Phil Gaimon Became a YouTube Star After Retirement From Pro Cycling

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SportTechie’s Athletes Voice series features the views and opinions of the athletes who use and are powered by technology. Recently, SportTechie spoke to pro cyclist-turned-YouTube star Phil Gaimon at the Red Bull Bay Climb race about the use of technology and data in cycling, and his post-retirement social media presence.

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Phil Gaimon has built a brand as a cookie-loving, Strava KOM-collecting, former pro cyclist. Gaimon raced for two years on the World Tour with the Garmin-Sharp (2014) and Cannondale (2016) team. He won the Redlands Bicycle Classic in 2012 and 2015, won Stage 1 and finished second overall in his first World Tour event, the 2014 Tour de San Luis, and, after officially retiring in 2016, won the USA Cycling Hill Climb National Championship in August 2017. He had a tattoo of a bar of soap with the word CLEAN inked on his right bicep to underline that he never used performance enhancing drugs.

During his pro career, Gaimon became known for his love of cookies, and for being one of the most open riders on the World Tour. He founded his own race, the Cookie Fondo, in November 2016 and showed up at pro races, including the 2017 Tour of California, with a jar of cookies to promote it. (Along the way scoring a photo of three-time road race world champion Peter Sagan popping a wheelie while reaching for a cookie mid-race.)

Gaimon has written three books—Pro Cycling on $10 a Day: From Fat Kid to Euro Pro, Ask a Pro: Deep Thoughts and Unreliable Advice from America’s Foremost Cycling Sage, and Draft Animals: Living the Pro Cycling Dream (Once in a While)—and stars in a series of Worst Retirement Ever and Best Retirement Ever videos on his YouTube channel that offer cycling fans a view into the life of a pro, or ex-pro, cyclist. He is active on the social fitness platform Strava, where he seeks to set fastest times on cycling segments around the world and rack up King of the Mountain crowns.

Using Data in Pro Cycling

“It’s not my job anymore. [I used to use] technology from the power data and the recovery data, and you would track everything to medical technology and VO2 tests, and we would do quarterly blood tests. Now—I’m not rebelling from that—just there’s no point.”

“Generally you have your training cycle, you have your power meters, you know what your lactate threshold is, because you’ve done the blood test. When you’re dialed, and everything is controlled—which is the goal—you can look at a chart on TrainingPeaks.com and it’ll say ‘You feel good today’ and it’ll be correct. You’ve done this load and you’re recovered and here’s where you’re at because it just knows.”

“You do your 30 hours weeks, and you’ve done you power and TrainingPeaks knows all that. It also is creepily accurate how it would predict basically how good you are. Ultimately, it says here’s your power to weight ratio for 30 seconds, one minute, five minutes, 10, all the way up to an hour. I remember at my peak I was like ‘Cool, I’m one of the best in the world for 15 minutes.’”

“One year I really targeted my five-minute power and anytime there was a race with a five-minute climb at the end I would kill everybody. It was sort of right there—‘Oh that’s my sweet spot, that’s the way that I can win’—and it was accurate. They have enough of a sample that they can know.”

Power Versus Perception

“My feeling trumps whatever my computer says. But that’s knowing from a million years of racing how I feel.”

“It used to be like ‘OK, based on my power test, my Zone 3 is 270 Watts, so that’s what I’m going to do on an endurance ride.’ And then it was like ‘I know what Zone 3 feels like, I don’t need to look at the thing.’ Somedays Zone 3 is 330, somedays Zone 3 is 250. These days it’s much less than both of those, because I don’t do endurance rides.”

