The new hope
Tom Danielson is considered one of American cycling's greatest hopes - talented, young, and with a willingness to learn, the man from Durango is currently at the Vuelta a España and eager to perform well. It's here that Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes sat down and spoke with Danielson about injuries, race potential and the year so far.
Tom Danielson has got his Tour of Spain off to a perfect start, finishing a fine fifth in the prologue on Saturday and then showing good climbing legs on the Alto de San Jerónimo on Sunday. After four stages of the race he's lying in 11th place overall and, crucially, building confidence and experience for future Grand Tour campaigns.
The 27 year old Discovery Channel rider has long been considered one of US cycling's brightest talents. While racing for Mercury in 2002, Danielson won the Tour of Qinghai Lake in China and broke Tyler Hamilton's course record by almost a minute when he took the Mount Washington Hill Climb. The following year, he won the Tour de Langkawi in Malaysia, earning considerable praise in the process. More victories followed in the US, in events such as the Pomona Valley Stage Race, the Redlands Bicycle Classic, the Nature Valley Grand Prix, the Cascade Cycling Classic and the Tour de Toona. He also set a course record for the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic.
People were starting to get excited about the young talent from Durango, Colorado, and Fassa Bortolo duly snapped him up, giving the then-Saturn rider his first European contract. However, although the move to Giancarlo Ferretti's silver squad seemed like a dream for the young professional, he was frequently left on the sidelines and never got a chance to show his worth. Winning the Mount Evans hill climb in another new record hinted at what could have been had he been given a real shot.
He was frustrated, but he would get his chance. Lance Armstrong's career was winding down, and the Discovery Channel team were looking for new American talent to nurture. Danielson fitted the bill perfectly. Recognising that he had a lot to learn, the team set about showing him the ropes and gave him a masterclass when they guided him to an excellent victory in the Dodge Tour de Georgia. Danielson finished ahead of established European professionals such as Levi Leipheimer, Floyd Landis and Armstrong himself; it was, he says, his biggest victory and one which gave him a lot of satisfaction.
"It really meant a lot, and for a number of different reasons," he said. "The number one was that the team and Lance and Johan had faith in me and put pressure on my shoulders. It was a very difficult field - you could see that the American guys and the European guys who were there are winning ProTour events this season, and have taken first, sixth and ninth in the Tour. And also the guys who helped them do that.
"So it was a good field, but the most important thing was that the team came up with a very difficult plan for me. Lance helped me a lot and having an idol, a mentor like that to come up with a plan and for me to put the icing on the cake was a huge accomplishment. It taught me that if I believe in myself, I can push my own limits. I hope to achieve that here, next year even more, and hopefully arrive at the top eventually."