Gaimon to Optum for 2015; says he’s determined to return to WorldTour

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Confirming that he will not be staying with his current Garmin Sharp team for 2015, Phil Gaimon has said that he is looking forward to the chance to chase personal targets in races with the Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies.

Gaimon stepped up to WorldTour level at the start of this season with Garmin-Sharp and immediately rewarded its trust when he won his first race in their colours, the opening stage of the Tour de San Luis. He held the leader’s jersey for several days and went on to finish a superb second overall behind Nairo Quintana.

He then spent the remainder of the year riding for others on the team, and will take part in the Tour of Beijing and Japan Cup riding support for Il Lombardia winner Dan Martin.

However, as he detailed in a recent interview with CyclingTips, the merger between Garmin-Sharp and Cannondale mopped up many slots, making things uncertain as to whether his one year contract will be extended. Gaimon confirmed to CyclingTips this week that this hadn’t happened, and that he had instead signed a one year deal with the US Continental team.

“Obviously I wanted to stay World Tour. That was the goal of the year. It is kind of a bummer that didn’t work out. But I think that is going to be the case for a lot of guys,” Gaimon told CyclingTips, speaking just before flying to Beijing.

“It is just unfortunate that there is one less team and there is a lot fewer jobs. It is what it is. But Optum is an awesome team. In terms of the goal for me to jump back to World Tour for 2016, I think it is a great place to be.”

The 28 year old is undoubtedly disappointed, but he has decided to look for plusses where possible. He sees Optum as a good team, and also acknowledges that there are specific demands on riders competing in the WorldTour calendar that he won’t have to deal with in 2015.

“It is a team full of my friends, races I am familiar with, I get to be at home. I think the life of the little man in the WorldTour is rough. I think I will probably enjoy my day-to-day a lot more next year just because I am home. I won’t miss as many weddings or my fiancée’s birthday next year!

“There are plenty of upsides. And I’ll get to do a lot of the same races. This year my big targets were California, Utah and Colorado and that’s not changing.”

Garmin-Cervélo CEO Jonathan Vaughters told CyclingTips last month that things were uncertain in relation to Gaimon staying with the squad. He said that he would like to keep him, but that the Cannondale merger complicated things.

Gaimon said that a lack of opportunities with Garmin-Sharp and other WorldTeams have come down to the constricted opportunities available due to Cannondale’s current team disappearing, as well as general shortcomings in budget.

“I think there were a lot of good riders available. Once all the teams got to their minimum of 25 guys, if they found extra money, then that was [up to] 26, 27. But as of a couple of days ago, nobody had come forward with an offer. Optum were looking to finalise their roster. Their offer was there and I didn’t want to hold off any more.

“Of course it’s a bummer not to remain WorldTour. I had a few weeks to gradually see it happening and to accept it. It went from being what was in my head a sure thing to something that was not happening. It was gradual.

“Definitely it is tough, it is a whack to the overall dream. Particularly as it is something that I chased for a long time.

“But as I went forward, I saw the other side. Right now, it was 4 am when I got in a taxi to head to the airport for Beijing. And next year I won’t be going to Beijing. So there won’t be that 4am start.

“What I keep saying is that I came from is the lower levels of racing. The offer I have from Optum would have made me cry for joy two years ago. So it is all good, it’s great to be getting a cheque for bike racing.”

Carney: “Phil will have plenty of opportunities”

Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies performance director Jonas Carney said that Gaimon first contacted him in late July or early August and that the two kept in touch for the next month and a half. He’s delighted that the rider has ultimately ended up as part of the team.

“At first I didn’t really think there was a great chance for him to race for us, but as time went on it looked more and more likely,” he told CyclingTips. “With Carter Jones moving to the World Tour, we needed to add a climber or two. Phil was a natural choice as he can be a GC threat at races with big climbs and he’s also a very well rounded.”

Gaimon also sees himself slotting in there. “I think in the climbing stage races, I will definitely be a guy they are expecting results from,” he said. “They have a strong team. There are some good Canadian dudes, there is Guillaume Boivin from Cannondale joining…so we have got two ends of the merger spectrum.”

According to Carney, leadership duties in the hillier stage races will lie with Gaimon and Mike Woods. While the latter had to sacrifice a lot of chances for his Garmin-Sharp leaders this year, Carney said that he will have much more personal scope with the team.

“If he’s riding well, Phil will have plenty of opportunities at races like Gila, Utah, California, and Colorado,” he said. “We’d also like to see him take a run at USPRO RR again next year.”

The team is also planning to spend the second half of February and all of March in Europe next year. While the programme is yet to be finalised, Gaimon knows that this will give him an opportunity to line out in some big events that side of the Atlantic.

His plan is to race well, ride hard and to give clear reminders of what he has to offer.

“The goal is to show what I can do,” he said. “Hopefully the WorldTour teams will have a few more job openings. I will get the results I know I am capable of, and I will prove my worth.”

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