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Phil Gaimon Journal: Racing on home roads

The Amgen Tour of California is usually known as a fun, chill race for the WorldTour teams. With good food, In N Out Burger, nice hotels, and safe, open roads, guys coming off of a hard spring beg for starts in Cali. In previous years, the race had built a reputation as a sprinter’s showcase, with a handful of GC guys duking it out on a mountaintop finish and a time trial, and then sitting back while guys like Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan put on a show the rest of the week.

This year, they changed the script on us, with only two traditional sprint days: stage 1 in San Diego (which still had a lot of elevation gain, but Cannondale’s Wouter Wipper barely missed the win behind Peter Sagan). Then they made the sprinters drag their asses over 50,000 feet of climbs to make it the last sprint day in Sacramento, where Cavendish sealed the deal for his team.

As a SoCal resident, the first three stages were home turf for me. I’d been training at altitude, so I had enough breath on the climbs to say hi to my friends on the side of the road, and it was surreal to rip around the roads I train on with a world-class peloton. I’ve climbed Highway 2 up to Angeles Crest hundreds of times, but the group ride doesn’t go quite as fast as when Alaphilippe attacked for the KOM points, and the descent into Santa Clarita was a lot more fun since we could use the whole road (except for the guys who accidentally used the shoulder, the dirt, and the pavement).

Stage 3 started on my favorite training roads and the home of my Gran Fondo coming up this November (stay tuned for an article about it soon, or check out philsfondo.com). We were on the front defending Ben King’s yellow jersey after his breakaway win into Santa Clarita, and I figured I would lead the descent down Mulholland since I know it so well, but Wouter Wippert sat on his top tube like the crazy sprinter he is, and went faster on his first time seeing the road than I would have on my hundredth.

My friends set up a “Cookie Corner” to promote Phil’s Fondo and heckle me on the Gibraltar mountaintop finish, so I was excited when the team told me to rip the climb for Lawson Craddock and Andrew Talansky. Paddy Bevin returned from a crash with a torn jersey to heroically drop us off at the front at the base of Gibraltar, where I took over, hoping to lead the peloton past my drunken, sunburned friends, but Andrew and Lawson were in charge of my pace, and as much as I wanted to win the race to the cookies, I had a job to do. They told me “faster, slower” (mostly faster) and blew me up about 500 meters before Cookie Corner. Lawson said that later that if he’d known it was coming up, he would have had me pace a little easier. Lawson’s a real man of the people, and he respects the whole cookie thing.

After another breakaway win for Toms Skujins in Tahoe, Andrew and Lawson racing for the win on the nasty Santa Rosa stage, TV time for Alan Marangoni in Sacramento, and a bus full of cookies thanks to yours truly, Team Cannondale had a great week. We tied Peter Sagan for stage wins, which is about the best you can hope for at the Tour of California. Our director here was Juan Manuel Garate. It’s first year as DS for the team, and last week was his first victory as a director, his first Mexican food, first In N Out Burger, and his first time driving a Lexus, since they sponsor the race (if anyone at Lexus is reading this, I want you to know he drove the hell out of that thing in the caravan). I won’t ask “Juanma” which part was best, because I don’t want to get Vaughters angry at him. Winning is great, but they make a nice burger at In N Out.