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Phil Gaimon Journal: Don’t call it ‘retirement’

Before I signed on for 2016, JV [Cannondale team director Jonathan Vaughters] said that part of my role would was to be an ambassador to sponsors — I’d do some races, but I also needed to be marketable, ride some gran fondos, taking that pressure off some of the team’s top riders. I enjoy that stuff, but on a 10-year mission to be a bike racer, my plan was to train my ass off so he’d want me at the races instead of photo shoots.

If you followed my season, you can guess how that went. I did my best to balance the marketing and the racing, and I even began organizing my own gran fondo to raise money for City of Hope (a cancer research center), and then I’d do repeats up Rocacorba. I was able to play a role in the races to help my teammates, and holy shit did I have a great time, but in the little moments where I could have carved out an opportunity to get a result for myself, I never quite pulled it off, and this was the first year I didn’t win a race.

My best result in 2016 was 11th overall at Criterium International, where I broke my 30-minute power record on the last climb. 11th is great, but if that’s my best, it’s hard to think I have much more upward mobility in the sport. I’m still enough of an athlete to think it would have been in the team’s best interest to keep me, but I can’t say I was surprised when they didn’t offer anything for 2017.

I talked to a few other WorldTour teams, but in most cases, if you look at the history on some of these teams, there’s a not of lot places I’d fit in. They’d never want the guy with the “CLEAN” tattoo, and I don’t really want them, either, so I didn’t cast a wide net when I sent out my resume. I targeted programs I respected, where I had friends and felt I’d fit in. I came close with Dimension Data, but no luck.

If I wanted to keep racing, I’d have to go with a Continental or Pro Continental team — some of which offered more money than I’d ever gotten from a racing contract, but I wasn’t inspired to go back to that. When I thought about the options I had for racing in 2017, for the first time, I found myself thinking about the risks instead of the benefits. I thought about my friends Stefano and Katie, who helped me through some tough times a year ago. They’re having a baby in March, and if I’m at a hospital, I want it to be with them in L.A., not a somewhere in Belgium because I got hit by a motorcycle, pretending I could keep the dream alive.

I also thought about myself a few years ago — how excited I would have been for those offers, how willing I was to take the risks back then, and the young guys now who are fast as hell, who want nothing more than a contract that wouldn’t mean as much to me.

I was trying to make the Vuelta squad this year, but I ended up in Alberta instead. After packing up my apartment in Girona, on the flight over, I read Andre Agassi’s autobiography. The big revelation was that he always hated tennis, and I guess you’re supposed to feel sorry for him, but I was jealous. Letting go would be so much easier if I didn’t smile every time I looked through my old photos. I tried hard to be miserable on the flat courses in the cold Canadian rain, so I could be happy if I never raced again, but I couldn’t help but have a blast in Belgium, Alberta, and all the other flat races I should have hated. I love this sport, I love my teammates (past and present), and I’m glad for the time I had, suffering on my bike in new places, drinking coffee on cobblestones, and for the last few years, literally everywhere I went, some kind stranger brought me cookies. If that’s not living the dream, I don’t know what is. I didn’t do everything I wanted in pro cycling, but I’ve done just about everything I could, and boy did I have a good run. But bike racing doesn’t love me quite as much as I love it, so it’s someone else’s turn to try and live the dream, and my time to get out of the way.

So next year, I won’t be a pro anymore, but I wouldn’t feel right to call it “retirement.” Retiring implies that it was a career — that it even existed. I started at the tail-end of the EPO era, I never quite got paid enough to support myself without working on the side, and my only multi-year contract was for $20,000, with the team folding halfway through year two. I was always chasing it the next goal and climbing the ladder, which was part of what I loved, but I never felt secure or stable. Also, retiring sounds like I’m done, like I’m on a beach with my feet up, and that’s not the case either. I have a lot of ideas and plans, and I want to think that my best years are ahead of me, that I have much more to offer.

I’m not completely sure what’s next, though. I accidentally ended up living in Hollywood, where — thanks to cycling — I met some awesome bigwigs, and now I’m pitching a TV show, a travel show, based around bikes. It’s a long shot, but I’ve already gotten much further than I should have (same way I feel about racing, to be honest). If abandoned storage units can have a TV show, so can I, but even if I don’t, I get the same thrill going to meetings with producers that I did pinning my numbers for a race.

If that doesn’t work out, I have a weird resume I’ve picked up as I hustled my way through pro cycling: I started and sold a business, I wrote a book, and my podcast has 100k downloads in 11 episodes. From being the “marketable guy,” I actually learned things about marketing, forged relationships, and I’ve met some great people who respect my weird skills, which I’m sure will lead to new and exciting opportunities. Whatever I do, I’ll find a way to squeeze bikes into it, be that local races with friends, Strava, or tearing up group rides.

I can promise that more books are coming, but “what I’m doing next” will have to come in another blog when I figure that out. For now, my Gran Fondo is this Sunday. I started it as a fundraiser for City of Hope, but now it’s become a bittersweet/chocolaty/sea salty, cookie-themed “Don’t call it retirement party,” with everything I love and want to share about cycling rolled into one day.

Here’s why you should join me at the Malibu Gran Cookie Dough:

– Three beautiful courses from 46 to 118 miles designed by yours truly, including Mulholland, the Pacific Coast Highway, and incredible climbs and descents
– Cookies at the top of the canyons, baked by celebrity chef Jeff Mahin
Lots of awesome pros
VIP dinner at Pedalers Fork — a classy, cycling-themed restaurant
– Awesome cookie clothes from Castelli (available even if you can’t make the Fondo): http://www.philsfondo.com/shop
– Raffling a Cannondale Slate, and a Cannondale Evo Disc for City of Hope
– Free beer
– Espresso and cookie rest stop by the beach in Malibu
– Lots more, but this is already the longest blog I’ve ever written
– Oh yeah. The forecast is 80 degrees and sunny