Please enjoy this excerpt from Pro Cycling on $10 a Day: From Fat Kid to Euro Pro. In his hilarious debut book, pro cyclist Phil Gaimon tells the improbable story of his rise from plump kid to pro bike racer.
With my form finally coming around, I lined up with my teammates for the last race of the summer—the Tour de Toona in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Toona was one of the most prestigious NRC races at the time, and its hard climbs suited me well. Plus, the race was at low altitude, so the Colorado-based climbers didn’t have their usual advantage.
We members of the Sakonnet team were true amateurs, and Toona was no exception for us. We washed and repaired our own bikes, and we never had massage or paid feeders like the spoiled pro teams. Instead, we had Barb and Tom, a couple from Florida who were friends of Basil. They were in the area on vacation and had volunteered to drive us around and hand out bottles in the feed zone. Some vacation, huh?
Not that the team had many bottles to hand out in the first place. After each stage, we’d sneak over to the other teams’ trailers and steal the empties from their trash. They threw them out after one use, so we washed out their leftovers. No big deal, but I couldn’t imagine that happening with some of the spoiled kids on VMG the previous year.
We lost almost two minutes in the opening team time trial, but I rode well after that, the only amateur or Under 23 making small selections over the climbs. With no mountaintop finishes that year, chase groups always made it back to us, and we’d race for the stage win from groups of 30. Healthnet’s sprinter, Karl Menzies, barely made it over the climbs, but he had enough left to kill everyone at the finish.
I started at the back of the field for the Blue Knob climb on the last road race stage but flew through the peloton into a front group of 10 riders. It looked like the climbers would finally stay away, and I’d get my long-awaited top 10.
My group rode hard on the descent, trying to stay away from Karl and the other sprinters, and I was pegged at the back when the rider in front of me panicked in a fast corner and overcorrected. We were down before we knew it, sliding on gravel for what seemed like hours, until we finally tumbled into the guardrail. My bike’s frame was cracked into pieces, and the right side of my body was chewed to shreds.
My race was over, but the worst was yet to come. The ambulance pulled to a quick stop to check us out, and the drivers parked in the middle of the dangerous corner. When another group flew through the bend a few minutes later, three riders slammed into the back of the ambulance. Koschara had pulled over, and after begging the EMT to move, he ran up the hill to warn the next groups to slow down. There were tears in his eyes. Matt had been the man on the ground plenty of times when he was racing, but he found the helpless bystander role harder to handle.
I limped to Barb and Tom’s minivan and bled all over their seats on the way to our extended-stay hotel. By the time my teammates returned, I’d scraped the gravel out of my elbow and thigh, grimaced through a shower, and disinfected my wounds with various stinging chemicals. No amount of bandages in the world would have covered all the square footage I needed, so Matt helped me wrap myself in cellophane, which at least kept everything moist. When I packed my car, I grabbed close to a hundred of the team’s supply of lightly used water bottles. They wouldn’t need them for the crit the next day, and
I had to go home with something.
I drove all the way back to Florida that night, 15 hours straight. Apart from gas, I stopped only once, at a Wal-Mart Supercenter for a cookie. You know how when you go to Wal-Mart, there’s always some lowlife with fresh stitches, black eyes, or facial wounds, and you try not to stare? That night, I was the guy with the limp and a right leg that looked like roadkill wrapped in plastic. Everyone stared.