Cannondale’s Phil Gaimon is not, as he would probably prefer, training on the hills outside Girona, Spain. He is packing, “just trying to find all my rain clothes,” he says. On the Thursday before Paris-Roubaix, Gaimon is on his way to his first Hell of the North.
Gaimon has never raced Roubaix. He has never touched tire to French pavé, in fact. He is more Euskaltel than Etixx, tall and slender and a fan of good pavement.
And yet he is impressively chipper when he picks up the phone from his home in Girona. But what can he do but laugh, really? His Roubaix start falls at the end of a long string of unfortunate events, as his Cannondale team has been devastated by illness for a month. Dylan van Baarle is fit and healthy after his sixth at the Tour of Flanders, but he’s been the lone bright spot. Even before Gaimon was added, the team already had two other rookies on its Roubaix roster, Wouter Wippert and Irishman Ryan Mullen. To get to Gaimon, even Cannondale’s reserve riders had to fall ill. He was never supposed to be packing his rain gear on Thursday.
But that’s pro cycling. And Gaimon, to his great credit, seems to be taking the call-up in stride.
VeloNews: When did you find out?
Phil Gaimon: I think on Wednesday. Yeah, yesterday. Today’s Thursday, right? I got an email in the morning, right before I was going out for a nice six-hour smash-myself-fest. I got the email from Charly [Wegelius, sport director]. I didn’t see it until I got back from the six-hour smash-myself-fest, and I was thoroughly smashed. There was one email he sent at like 10 a.m., which was just, ‘Hey, heads up we might need you for Paris-Roubaix this weekend.’ And then I got the second email, ‘We’re going to need you at Roubaix this weekend.’
VN: The team has been sick, right? Is that why you’re in?
PG: Charly mentioned it, but I didn’t need to be told. That’s sort of what we’ve been dealing with.
VN: And your initial reaction?
PG: A lot of things. There couldn’t be a race that I’m less suited for, physically. Nor could there be a race that I’m less prepared for, as far as things like … everyone else has reconned it, for example.
I’ve done some races up there before. No, I’ve done one race. I’ve done Three Days of West Flanders twice, which is not the same thing at all. But it’s a race with cobblestones.
I remember you approach a roundabout, and there’s two ways around it, and to me it’s 50/50. All the Belgian guys have been racing that road since they were 11 and they know you go left. And I’m just making a guess, and I just lost 10 bike-lengths. And it’s that, times every turn, every … It’s such a different animal up there. I survive those races, but it’s pretty hard to just jump right in. Obviously this is that same kind of race but times 1 million.
VN: Have you ever ridden the Roubaix cobbles, specifically?
PG: No … (laughs).
VN: I won’t tell you what they’re like, then. You don’t want to know.
PG: I’m guessing they’re bumpy. I live by the cathedral up here, and there are cobblestones to get to my apartment. How hard could it be? They’ve been wet, I’ve been going up and down the cobblestones all spring. [This is a joke, and sadly, text does not convey the hilarious inflection -Ed.]
Obviously it’s intimidating and hard, but who gets to say they did a wet Paris-Roubaix? I’ve never had race numbers that I wanted to hang on my wall, and that’s going to happen. It’ll be a lifetime experience. A lifetime experience that will feel like I got sadistically beaten. But, a life experience nonetheless.
VN: That’s a good way to look at it. So you’re not scared? You’re not afraid of all the things Roubaix has done to people?
PG: I’ve been over my head in a million races; you do the best you can with the legs you have. I’ve never not done that in my entire life. That’s not going to change.
VN: Did Charly [Wegelius] provide any insight into what exactly they’re expecting of you?
PG: I’m guessing stay near our best guys in case someone needs a wheel or a bike, try to cover some breakaways so someone else doesn’t have to. I’ll be in the bike race.
VN: Good. Remind me, how tall and skinny are you?
PG: I’m 6-1 and 148 pounds. Yeah I’m a skinny bastard.
Stay tuned for Gaimon’s first-hand account of his adventures in Paris-Roubaix.