Tom Danielson found himself in the familiar position of overall winner again this year at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. But the Garmin-Sharp team leader said on Sunday that this year's win was nothing like his triumph in the same race in 2013.
"Last year we had Lachlan [Morton] in the race leaders' jersey," Danielson said. "I was coming off the Tour de France, so I was a bit of an unknown. I just ended up being pretty strong on the Snowbird day, and then it was like, 'Hey, maybe you can win the race if you go bananas on the Empire climb. If it works, it works and if it doesn't, it doesn't.'"
Danielson seized the race lead from Chris Horner last year on the final climb of the final day, finishing third on the stage but taking the overall win by 1:29 over runner-up Horner, who was riding for Radioshack at the time. This year Danielson took the yellow jersey on the fourth day of the seven-day UCI 2.1 stage race, and his team had to defend over the next three days.
"This year coming in I knew I was in good form," Danielson said. "I put my hand up and said, 'I want to win this race.' So there was a lot more pressure, and it was a lot harder on the team. You could say we had a much younger, less experienced team, too, with a lot of kinks along the way — illness and crashes and stuff like that. But everybody performed above and beyond this week. So it was the least I could do — perform well on my end."
Danielson's team defended him on stage 5 from Evanston, Wyoming, to Kamas, where Continental rider Eric Young (Optum Pro Cycling) took the stage win in a bunch sprint after a crosswind-filled day that traversed the Wasatch Mountains and the race's highest elevation. Garmin then had to control affairs on the Queen Stage that finished at the Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort and the final stage that included the daunting climb over Empire Pass.
Danielson said the entire race, which bills itself as America's toughest, was much more difficult this year.
"The new Powder Mountain stage was super hard, and the Snowbird stage — with the additional two climbs — was very hard," Danielson said. "So yeah, much harder. But the field was arguably stronger as well, and that made much more aggressive racing. You saw all those big groups and lots of chasing. I don't think we stopped and chatted much this year. Maybe today was the first time we stopped for a pee, and it was like, 'Whoa, guys, that was crazy. Did we just go 45km in 45 minutes?' It's been pretty fast."
Now Danielson and Garmin will turn their attention to the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado, where Danielson finished third last year behind BMC's Tejay van Garderen and Mathias Frank. Danielson told Cyclingnews earlier this year that he is focused on the Colorado race as well, but it may not suit him as well as Utah.
"I wish we were doing the same climbs in Colorado as we did here," he said. "That's the problem. Obviously my form is really good. If we had the same climbs and the same scenario, I think I'd have a really good shot. But obviously Colorado is a little bit more difficult race to win because of the shallower climbs and the lack of climbs, so I'm not taking anything for granted. I'll show up there with good condition and do the best I can."
Colorado also has an uphill time trial in Vail, which van Garderen won last year and then held the race lead all the way to the finish. Utah has a lot of climbing and no time trial, which worked in Danielson's favor.
"I've been training on my time trial bike for that uphill time trial," Danielson said. "But we all know Tejay lit us up last year, so he's obviously the favorite. I'm going to enjoy my victory here and worry about Colorado when I get there."