Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Phil Gaimon's "Pro Cycling on $10 a Day"

Unlike those books explaining how to travel Europe on ten dollars a day, Phil Gaimon's "Pro Cycling on $10 a Day" isn't full of tips and tricks on how to race on the cheap, but is rather a lament on how poorly treated and how little racers on the lowest rungs of professional racing in the US are paid.

When he graduated from college in 2009 and began racing for the Jelly Belly team, the oldest of America's Divison three teams, he received a salary of $2,000, which amounted to a monthly pay check of $166.60.  After his first season, despite some success, he was offered no raise, so he shifted to the Kenda team and a salary of $15,000.  Neither figures add up to ten dollars per day.  Gaimon no doubt took a creative writing class or two as an English major at the University of Florida, and puts more emphasis on catchy writing than on being so precise about monetary matters.

Gaimon was a good enough student for a professor to encourage him to stay on at school in a fully supported master's program.  Though both his parents were college professors, academia did not call him.  Racing his bike meant more, so much so that he skipped his graduation ceremony to take a training ride, though he did dangle a tassel from his helmet as he rode, or so he says. He has been making use of his degree with writing for "Bicycing" magazine and more lately with a monthly humor column for "Velo."  There is no shortage of humor in his book, though in contrast to his column, it is much more concerned with portraying the harsh reality of the sport than making wisecracks.

He describes in detail his less than honest salary negotiations with his first two team directors, Danny Van Haute of Jelly Belly and Chad Thompson of Kenda, and also questions their capabilities as strategists and the basic running of a team, particularly riling Thompson. Michael Creed, a former racer who knows the ins and outs of the sport as well as anyone and is mentioned a couple of times in the book, told Gaimon when he joined him on Creed's Open Mic podcast on September 24 earlier this year that he heard Thompson suggested to Van Haute that they sue Gaimon.  Van Haute declined, saying that everything he wrote was true.  Gaimon had not heard the story, but was not surprised.  He said he held no grudges against Van Haute and "tried not to crap on him too much," but he had no sympathy for Thompson.  "He would lie to your face much worse than Van Haute," he told Creed.

He also told Creed that the Velo Press lawyers went over the book with a fine tooth comb and eliminated quite a bit that would be hard to substantiate.  Under their advisement,  he also toned down some of his rhetoric, such as using the word "dishonest" rather than "a crook."  Gaimon was no stranger to lawyers, as he had once been contacted by representatives of Lance Armstrong to stop selling "Liveclean" t-shirts.  

He has no respect for Armstrong.  His biography made him nauseous.  Gaimon dedicated his book to Armstrong's  missing testicle and Tyler Hamilton's phantom twin.  He is so adamantly anti-drug that he had a bar of soap with the word "Clean" tattooed on his inner arm so it would be visible when he raised his arms in victory.  He inspired quite a few other racers to do the same.  He had a close encounter with the drug mentality of the sport at his initial Jelly Belly training camp when the team doctor suggested he might be asthmatic, which would entitle him to take the drug Albuterol that many racers take.  He declined, partially inspired by a teammate who likewise was appalled by the doctor's invitation into the shady world of performance enhancing drugs.  Viagra too was known to make one a better racer.  At the Tour of Qinghai Lakes in China many of those Gaimon was riding with sampled the easily available local version.

There's little in the way of advice on how to survive on $166.60 a month.  Selling jerseys and writing were two of his ways.  He does advise that one should always carry duct tape.  It came in handy once when he and several of his teammates were driving recklessly to a race in a company vehicle that had been loaned to them by a friend.  Not only did it have the company name on the van, but also its phone number.  When the owner started receiving phone calls complaining about whoever was driving his vehicle, they covered up the phone number with duct tape and sped on their way.

He admits that he was a disruptive smart-aleck in high school.  In the Tour of Californina one year he mouthed off at Tom Danielson when Danielson reprimanded him for sprinting ahead of the peloton when Levi Leipheimer in the Yellow Jersey stopped for a pee break.  Danielson didn't know that he had been given permission by Leipheimer to take the lead for a while to give his small team some attention.  After explaining this to Danielson, he concluded, "Fuck off Christian," to further incense him, making him think that he didn't know who he was, mistaking him for his higher profile teammate Christian Vande Velde.

