American Tom Danielson has been on the podium at the Tour of California twice, and he's hoping to make it a third on May 18 in Thousand Oaks. He may not be the main race favorite for the overall title, but he's optimistic that he could show strength in the event's key stages.
The Garmin-Sharp rider is feeling recovered from a recent patella tendon injury and staph infection suffered just a few weeks ago. He also says that he's begun the process of moving forward from USADA's Reasoned Decision that was made public at the end of 2012, in which he provided testimony about past doping practices, allowing him to focus more on his job this year.
"I would really like to ride well here," Danielson told Cyclingnews. "I was on the podium during the last two years and would like to be there again. Many riders go through problems with injuries, illness and stuff, we just have to manage everything the best we can. I've come here in the best form that I could, considering."
Danielson came into the season targeting the Volta Ciclista a Cataluyna and Pais Vasco in March and April, however an injury to his patella forced him to take some time off. He later wound up with a staph infection via an open wound sustained during training camp in Spain's Sierra Nevada range.
"My immune system might have been down from training," Danielson said. "I probably got it from the complex I was staying at. I got sick but kept training. The Tour of California [overall] was a big target of mine. I was focused on doing really well, but I was thrown a curve ball with the staph infection. I had to take a lot of antibiotics to treat it, but since then I've had two good weeks of training."
Following his recovery, Garmin-Sharp started Danielson at the Tour of Romandie with the task of helping Andrew Talansky on the climbs and in the overall classification. "I just suffered through that race," he said. "But I got some rest afterward and came to the Tour of California in better shape. My run-in to this race wasn't as perfect as I would have liked it to be, so I have no idea what to really expect. I'm going to do my best. All my teammates are riding really well."
Danielson could be considered a dark-horse contender for the overall podium, having placed third in both the 2011 and 2012 editions. He acknowledged that he has strong teammates in attendance, including third placed last year Janier Acevedo, Tour of Alberta winner Rohan Dennis and runner-up at the Tour de San Luis Phil Gaimon. All could do well on the decisive summit finishes on Mount Diablo during the third stage and Mount High North during the sixth stage.
No matter who pans out to be his team's go-to general classification rider, Danielson believes that Garmin-Sharp will need to use all its resources to beat race favorite, Team Sky's Bradley Wiggins.
"Brad Wiggins has the qualities to dominate this race," Danielson said. "No matter how fit everyone is, Wiggins was made to win this race. He's the guy to focus on — 100 percent. We have a strong team here, and we will try to make the race as aggressive as possible."
The Tour of California peloton has been without some notable names, including Americans George Hincapie, David Zabriskie, Christian Vande Velde and Levi Leipheimer, who retired following the USADA case. Danielson, who provided testimony about his doping practices during his 2005-06 seasons with Discovery Channel Pro Cycling, was given a six-month suspension and began racing again in March 2013 with Garmin-Sharp. He says he's slowly been able to move forward from the case and has found a level of stability that's allowed him to re-focus on his racing.
"Going through the whole USADA case, I had to try and keep racing and moving forward as best I could," he said. "I had to try to do the best I could to focus on my job. I feel like things are starting to settle now."
Danielson is now 36, an age when some racers start to consider life after bike racing, but he hasn't thought about retirement yet and would like to continue to play a role in the peloton.
"I'm not winding my career down yet," he said. "I started my career a little later than some guys, at 25, and it seems like the time has gone by so fast. I like sharing my experiences with the younger riders, especially on my team. It's cool to see a rider like [Phil] Gaimon doing so well, and it was rewarding for me to help him at the Tour de San Luis. Likewise, helping Talansky in Romandie and being apart of the process was rewarding.
"I feel hungry to comeback, work harder and perform well every year," he said. "I feel like I have something to give as a GC rider, to help a GC rider, to help in the overall team GC and to take opportunities. For me, the sport is addictive and I can't stop."