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In the five years since Phil Gaimon left the pro peloton, he’s become fitter, busier, and happier than ever.
A recent announcement about the new Jukebox Cycling team left some assuming that Gaimon — who owns hundreds of KOM crowns on Strava, as well as having nearly 110,000 YouTube followers — was going back to the races. He’s not. He has five teammates, though, who will be attending events. Adam Roberge, Alexey Vermeulen, and Dylan Johnson will compete in the off-road Life Time Grand Prix; Ruby West is headed to cyclocross world championships, and 12-year-old Xander Graham, well, the entire cycling world is his oyster.
Gaimon said that Jukebox’s approach to unite multi-discipline cyclists under one banner is an example of the changing landscape of North American cycling — one where winning races is less and less important.
“My discipline is just the content part,” he told VeloNews.
We spoke with Gaimon about the new sponsorship and how it will impact his multiple ongoing projects, from fundraising for No Kid Hungry to putting on events to setting records on the bike.
VeloNews: So you’re not racing gravel. But, really, are you never racing gravel? Tell us how you really feel about racing gravel.
Phil Gaimon: I’m planning to announce a gravel event this year in California, but it won’t be a race. People used to treat century rides and Fondos like races, and my Cookie Fondo rebelled from that so we have no timing, no prizes, and games and cookies at the aid stations so you’re crazy if you don’t stop. It turned into a party on bikes and that’s how I like it. I enjoy gravel events and the people who do them feel more like my kinda folks than traditional road racing ever did. I had a blast at Rebecca’s Private Idaho last year and made a fun video about the trip. I enjoy riding trails and dirt roads and adventures. I just went on a four-day epic ride in the desert with Alex Howes and Kiel Reijnen and made a video about it called “Kill Phil.” I had a blast and I’m honestly proud of the final product. That’s where I belong in the gravel scene and cycling in general.
VN: Do you have a strict no-racing policy in general? If so, why?
PG: I wanted to be a bike racer real bad. I got to do it at a high level for several years, but ultimately the traditional side of the sport rejected me when I still had a lot to give. I was 30 and begging to get renewed for 2017. If they’d offered it to me I would still be there today, but I was cornered and had to adapt in another direction. Emotionally it was really difficult to let go (I had to write a book to process it), but I think I did close to 1,000 races by then and the urge to line up at another one is quite dead. I’m good at storytelling and I felt that creativity was stifled in a race environment. I still love training hard and climbing, and I’ve been able to stay close to my pro fitness. But Strava and my “Worst Retirement Ever” video series is plenty to satisfy the competitive urge. My career has had a great second act with writing, storytelling, video, starting small businesses, and my own non-competitive, cookie-themed events. Surfers pivoted from competition to content back in the ’80s. Mountain biking has a lot of both. In road cycling, nobody was really getting sponsors for content a few years ago, but it happened organically for me, it lets me take advantage of skills I had that didn’t fit in well with racing, and now I wouldn’t have it any other way.
VN: Is a sense of camaraderie really possible for such a disparate group? Aside from sponsoring your cookies and bike rides, what will you get — and give — to the team?
PG: In cycling when you hear “sponsor” you think “racing,” but I’ve shown that you don’t have to race to create sponsor value. I’m certainly worth more now to sponsors than I was in the middle/back of the pack in Europe. Same as when you hear “team”; I guess you’d think of a bus full of logos, a mechanic, and a soigneur, but it doesn’t have to be like that either. We’re a team and we’ll do some events together and collaborate, but riders are free to make our own schedules and get our own other sponsors, which I’m also good at. Essentially Jukebox is supporting each of us for our own passions and goals and value. They’re a fun brand and I’m stoked to fly their flag as I have with other brands. Now, with Jukebox, I get to vandalize the world with cookie stickers. It’s a great match.
VN: What are your thoughts on the health or direction of the sport of cycling in the U.S.? You must have an opinion even if you consider yourself somewhat apart.
PG: It’s hard to figure out what happened to the road racing scene in the U.S. Too many things to blame, in my opinion. I like what I’m seeing in criteriums now, and gravel racing obviously has some growing pains to work out, but it’ll get there. A few years ago when guys like me, or Pete Stetina, or Ian Boswell came out of the WorldTour, there’d be a bunch of teams racing domestically who would offer a soft landing and 50 race days and a livable salary, and we never would have needed to think outside of that box. Now we’re facing reality on reality’s terms, creating opportunities. And meanwhile, there’s younger men and women coming up in their own ways with gravel and track and road and cyclocross and content. There’s a lot of talent and ability and hard workers that deserve support, so Jukebox just looked around and chose to sign cool people doing cool things that fit their brand. I think it’s a great direction and I bet we’ll see more of it.
VN What’s on tap for you in 2022? Can you tease any fun plans or projects?
PG: Sponsors always ask for a schedule and I tell them I’ll be out there doing cool stuff with their gear and logos every day and sharing it on every platform. I had a lot of plans for 2020 which meant a lot of canceled flights and hotels, and I realized that one advantage I have is that I can be more nimble than folks who need racing to deliver for sponsors. I overtrained myself trying to retake the Everesting record (and probably just riding too much trying to escape everything going on in the world) but I’m back on track now. When I feel like my legs are up for it I’d like to have another crack at Everesting on a better hill than the one I was using locally. Aside from that, there are a lot of places that I want to visit, tons of KOMs I want to go for, and videos I want to make. My Cookie Fondo will be back on this year, plus the gravel event we’ll announce soon, and I want to do a Tour of California for No Kid Hungry where I publish the routes and you can join me for a mile or a day or a week. So lots in the works but the only thing penned in my calendar at the moment is my own wedding this spring. I didn’t even realize that it was the same day as the Belgian Waffle Ride, but it’s a few hours away so it’ll be an afterparty for a few of my friends.