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Over-Analysis of Data

“People go deep into the analysis of the power to weight ratios in cycling. There’s people writing Ph.D. papers on it … but I just know from experience. They’ll just look at like ‘Oh, the times from Ventoux this year were different from the times when they were doping,’ and they’re all trying to conclude something about if the sport’s cleaned up. That’s sort of the conversation that comes up. ‘Well, Chris Froome is X minutes slower than Lance on this thing.’ [But] the tactics of a race dictate a huge amount of the times. The race situation, the point in the race, whether it’s a mountaintop finish versus if it’s in the beginning. The wind conditions are enormous. The air pressure is something nobody even really looks at, but it’s very significant. If it’s about to rain—so low air pressure—there’s less resistance and basically you’re drafting even when you’re not.”

“I’ve probably dorked out on Strava more than anyone else, at least at the level that I’m at, and I’ve done climbs where it’s like ‘OK, I did 450 Watts for 10 minutes and it took me 10 minutes to get to the top.’ And another day I do the same climb at less Watts and go 30 seconds faster. And from just my feeling, I can’t even tell a difference in the conditions. It’s not like there’s a massive tailwind, it just feels like ‘Oh, somehow I went way faster today.’”

Finding the Fastest Bike

“Different brands work with different people, different geometries. For the most part, the best bike is like asking which supermodel is the hottest. Like they’re all a 10 and it’s sort of a preference from there.”

“Every company has a flagship frame that’s amazing, and then it’s just like ‘OK, which brand sort of fits me and which one like does the geometry agree with me.’ I’ve been with Cannondale a long time and I’m super comfortable on those bikes. But having a lighter bike and having the right sort of tires, and knowing all the rolling resistance stuff, you can get really deep into that.”

“Cannondale has an aero bike that they say is faster for anything that is not a steep climb and my experience agrees with that so far. It’s just super fast. It’s a couple pounds heavier, but it’s like a beefy frame, it’s very stiff, and it looks like a time trial bike.”

“I did an event in Big Bear that was like 120 miles, 12,000 feet of climbing, up and down. I went nine minutes faster [on the aero bike] this year than I did last year.”

“The problem [is], it’s never a controlled experiment. What convinced me with the Big Bear thing was this year it was actually much worse conditions than the year before. It was super windy and super hot, and last year I remember it being really perfect.”

(Photo credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Social Cycling on Strava

“One of the things that is funny about racing and the whole Strava world—I wasn’t really on Strava when I started racing, it’s something I started playing with after—and I think that people don’t know [is] what it means to be a professional. The difference between an amateur and a pro, that level of training, is unfathomable, and again from pro to World Tour. I know what it took, and it’s nuts.”

“And there were a lot of people who I think—when I came on the Strava scene—a lot of people who were too big for their britches in their neighborhood … everybody really needs to take this whole Strava racing thing down a notch. And I kind of proved that point. My message was ‘OK, I’m killing all you guys, and I got my ass kicked. I could name 50 guys who would laugh at all my times.’ That struck a chord with the community.”

Being a YouTube Star

“It’s cool that the technology lets us interact with people. That’s been fun. It can also be super annoying. YouTube is a weird platform I’m learning.”

“The viewers start from the premise of they want to be included, and they want input, and sometimes they’re brutal. They start from the premise of let me tell you what I want next, which is difficult to get over, because I just made you this for free. They start with that, but ultimately you use their feedback and you improve your product and that’s the whole point, that’s the end thing, people want to watch it. So mostly it’s collaborative the entire way, which is kinda neat.”

“It’s really hard. I mean I don’t train as much as I used to, so there’s a lot of free time. But when I was racing I was running a business and writing a book. Now I’m training half as much and I make videos, and I have an event. It’s hard intellectually, it’s not even about putting the time in, it’s hard to know what people want, and to deliver it has been interesting. There’s been a couple of videos where I think this is cool, and you post it and for whatever reason it doesn’t work. And the comments are like ‘Here’s what you f—-ed up.’ Literally, that’s what it is. ‘I hate this. Thumbs down, thumbs down, thumbs down.’ And I’m just sitting there hating myself. And then, ‘OK, I know how to do this right next time, we’ll try it again.’”

Read more: sporttechie.com