It’s crystal clear. Tom Danielson, professional cyclist with Team Garmin-Cervélo, will endure whatever it takes to win the inaugural edition of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge (UPCC) which visits Golden on August 28th. Tom and his wife Stephanie raise their 16-month-old son, Steven, in their Boulder home near the Rocky Mountain foothills. There on an August afternoon three weeks before the start of the race, Tom, Stephanie, and Shawn Hunter, co-chairman of the UPCC, sit on one side of a white dining table. Several local television, radio, web, and print journalists toss out questions about the upcoming UPCC race and the Tour de France. Tom’s reflections on becoming the highest placed American with his 9th place overall in this year’s Tour de France will follow in Part 2 of this interview. All replies are Tom’s unless noted otherwise.
Tom, you have the record going up Lookout Mountain. Do you have any other special memories about riding in Golden or thoughts about the Golden stage of the race?
You could have had a Lookout time trial prologue. Maybe next year we could do that! Going back to my roots, I started racing collegiately and one of the races I did was at the Colorado School of Mines. There was a criterium there on the campus and I’ll remember that for my entire life. It hailed in that race. I actually won.
I love Golden. It was a lot of fun being there on the collegiate trip and ever since I go back as often as I can. My wife and I go there quite a bit and we also like the national motocross race that they have in Lakewood. So it’s only appropriate that this race finishes by going through that town that has a lot of history with me. I’m excited too it’s going over Lookout Mountain. Maybe we’ll have to light it up just for old times’ sake.
What’s the key to riding Lookout Mountain?
A steady, solid effort. Don’t go out too hard; you need to save some gas for the switchbacks so you can finish strong.
Give us an idea of how you’re feeling right now, and the excitement around the race. A lot of people are looking at you as the local favorite in this race.
I’m feeling really really, really good after finishing the Tour de France (TDF). This was my first TDF so I wasn’t expecting to feel that good; it was a very, very difficult race and I was pushed to the limit every single day so to finish going strong is really a blessing.
We just came off a really nice vacation here in Colorado. We checked out some of the stages of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Everywhere you’re riding, and in coffee shops, and on the street, people are really, really excited. They know a big event is coming to their state. They know a lot of the key players in the TDF are coming to the race so there’s already a high level of motivation in the state.
You know I was motivated last year when I heard there was going to be a big race in Colorado. It really made it easier for me to train over the winter; I was super-motivated. From January 1 it’s been in the back of my mind and I’m excited for it to finally be here.
How much of your year do you spend training in Colorado?
As much as possible. This year I had my best season in my career and I spent a lot of time here in Colorado, and I think I’m going to try to adapt that into my training in the next year and from then on. I did a real good winter here in Colorado. The winters generally up to December, early January are quite good. That’s usually when I head over to Europe, and I was in Europe all the way to April. Then I did two weeks here before the Tour of California, did the Tour of California, and then came back here for another two weeks before Tour of Suisse and that really put me on a good level for the Tour of Suisse and the TDF.
How do you see this particular course fitting you to help you to win?
Well, it’s in Colorado, we’ll start there. Climbing will be decisive as well as time trialing and those are two elements that I’ve been strong in and any grand tour rider has to be strong in – that’s how the races are won. I’m really, really stoked to see this race has brought in these elements. They’ve put in some epic climbs and two time trials – and one of them is uphill. If there is any event that’s made for me, it would be an uphill time trial.
Do you think you have any kind of an edge having spent so much of your career here and riding here in Colorado?
Absolutely, it’s similar to Levi [Leipheimer] in California. I think it is in a sense the altitude advantage but just familiar roads, familiar faces, familiar businesses – it’s your community, it’s just being used to it and I think that’s the most important thing.
I think a lot of the guys will overcome the altitude. Being in Colorado for 15 years, I’ve done almost my entire cycling career training and racing at altitude, so I’m quite familiar with it and comfortable with it but, it still affects me. We’re all going to suffer. I’m going to suffer, these other guys are going to suffer, Cadel Evans is going to suffer.
But a lot of cycling is mental and how bad you want it is going to determine how well you do. So being in Colorado and living here, it’s my home state – I want it pretty bad so I’m willing to suffer.
What do you think about the guys that are coming out, like Andy Schleck a week before to adapt to the altitude; do you think that’s going to be sufficient?
