Tom Danielson: the guy to watch at Pro Cycle Challenge |

Tom Danielson: the guy to watch at Pro Cycle Challenge

Geoff Mintz
summit daily news
Tom Danielson of the US climbs Galibier pass during the 18th stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 200.5 kilometers (124.6 miles) starting in Pinerolo, Italy, and finishing on Galibier pass, Alps region, France, Thursday July 21, 2011. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

Tom Danielson is the guy most Coloradans will be pulling for at this month’s USA Pro Cycle Challenge, which will host the best riders in the world, including the top-three finishers at the Tour de France – Cadel Evans, Andy Schleck and Frank Schleck.

But the hometown kid who everyone will be watching is Boulder resident Danielson, who by most accounts, has a pretty reasonable shot at a podium or better thanks to his familiarity with the terrain and altitude, which will surpass every other bike race of this caliber in the world.

Danielson is feeling pretty confident riding into the Challenge after finishing ninth, best for the Americans, at last month’s Tour, his first. The 33-year-old races for Team Garmin-Cervelo out of Boulder, which won the Tour’s Team Time Trial event and supported the yellow jersey for more than a week. Danielson has twice been a stage winner at the Tour of Spain, taking two top-10 overall results at that race.

Another big win came in 2002 at the Tour of Qinghai Lake in China, which is the only other race on the planet that reaches similar altitude levels as the Pro Challenge.

“There’s been a lot of momentum in the past week with the announcements of some of the rosters for the top teams in the world. Those rosters really validated the inaugural event. I think it’s pretty safe to say that this is going to be the most exciting and competitive field to ever compete on American soil,” said Shawn Hunter, CEO and chairman of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

For seven consecutive days, 128 of the world’s top riders will race across 518 miles through the Rockies, reaching higher altitudes than they’ve ever had to endure, more than two miles in elevation. The race starts in Colorado Springs, has stage finishes in Mounted Crested Butte, Aspen, Vail, Steamboat Springs and Breckenridge and finally concludes on the streets of downtown Denver. There are 17 elite professional teams, eight of which competed at the Tour de France.

“I think most of the directors for the teams and a lot of his competitors are picking (Danielson) to win this thing. This is his backyard. This is the hometown boy, and I think he knows these roads better than anyone,” Hunter said. “It will be pretty inspiring to see the state of Colorado giving him a big push.”

Danielson said the hair on the back of his neck stood up when he heard the announcement of the Pro Cycle Challenge.

“I had always dreamed of doing a hometown race,” Danielson said Tuesday in a telephone press conference. “Having the local support and the feeling of competing in my home state, on my home roads and in the terrain that I’m built for – high- altitude climbing – I just love it. When I heard this race was going to happen, I just couldn’t believe it.”

Danielson said he couldn’t have had a better ride at the Tour and he’s feeling mentally and physically strong and recovered after a family vacation to Vail, where he spent time doing some reconnaissance around the area in preparation for the upcoming race.

There will be a nice home-field advantage for Danielson, who not only has intimate knowledge of the roads through the Centennial State, but also familiarity with riding at altitude. He says not to expect the other riders to keel over with altitude sickness, but in terms of managing the race and their own personal efforts with the difficult conditions, he’ll have a little bit of an edge.

“I think racing and training and living at altitude is definitely an advantage. … I think the advantage is in my ability to handle the altitude and some of the genetics that I’ve been given,” he said.

Danielson rode over Independence Pass on Monday and described the “emotions and physical feelings” as being very difficult due to the altitude – and this is for a guy who lives in Colorado and is in Tour condition.

“I can see some of the guys adapting to the altitude, but still not completely understanding the strategy in terms of how to manage yourself when you feel a certain way. And lets face it – a lot of this race is at extreme altitude. It’s not just altitude,” he said.

The ride over Monarch, Cottonwood and Independence passes is a different kind of beast in terms of altitude compared to the climbs on the Tour, but in terms of length and gradient, they’re quite similar, Danielson said. In some cases, the French climbs have steeper pitches and the conditions are much worse in terms of road maintenance.

Danielson said he is extremely motivated by all the support and encouragement he’s been receiving from his fellow Coloradans.

“Mentally, I’m fired up and motivated. I love racing in Colorado,” he said. “I love racing in the U.S. So it’s great. I couldn’t be happier and that’s half the battle. To be called one of the favorites is an honor, and I hope I can put that weight on my shoulders and perform highly in my home state.”

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