Phil Gaimon Journal: Looking for Big Bear legs

WorldTour-bound Phil Gaimon takes a month off racing, at altitude, save for the occasional frustrating seaside criterium

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BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. (VN) — The first half of the season was action-packed, with wins for Bissell, crashes (well, just one for me, but it was a doozy), a near miss on a national championship, and then signing with Garmin-Sharp for next year. All that happened, and it was still June. I was tired mentally and physically, but a gap in the schedule gave me, and my teammates, a nice break this month, to reset for the rest of the season.

I’ve been back up in Big Bear, California, because nerdy people insist that it’s ideal to sleep high (the house is at 7,100 feet) and train low (I can coast into Redlands and do my intervals at 1,000 feet, as long as I don’t mind 110-degree heat). The only problem with Big Bear is that I haven’t been able to convince any of my friends or teammates to come up and train with me since March, so the riding is mostly solo. I did a month here last year and enjoyed it, but the six months this season might have been a bit much. I’ve gone full days here without speaking.

One of my favorite routes goes down into Redlands, and then back up to Big Bear over Onyx Pass, at 8,300 feet. The only place to stop for water on the way back is a diner halfway up the climb. I stopped there last summer and found they didn’t take credit cards, but the woman let me have the bottled water for free, because she could tell I would have died without it. A few weeks ago, I repaid my $4 debt to that diner, just as Abe Lincoln would have done, adjusted for inflation, except it probably wouldn’t have taken him 11 months; I don’t think Giro makes a stovepipe helmet, and I’m positive that Pinarello doesn’t make a horse. At the end of my rides, I’ll soak my legs in Big Bear Lake, where the ducks love me if I have any sandwiches left in my pockets. I also saw a bear, finally. At least, I thought I did, but he was shitting behind a dumpster, and I’m told that bears shit in the woods, so I might have been mistaken.

My Big Bear experience wasn’t all left-foot, right-foot, repeat. One of the indirect perks of my life is that the extended family I’ve found, thanks to all the kind folks who like to help out needy cyclists like myself. They host riders or teams at races, and you keep in touch over the years. My Irvine family has a ski house they let me occupy in Big Bear, and my San Dimas family has a pontoon boat on the lake, with a great view of the fireworks on the 4th of July. Also on board was my dentist from Redlands, who fixed the crappy crown put in when I knocked out an incisor playing street hockey in 5th grade (don’t worry, I made the save).

I did my endurance rides and climbing in Big Bear, and for the past two weeks, I’ve driven down to civilization to race criteriums (which are about as civilized as “Lord of the Flies”). Last weekend was the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix, a stop on the National Criterium Calendar. The course had one small hill, but I’d probably need about 100 more, all tied together, to win the race. I was active early, but I eventually missed a break. All the big local teams missed it, too, and while they lacked the energy to get organized and chase it down, they did have the gas to follow me every time I tried to get across. Guys love picking on the pros, even the scrawny climber-types. While I refuse to be muscled or bullied into surrender in a bike race, I was eventually bored and frustrated into it, so I let the break go and watched (from a distance) as Jesse Anthony took the win. He’s a nice guy, so I’m cool with that. My legs are feeling good for Cascade, Utah, and Colorado, and that’s all I’m looking for.

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