PG: Actually, no. The story of this whole thing...I was putting on my Fondo at the end of last year, and my partner in it told me I was missing a lot of the potential social audience, that I should get on Strava to connect with the locals (in Los Angeles).
AC: Yeah..a lot of pro bike riders don't use Strava. They shun it on principle.
PG: I get that. They are too cool for Strava...they are too good for it. But it made sense to build an audience there, I had a Strava account, but I didn't really use it - it was there, it existed. So I started using it to build an audience. My season ended last year (and I didn't know I wasn't getting a contract for 2017), and there's a fast group ride that goes up Nichols Canyon. I was just about to start base training, and then I got the "No" from Dimension Data, so I knew I was done racing. And I was pissed, so I went on the group ride, and I took the Nichols Canyon KOM...and that was Thorfinn's. And it was like, the most contested climb in the city. Suddenly I'm getting text messages from 50 friends like I just won a stage at the Tour. I just did it for fun. I realized people liked it, so I was like "Cool!", and I just kept doing it. Eventually, it got to be a story, and people reached out to sponsor me for...whatever it was I was doing. I needed to do something - I needed a competitive outlet to ride my bike hard, and it just sort of fell into place organically.
AC: So going off of that, we talked in the midst of last year and you mentioned that if you didn't have a WorldTour contract for the next season, you weren't going to race anymore. You had offers from Pro Continental (second division) teams to race in Europe. Why wasn't that enough?
PG: From the outside, I can see the confusion. The lifestyle is drastically different from one team to another - as far as the quality of equipment, the staff, the races you're going to. It boils down to safety. One is going to the races you've seen on TV that you've known since you were a kid, and one goes to the Tour of Iran. It's easy to justify those sacrifices, the crashing, and the races that don't make a lot of sense when you're on the way up. And you think the the next year you'll do better - but when you're 31, and you've done the WorldTour thing, and you know what that life is like, and you know what your other options are...You don't want to take that hit anymore, living a certain way thinking it's going to get better when you know where your fitness is (and where you fit in).
AC: You did do that once, in 2015, going from Garmin-Sharp (in the WorldTour) to Optum (a third-division Continental team). How was that, knowing the above?
PG: It was good in a way - I have great friends on the team, and it's a great team. But you know...the massage isn't as long, at the hotel the hallway is on the outside instead of the inside -
AC: Hold it. That might be the quote of the interview: "The massage isn't as long."
PG: It's true! You get 30 minutes instead of an hour. And you're in these races, you start 30 guys back on the climb, your bike is a pound heavier than everyone else's, and it's already too hard. I wasn't good enough to begin with, that's why I'm on Optumm, and then you have 30 other disadvantages, it's very frustrating. Another reason I didn't want to go back was how insignificant the bigger US races begin to feel after racing in front of screaming crowds and helicopters. But you know, now I'm going from that to Strava, where there's nothing to post up. You win and it doesn't feel like anything.
AC: Ha. So going back to the Strava business, do you think what you're doing is going to inspire a whole generation of professional "Strava Hunters"? Sort of like Zwift or video games taken to the real world? Stravathletes?
PG: It's going to have to exist. There'll be another version of it...other people have done something similar, just being engaged and involved with local riders (like Tim Johnson and Ted King), but at some point I think people who specialize in Strava and never do a bike race will happen.
AC: Does that...make cycling, or at least riding hard, cheap? Like we covered, most pro bike riders don't care about Strava. It's one of those things where they'll get KOMs doing an effort up a hill or during a race, but it's not something most gun for.
PG: The pros don't care - but there are people who care. At some point it's going to get cooler to go for a Strava KOM than race.
AC: What's that tipping point?
PG: Maybe it's me.
AC: Is it Phil Gaimon who ruins it for everyone? There was a definite wave we felt when we saw the glut of doper KOMs falling, and the excitement around it building.
PG: That's actually kind of part of it. I want people to understand the difference between a WorldTour Pro and whoever the King of the Neighborhood is, the guy everyone thinks could go race in Europe because he wins at Strava, but it's different. It's serious over there.
AC: And like you said, nobody who's actually training really goes for Strava KOMs.
PG: Yeah, the pros who are training 30-hour weeks aren't doing a time-trial effort to try to take the local hill record. I could name 50 WorldTour guys who could smash the times I've done (on Strava), but fortunately they have better shit to do.
AC: How much longer are you/can you do this?
PG: It could go two ways. Most likely, I have a job, I'm training a fraction of what I did before, and most likely I lose fitness gradually. The best training is a 30-hour week or a stage race. Or it could go the other way, where my training gets more focused on KOMs, where I'm not doing endurance. My (power) numbers have gone up for 5 to 30 minutes since I stopped training, and I'm becoming more specified for these efforts. I'd get dropped in a bike race immediately, but I am more adapted to these efforts. It could go either direction. Ask me later this year.
AC: Have any peers given you a hard time about the Strava thing?
PG: Oh, everybody! But they know I'm messing around. I think I've done a good job expressing the whole tongue-in-cheek mentality. I feel like Strava is a fun app, and there are people who take it really seriously. I think me matching them in seriousness is making fun of them, in a way. What's funny are the comments on Strava and Instagram. The comments on my bike, how to make it lighter...part of it is the ridiculousness of how seriously others are taking it. I feel like I'm kind of trolling the concept. And I'm uniquely qualified for it, because I'm a good uphill time-trialist.
AC: Do you feel bad putting local KOMs out of reach of "average" riders?
PG: So...yes. But, the thing is, the ones I'm going after, especially in California, are either dopers or pros. None of those were attainable for people anyway, which is why people really liked that I was taking them. They'd been going after them for three years.
AC: A "Robin Hood" kind of mentality.
PG: Exactly. Like in the Santa Monicas, those are all from pro team training camps. Nobody's going to be taking those. There's a lot of the other ones in LA, where there's me there, there's Thorfinn (doper) there, and there's a bunch of guys. What I want to do is take my name off of them if the name after wasn't Thorfinn. I'm going to do is ask for an arms treaty...just take it all down. Turn in your guns, break your sword. I want the locals to have their Stravas back.
THE BIKEWhile he was here, we took the liberty of ripping apart Phil's purpose-built KOM Hunter bike within the limits of sponsor obligations (we had to keep the wheels, tires, and cockpit). It started life as a Cannondale SuperSix Evo, and it came to us at 14.7lbs with pedals. While that's not heavy, in the grand scheme of UCI-illegal climbing bikes, it is. Phil is pretty explicit about the needs of the bike - it doesn't need to be able to descend, just go uphill. Fast. Originally built with Shimano Dura-Ace mechanical, a Hollowgram SRM, and Mavic Cosmic Carbone Ultimate tubular wheels, our inner weight-weenies bubbled with possibilities, and we set AC mad scientist/service manager Mr. Webber loose.