding was good.
I used to think I trained hard. I would go home tired and sore from long rides in North Georgia, but it was nothing like this. My Tucson training plan was pretty specific and scientific: ride with Tom Danielson as much as I could. I’d met Tom at a charity ride in Florida, and he was glad to have a partner for his intervals. Tom and I just went up and down Mount Lemmon over and over, every day. When I got off the bike, I’d sit on the floor in the shower, too tired to stand. In the evenings, I’d slam as much pizza and ice cream as I could, knowing I’d need the fuel the next day.
Hanging onto Tom’s wheel at 400 watts, I found myself thinking, “so this is what it takes to train for the Tour.” But I could do it.
Tom also hooked me up with a bike fit from Mat Steinmetz to help me put out better power on the time trial bike. I’d heard that Mat was one of the best fitters in the world, and I was feeling better on the bike right away, but I trusted him even more when we went to dinner. Mat put a shim under the wobbling table leg, and he nailed it on the first try. Details.
From Tucson, I went to Thousand Oaks, California, where I stayed with a friend and former teammate, Stefano Barberi, and his fiancé Katie, who happens to be my nutritionist. During Redlands last year, when I was defending my yellow jersey in the cold rain, Stefano (along with almost everyone else) had pulled out of the race. He and Katie could have gone home, but they stayed there yelling for me, because they wanted to see me win, and it helped me dig deeper.
Those are the kinds of friends I need to be around as much as possible.
That weekend, I was happy to learn that my off-season training worked. My first race of the year, a small local race in Juniper Hills, California, put on by the UCLA collegiate team, started with a 20-minute climb, and I got a little excited, attacking from the gun. Half-an-hour later, the race official came up next to me on his motorcycle.
“You have two minutes on the field, but there’s one rider bridging at a minute-and-a-half. He says to wait, and you know who he is,” said the official.
Of course it was Stefano. I laughed and pulled over to pee.
“You’re actually going to wait?” The official asked, surprised.
“I’m staying at his house,” I explained. “And he’s my ride home.”
Besides, I had 60 miles to go, and having someone to share the wind was appealing. We stayed away, and I got the win.
I left Thousand Oaks and headed north to Santa Rosa for training camp with Bissell. We had some gorgeous rides though wine country, and it was great to meet all my new teammates and staff, not to mention setting up a bunch of Pinarellos and piles of gear from our sponsors. It’s all the little things that add up with a team, and I’ve been amazed at the professionalism on Bissell already.
This weekend, we’re finishing off camp with the Merco Cycling Classic, and then I can head to Big Bear, California, which will be my home for the rest of the year. A friend and his parents are letting me spend the season at their ski house, so I’ll get to train at altitude for the first time in my life. When I asked about the rent, they said all they wanted was a yellow jersey hanging on the wall when I left. I insisted on paying the utilities as well, and of course they’re going to get a hell of a vacuum. We’ll see about that jersey, but I’m feeling good.