Former professional cyclist, Phil Gaimon retired from racing in 2016, however his passion for cycling and in particular, climbing has only continued to strengthen since. Based in Los Angeles, California, his own backyard is packed with an incredible playground of climbs with the added perk of stunning coastal views at their summits.
Since stepping away from the race scene, Phil has not only continued to pedal his way through the hills of LA but has fuelled his desire to keep testing himself and his competitive fire by setting himself a number of unique challenges; most of which have been all about the climbs. From creating his own Gran Fondo: ‘Phil’s Cookie Fondo’ that includes his top local roads and climbs, to several Everesting attempts that resulted in success when he broke the record last May and avidly chasing epic KOM’s around the world.
Here, Phil shares where his passion for climbing stems from, a bit about his O2 VAM adventures in LA and his top climbs to ride across the globe.
What do you enjoy most about climbing?
There’s something deep in human nature that we see a mountain and feel an urge to conquer it. There’s a natural start, and a finish that usually includes a view and a place to rest and appreciate the accomplishment. I felt it the first time I crested our steep driveway on my Huffy as a kid. The mountains got bigger but the pleasure never wore off.
Why do you choose to ride on the O2 VAM?
The O2 VAM is the perfect bike for me. It has all the technological advancements without looking robotic. Of course, the light weight helps me get there faster, but it’s still stiff enough if the group ride comes down to a sprint.
What makes it an ideal bike for climbing?
When going uphill we’re of course looking for a light bike, but the hard part is the right geometry and stiffness that lets me push the power comfortably and efficiently, standing or sitting. I want a bike that feels like a part of me and I don’t have to think about.
On what rides do you swap out your O2 VAM for your custom ‘cookie’ designed OSTRO VAM?
What is the climbing like where you live in California?
The range where I train in Los Angeles has everything a climber could want. From the shorter Hollywood hills with fun views and people watching, to the longer climbs in Malibu where you can go an hour without seeing a soul. With perfect weather year-round, they don’t worry about ice or snow so the roads are often paved steeper than they’d allow in Colorado for example. Wherever I climb, there’s a view of the ocean at the top, and it’s only a few minutes of coasting to find civilization, water, coffee, or a good cookie. I was shocked at the quality and variety of great roads and hills so close to Los Angeles and created my Cookie Fondo to help spread the word.
Do you like climbing more now or when you raced as a professional?
The biggest climb that you can ride on a bike is Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii — from the warm beach up to over 14000 ft and a wall of snow. I went for the KOM on New Year’s Eve 2016, my last day as a professional. I stopped for food, a restroom, and photos, but took the KOM at just under 5 hours. I remember thinking at the top how incredible that ride was, and that surprise that I didn’t need any motivation aside from my own will and enjoyment. That ride showed me that there’s so much more to riding a bike than trying to be first across the line. I don’t have to do it anymore, which means I must love it because here I am, and I’m grateful that I’ve found a way to build a new chapter around riding bikes uphill.
What advice would you give to fellow cyclists who are looking to improve their climbing?
Climbing is a tough challenge but it’s also incredibly simple. Maybe that contradiction is part of the charm. Best advice to improve is to keep doing it. If you’re not having fun, you’re just going too fast. Slow it down, take in the views, and keep grinding!
Phil’s Top 5 Climbs to Ride Worldwide
- Mauna Kea
This is the only climb that I think about every day, and a ride I’m eager to repeat because I wasn’t filming videos back then. I forget how many climate zones you ride through, but it’s like being on 3 different planets in one day.
Colombia is one of my favourite places to visit. It’s a beautiful country filled with great people who love cycling and climbing as much as I do. It’s not as high as Mauna Kea but it’s one of the longest climbs you can ride by distance. The mountain is far from anywhere, still full of cyclists, with a shop at the very top for food, arepas, and coffee (which is one thing that Colombians love more than cycling). There’s great soul and heart in the cycling community in Colombia.
- Mt Washington
There’s an annual hill climb up this mountain in New Hampshire. It’s a perfect summer day at the bottom, but there’s no telling what’s in store at the top; from wind, rain, and snow. People travel from all over to do this event, which includes a thanksgiving dinner at the finish. I’ve done it a few times and somehow always leave with a story and a new friend.
- Brasstown Bald
When I lived in Georgia there was one offseason where I was able to take my training up a notch. I had a loop in north Georgia that climbed 11,000 feet over 102 miles with the 15% gradient of Brasstown as the climax. I did it once or twice a week and credit those great roads with a new level of riding that took me to Europe.
5. Mt Baldy
Right in my backyard in LA and a short drive from home. Baldy was the best hill for longer interval efforts in SoCal, so a go-to as a racer for big days and fun rides. I raced up it many times during the Tour of California. After I retired, we hosted “Cookie Corner” during the race, which was my first time as a race spectator. There’s something special about a party that you have to climb 6000 feet on a bike to attend, so I feel like Baldy was the first time I had purpose and fun at a bike race without being inside of it. It’s crazy how many memories and stories I have from this climb over the years.
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