He and Damielson later became very good friends in spite of Danielson having been a doper.  They trained together.  Danielson respected his abilities as a climber enough to recommend him to his  Garmin team director, Jonathon Vaughters.  The book concludes with Gaimon receiving a contract from Vaughters at the end of the 2013 season.  He is so over enjoyed with the opportunity to move up to the big leagues after five years in the minors struggling on starvation wages that he immediately agrees.  "How could I be expected to negotiate through tears of joy," he wrote.

Tears also punctuate his first place finish in the 2012 Redlands stage race, his most signifcant victory.  After he sewed up the win in the time trial he wrote, "I teared up in my aero helmet." It meant so much to him that he told Creed, "When I typed that I was crying, and every time I edited it, I would tear up."

Gaimon is so intent on giving a full picture of his life in the racing world, that he unnecessarily lapses into the scatalogical.  His judgement on what is worthy of mentioning becomes highly questionable.  Do we need to know that a teammate would masturbate as a pre-race ritual or that another was trying to get his girl friend to try anal sex, but would cry whenever he made an attempt?  

He thinks it so hilarious that an Italian teammate doesn't know what "blow job" or "come on my face" means, that he is brought to tears.  The same teammate demanded that he always flush the toilet when they were roommates.  Gaimon would purposely not to upset him.  Another teammate would never do a number two in a public restroom, and after going at home would always take a shower,  He shocks a female masseus when he takes a break during the middle of a massage and returns with Nutella smeared all over his ass.  After a fellow racer sent him a research study that suggested that direct sunlight on one's testicles would increase one's testosterone levels, he and his teammates texted one another photos of their naked sun bathing.

At least when he tells about taking a piss in his shorts during the Tour of California he includes Thor Hushovd in the story.  The pace was too fast to stop, so he just dropped to the rear of the peloton for a leak on the bike.  It was a cold day.  As he peed, he was joined by Hushovd, who commented in a thick Norwegian accent, "Much warmer now, eh?"  One of the highlights of the week-long tour was  crossing the Golden Gafe Bridge at a parade pace and being able to stop and take a piss off the bridge.

Not too many anecdotes included prominent names in the sport, as he rarely raced against them.  The Tour of California was one of the rare exceptions.  He and a teammate had some fun throwing water bottles againste road signs.  The sound startled European racers unaccustomed to the prank, thinking there had been a crash.  Tom Boonem was so impressed he gave it a try and then sent a teammate back to the team car for more ammunition.

Gaimon doesn't dwell on the pain and suffering of racing, as do many such books.  He acknowledges the toll the hard effort extracts without glorifying or savoring it as did Chris Foome in his biography "The Climb."  Froome repeatedly comments on his love of suffering and is rhapsodic as he reaches pure and exquisite pinnacles of pain.

Gaimon simply says, "I feel pain, but it doesn't bother me: looking around, I always feel like the toughest man in the room."  He cites two occasions of extreme pain though. The first was after a supreme effort at Redlands to just barely retain his lead.  He wrote, "I couldn't speak for close to an hour.  I'd never been in so much pain in my life."

Later at the Nationals he was in a solo break for 45 minutes.  He occupied himself by thinking of friends and supporters, allowing him to "dig deeper and suffer more than I ever had."  He was caught 500 meters from the finish.  He was heartbroken, but the next day he received the offer from Vaughters.

He had a year to exhilarate riding for the Garmin team, but that sadly came to an end.  Despite winning his first race with Garmin, stage one of the Tour de San Luis in Argentina and finishing second overall to Nairo Quintana, who went on to win the Giro that year, his contract with Garmin was not renewed for 2015.  He'll be back racing for a small domestic team, Optim-Kelly Benefit this time, in 2015 hoping for another offer from a World Tour team.  Even at the age of 29 he clings to the dream of riding in The Tour de France and having a Yellow Jersey to hang on the wall of a palatial estate. 


Stuart said...

Does he already have a palatial estate or is that also part of his dream? Although he sounds a bit childish, I do respect him for his anti-doping stance. The question is can anyone win a stage at the Tour de France without doping? I doubt it.

george christensen said...

He did buy a fixer-upper house well before his Garmin contract. "Palatial estate" is just part of his dream.