Gaimon's second nickname is the Cookie Monster, a playful reference to his undying love for cookies - chocolate chip only, for why get fancy when something so good already exists? - and the furry, blue, crumb-spewing Sesame Street character who shares the same passion. On his personal website, Gaimon has a ranking of the top ten best cookies he has had in the United States, a list he keeps updated regularly. Surprisingly, the famous Cookie Cabin atop Tuscon, Arizona's Mt. Lemmon doesn't make the cut despite being a favorite destination for riders from states away. If you want true perfection, according to Gaimon, you must go to Café Solterra in Glynn County, Georgia.
The cookie rankings and accident counter - today proudly proclaiming "75 days since last accident" - on Gaimon's personal website point to an individual who is as unique as his path to the World Tour ranks.
Gaimon's name should ring a bell for those who follow domestic racing in the United States after his high profile victories on the National Racing Calendar circuit. He won a stage at the San Dimas Stage Race in March last year and shortly afterwards followed that with a stage and overall win at the Redlands Cycling Classic. This year, Phil won another time trial stage at San Dimas, the overall and a stage at the Merco Cycling Classic, and then finished a credible second overall at Tour of the Gila behind Philip Deignan. In short, he likes winning short stage races, especially if they are in California.
But these results, when they first happened, were a bit of a surprise. Gaimon - a strong climber and time trial rider - did not come out of nowhere, but the contrast with his results from 2011 and before was stark. Coupled with his near win at Nationals this year in Chattanooga and ascension to the World Tour ranks next year, we see a portrait of near meteoric rise.
We are accustomed to such stories, to be fair - Lars Boom won the cyclocross world championships at the age of 22. Peter Sagan wore the maillot verde in Paris as the winner of the points classification of the Tour de France at the same age, in his first participation in the race. But these stories - and the countless other ones we know - traditionally feature young riders, ones who blitzed through the U-23 ranks and were getting results on the biggest stages of the sport by the time they were barely into their 20s. Unlike these phenoms, Gaimon is 27 - not old, but not young either. So where was he hiding?
Phil was first introduced to racing in college at the age of 19, being drawn into the unconventional talent development program that is collegiate cycling, a mixture of hard racing, late nights, McDonalds breakfasts, and the standard shenanigans you would expect from a bunch of sleep-deprived, caffeine-fueled 20 year olds. While he showed promise early on, Gaimon committed himself to finishing his degree at the University of Florida before signing his first professional contract, if one can call a $166 per month stipend a professional contract.
In Europe - or more specifically, in the World Tour and Pro Continental ranks - there is a minimum wage for riders, set at a livable 27,500 euro for Pro Continental riders and 35,000 euro for World Tour riders (first-year professional riders can be paid slightly lower salaries). In the United States, where the biggest domestic teams are merely Continental level teams in the UCI structure, there is no minimum wage, and it is not uncommon for riders to work part time jobs to make enough money to survive on. This is where Gaimon lived for the next three years, barely scraping a living while racing his bike for a succession of small domestic teams before signing for Jelly Belly in 2009, Kenda - Five Hour Energy for the 2010-2012 seasons, and Bissel Pro Cycling in 2013.
Once he was on Kenda - Five Hour Energy - one of the larger domestic teams - things did not necessarily get easier. For several years, Gaimon has balanced a few side businesses with his training and racing schedule. He is the creator of Podium Legs, a compression massager for your legs, and Podium Cold, essentially a portable ice bath for your legs, in pant form. He is the co-founder of sharethedamnroad.com, an online store coupling cycling advocacy with cycling kits playfully reading "Don't run me over" and "Share the damn road." Occasionally, Gaimon would sleep in the back of his car at races to save money. With so many other distractions taking time away from his recovery, Gaimon's results over the past two years are all the more impressive.
This is where the story of Gaimon's rise to Garmin-Sharp picks up, with team owner Jonathan Vaughter's realization that Gaimon was winning some of the biggest domestic stage races under decidedly far from ideal conditions. Vaughters also would have noticed the prominent tattoo Gaimon has on his right bicep, a bar of soap with the word "CLEAN" in the middle, that was so prominently on display as Gaimon time trialed his way towards the finish line of the national championship road race. Gaimon was one of the first riders to have a tattoo of this sort, a visible display of athletes' commitment to racing without the use of performance enhancing drugs. If promising results and a virulently anti-doping attitude don't get you on the radar of Jonathan Vaughters, little will.
We have reached the end of the Phil Gaimon story so far and along the way we have discovered a light-hearted, hard-working rider with strong convictions. In the future, Vaughters hopes that Gaimon can become a rider for the hilly one-day classics like Liége - Bastogne - Liége, combining climbing ability with the presence of mind and tactical acumen to actually race in support of a team leader in the waning kilometers of these races rather than merely try to survive. And, along the way we can no doubt expect numerous updates on The Cookie Situation in Europe.