Bissell rider Phil Gaimon doesn’t remember the accident that nearly ended his season Saturday, but the response from his teammates, friends, and supporters is something he’ll never forget.
The 27-year old was airlifted to the USC Medical Center in Los Angeles for treatment of a concussion after he became entangled with a course barrier about halfway into Saturday’s stage of the San Dimas Stage Race. Gaimon, who began the day wearing the race leader’s jersey, lost consciousness for several minutes at the scene.
Speaking with VeloNews from the Bissell team hotel Sunday, the rider took stock of his injuries.
“I was lucky, nothing’s broken. I just hit my head real hard,” Gaimon explained. “I’ve got to be real careful for a while and try not to hit my head like that…well, ever. I ended up with a bunch of stitches and cracked a tooth from just chomping down so hard. But in the end I definitely dodged a bullet.”
Gaimon’s season had begun with a bang. He took the overall win at the Merco Cycling Classic and the opening time trial at San Dimas the day prior to his accident. Fortunately, it appears his season’s primary target, the Amgen Tour of California, is still in the cards.
“I’m super motivated for California and there’s still plenty of time, so I think I’ll be fine for that,” Gaimon explained.
“I talked to the team doctor and he said I can jump on the trainer whenever I feel like it, so I’ll probably start tomorrow and see how that goes. I’ll begin with some intervals and then head back outside in a couple of days.”
Believe it or not, Gaimon believes Saturday’s crash might have been a stroke of luck.
“It really might have been a blessing [in terms of season goals]” he explained.
“I’ve probably done a little too well in March over the past few years. Typically the guys who win Merco aren’t winning anything much in the summer. So knocking me off the bike for a week might not be a bad thing. At least I’m going to interpret it that way and do my best to build back up. I want a top-10 finish at the Tour of California.”
Well-known for his anti-doping stance and “clean” tattoo, the Bissell leader credits his early form to work with an unlikely training partner: Garmin-Sharp’s Tom Danielson, with whom he trained extensively during Danielson’s recent six-month doping ban.
“I met him in December in Florida at a charity ride,” Gaimon recounted. “He was going to be training in Arizona and was like ‘Hey, come out to Tucson and we’ll ride.’ It was the best training I’ve ever had. Tom really taught me a lot.”
The riders’ camaraderie took several of Gaimon’s long-time friends by surprise. But Gaimon kept an open-mind.
“He did some bad stuff, for sure. But it’s complicated. I mean look at a guy like [Garmin-Sharp manager Jonathan] Vaughters. He’s made clear that he was involved in doping as a rider, but many would argue that he’s also been key to changing the sport for the better. You have to judge a human being by everything they do. To say all dopers are worthless is to oversimplify things. And even I get that as a guy with a ‘clean’ tattoo.”
Just how hard his new training partner worked was an eye-opener for Gaimon. Danielson’s training methods were just as novel.
“We’d go up Mt. Lemmon and do these 20-minute efforts over and over and over,” recalled Gaimon.
“Now when my coach says do a 20-minute interval and then follow it with full recovery, I’ve always done my 20 minutes and then pedaled easy for half an hour. Tom will ride 20 minutes and then sit on his ass in a parking lot for 15 or 20 minutes. That’s full recovery. So for him, a four-and-a-half hour ride might take seven, but it really makes a difference.”
Danielson’s training methods aren’t the only thing Gaimon has going for him in 2013. As evidenced by the response to his crash, Gaimon, who writes a monthly “Ask a Pro” column in Velo magazine, earned the backing of countless friends and supporters.
“I had so many texts and e-mails and voicemails. I tried to respond to everyone — and I think I did — but it was work just to tell everybody ‘thank you.’ It was the nicest thing. I really didn’t know so many people cared. I mean I’ve crashed before, but I sure didn’t get a thousand tweets.”
Gaimon believes the support will fuel results.
“I feel like a lot of people are behind me, and I really need that this year,” he explained. “When people support you, you do go harder. Next time I’m in a race in a hard spot, I promise I’ll think about that and dig deeper. And when I’m on the trainer this next week I’ll be doing it for them too. It’s a really great feeling.”