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Phil Gaimon on BISSELL aims for his best Amgen Tour of California

May 11, 2013
The 2013 Amgen Tour of California will visit a lot of coastline

The 2013 Amgen Tour of California will visit a lot of coastline

Phil Gaimon of BISSELL Pro Cycling enters this year’s Amgen Tour of California planning for an experience that differs from his two outings there in 2009 and 2011. “I think the last couple of years I’ve notched it up a little bit,” he said, from his training grounds in Big Bear.

This year, he’s excited about the chance to “finally do California right.” He’s ready.

Fresh off second overall at the Tour of the Gila where on the toughest stage he attacked the select group on the road and led up the final climb, Gaimon appears fully recovered from the horrific-looking March crash in the San Dimas Stage Race. The Tour of the Gila is a UCI stage race with a lot of climbing in hot weather.

Concussion testing three days after the San Dimas incident suggested no damage. He soon began training again and judging by his power meter’s numbers in mid-April, he’d returned to the form he showed in San Dimas.

Describing the level of those power numbers as a relief, Gaimon added, “Honestly it’s sad that that was the scary part for me – that and waiting for the medical bills. The scary part is like: OK, my legs were absolutely at the top of their game the moment I crashed. I was at the best I’ve ever been, and is that going to come back?”

Gaimon trained out of Big Bear, California last year for a few summer weeks and felt stronger for riding at altitude. So he decided to return earlier this year.

The Big Bear formula seems to have worked again. He won the first stage in San Dimas. His attack on the last stage of the Tour of the Gila – a race he’s never aced coming from sea level – is evidence Gaimon is on form.

Not ready in 2009 & 2011

BISSELL’s 2013 Amgen Tour of California team includes Gaimon, who rode it as a first year professional cyclist in 2009 when the race still ran in February, with perhaps the wettest weather ever in the event’s history.

Bissell Pro Cycling Team at 2013 training camp, Phil Gaimon center. Photo courtesy of BISSELL Pro Cycling, by Casey B. Gibson

Bissell Pro Cycling Team at 2013 training camp, Phil Gaimon center. Photo courtesy of BISSELL Pro Cycling, by Casey B. Gibson

California was the first race on Gaimon’s 2009 calendar as a pro. “It was a completely alien thing. I had no idea what to be ready for or what was going on. I was kind of shocked to make it as far as I did in the race.” He didn’t finish.

Two years later in 2011 Gaimon finished in 94th place. “The second time I did it I think my legs were almost ready, but that year I hadn’t even had a great spring either…Honestly I think last year was the first year that I was actually ready, that I actually could have done something in that race.”

For a U.S. domestic rider to be competitive at California against riders racing in Europe, Gaimon believes that domestic guy has to rank as one of – if not the best – in the U.S.

2013 preparation

Given his current level of fitness and increased experience, the 27 year-old aims to land near the top of the GC list when the field reaches Santa Rosa next Sunday.

The eight day California race covers 729 miles (1,173 k) with 62,875 feet (19,164 meters) of elevation gain. The organizers reduced the amount of climbing overall by 22% compared to last year, but increased difficulty by adding a time trial and stage ending on short uphills. Mt. Diablo replaces Mt. Baldy for the mountain top finish.

Elevation gain and mileage totals, 2013 Amgen Tour of California
 start – finish gain (ft) miles finish type
stage 1 Escondido – Escondido 11,132 102.6 flat
stage 2 Murrieta – Palm Springs 9,790 124.3 uphill
stage 3 Palmdale – Santa Clarita 8,891 110.4 downhill/flat
stage 4 Santa Clarita – Santa Barbara 5,161 83.6 flat
stage 5 Santa Barbara- Avila Beach 7,776 115.6 flat/rising
stage 6 San Jose 2,149 19.8 uphill, TT
stage 7 Livermore – Mt. Diablo 10,384 91.4 mountain top
stage 8 San Francisco – Santa Rosa 7,592 81.0 flat
Total 62,875 728.7

The uphill with a grade averaging 9% on stage 2 into Palm Springs should especially hurt, if road signs are any indication. “Steep grade. Turn off air conditioner,” one sign reads. Gaimon rode that climb three times when he previewed the first two stages. He’s never ridden the road up Mt. Diablo. Plans included scoping out additional stages but the crash siphoned away the time for that excursion.

“That’s the only thing I’ve missed is that I won’t be coming into California having seen every stage. But neither will anybody else,” the BISSELL rider said. “That’s kind of part of bike racing, is just knowing how to wing it where no one has seen all the stages. Just having seen two I think is a pretty good advantage.”

In his opinion, “There’s not a whole lot of reason to pre-ride anything,” unless you’re one of the favorites to go home wearing yellow.

“Basically I could see the course but the most important part are the butts that I’m following up the climbs and that’s something that no pre-riding really has any effect on,” he explained. “It’s going to be me trying to stay with the top guys at the crucial points.”

Gaimon believes the GC will sort itself out based on time gaps on three days: the uphill arrivals at Palm Springs and Mt. Diablo, and the time trial.

While he’s heard some riders express apprehension over the Palomar climb on stage 1, he wouldn’t call the first day overly difficult because the riders ascend the easy side of Palomar, with downhill and flats to the finish.

On the other hand, “It’s so hard to tell how it’s going to really feel,” he said, until the KOM is approached at race pace.

Factoring in the race

Like any bike race, what will unfold this coming week over Golden State roadways is anybody’s guess.

“There’s a lot you can control and that’s all you can do is control what you can control and then the rest of it is luck, team,” Gaimon said. “There’s nothing really that predictable about it.”

And there’s more to winning than fitness. Gaimon talked about how satisfying it can be when things actually go perfectly and a rider finds himself with a select group that contains the winner. Fitness bar hurdled, the real race begins, what Gaimon called “a chess game of who’s going to win because any number of this pool of guys is strong enough to win if he knows how to use the other guys and if he knows how to race.

“So you achieve this level of fitness and then you have to achieve a level of understanding, and it really makes the sport. It’s complicated but it’s amazing and that’s the part that I love, all the different elements to it. And when it’s right, and when you’re really a part of the race, I think that’s the coolest thing.”

When Gaimon rolls up to the start line in Escondido tomorrow he’ll set off to become a part of the race. In mid-April he had a top ten goal in mind.

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