Yeah, absolutely. I think adapting to the altitude is pretty simple. Really you’re body just learns how to deal with it, build some more red blood cells. The biggest thing is learning how to deal with the feeling — even when adapted to altitude you’re still at least 10% less efficient than you are at sea level regardless of how long you’ve been here. Those guys are already on a good fitness level, coming off the TDF, and they’re going to be out here early to adapt. I can see them being players in the race for sure.
Could you talk a little bit about the field and who’s coming?
Shawn Hunter: I think this is great validation for our inaugural event. To have the podium and most of the top ten finishers [of the TDF] is unprecedented in American cycling. We think it’s a fair statement to say this will be the most competitive and probably the most exciting field that’s ever raced on American soil and it’s going to be a great week.
Tom: When the team directors and the riders see people they are familiar with putting on the race and promoting it, they know it’s going to be a great event. And then when you throw in a great state, people are going to want to come. The last day on the Champs Elysees [of the TDF] Ivan Basso rode up to me and said, “Tell me about this Colorado race. I want to do well there. Do you think it’s possible?” You can see that guys are already motivated. The U.S. is becoming a huge hotbed for cycling so it’s only appropriate to have another big race here, and seeing all these names – people are fired up.
I think in the wildest dreams people wouldn’t have thought this would be the field.
Shawn Hunter: I think it’s partly because of the calendar. I think partly the team owners, the director sportifs, and a lot of the riders have been following this pretty closely. They’ve seen the national television; they’ve heard about the international television. And so I think it’s all of a sudden become a race that people want to be part of. And it is challenging. I was at the top of Alpe d’Huez for that stage [in the TDF] and I asked, “What’s the elevation at the finish?” It was about 6,300 feet which is about where we start in the Springs – and we go up another mile.
I’m not allowed to have any favorites, but if you talk to anybody else, money is on Tom Danielson because these are his roads and this is his home. It’s going to be very inspiring to see the whole state route for this guy.
The field might get introduced to our weather a little bit.
Yeah, when I saw the race come out and the time of the year I could think of a lot of epic adventures I had myself training. Actually I had to stop a motorcycle guy [in Silverton] and I had to use his blanket to overcome some hypothermia. Yesterday we were in Aspen and at 4 o’clock there was one of the nastiest thunderstorms I’d ever seen and I’m pretty sure about 4 o’clock is when we’re going to be crossing over the top of Independence Pass.
You’ve talked about what great pictures there will be from the race; I wouldn’t think that you would look at the terrain all that much…
I think the sponsors and everyone involved in this race are going to get way more than they’ve put in and expect to get out of it. Cycling is a beautiful, beautiful sport and one of the reasons is because of the backdrop. The images that they will be broadcasting and you’ll see in the media from this race will be phenomenal. You’ll have the best athletes in the world with the best backdrop in the world. It’s going to look amazing.
We’ve all seen the crashes at the TDF and loose dogs on the course and the fans giving riders a push. What message would you give to spectators for our race here in Colorado?
Shawn Hunter: Safety is paramount for our race. Going down Independence Pass, which would scare most Coloradans, would be considered a wide road in France and in other races. There’s been a lot of paving on the roads, so I think it’s going to be safe. I think it’s going to be competitive. And I still say, I don’t think Colorado knows what’s about to hit them with Tommy and the rest of the field.
Tom: Just have fun. The police motorcycles and cars in front of us go fast and come close to them, and there’ll be helicopters. And then you see the cyclists and we’re going so fast. If you are standing on the road and you see a missile coming at you, you’re going to move. You can feel the momentum before it actually comes near you. So they’ll feel it and one of the great experiences they’ll have is seeing how fast the world-caliber field goes and how close the racing is. It’s not like anything they’ve seen before. It’s going to be a good field and just get there and have fun. [Editor’s note: spectators stand back to allow the vehicles and rides space to pass safely.]
[More on Tom and the bike ride following the interview will be available on the author’s blog at http://provelopassion.wordpress.com.]
About Tom Danielson
Tom is 33 years-old and holds a marketing degree from Fort Lewis College in Durango. He joined the American Team Garmin-Cervélo in 2008. Like many pro-cyclists on the road today, Tom began his career racing mountain bikes in 1994. In 1996 he represented the U.S. as a member of the Junior Worlds team in Australia. He holds the record for climbing Lookout Mountain in 16 minutes 2 seconds, and also holds the record for ascending Mount Evans. In addition to other victories and high place finishes, he was overall winner of the Tour de Georgia in 2005 and the Tour of Austria in 2006. Additional information is available at http://wp.tomdanielson.com.