Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervelo) is motivated to compete on his home ground at the inaugural UCI 2.1 USA Pro Cycling Challenge held from August 22-28 in Colorado. The American is unsure of how his body will recover from a recent 9th place overall at his first Tour de France, but his head is in the game as one of the favourites to try and win the overall title.
“I’m very motivated for the race,” Danielson said. “Just finishing my first Tour de France, I couldn’t tell you exactly how I am going to feel in the race. I don’t know physiologically what will be going on with my body in August. Mentally, I am fired up and motivated. I love racing in Colorado and in the US. To be called one of the favourites is an honour and I hope that I can put that weight on my shoulders and perform highly in my home state.
“When I heard the announcement of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, immediately it was on the back of my head and I got so excited,” he continued. “Here I am in my cycling career and I always dreamed of doing a hometown race, a big race. The feeling that I get from competing on my home roads, on the terrain that I am built for, high-altitude climbing, I love it. When we started talking about it over the winter and fall I made it a target on my calendar. I didn’t know what path I would take to get to the race but I wanted to make sure that I arrived in the best possible condition.”
Danielson is in proven top shape having placed as the best American rider at this year’s Tour de France in July, where he was a part of the winning team time trial squad during stage two. His career has seen ample success as a stage racer as his palmares also includes a stage victory at the Vuelta a Espana and two top ten finishes in the overall classification during the Spanish Grand Tour. He has also won the overall title at the former Tour de Georgia, the Tour de Langkawi and the Tour of Qinghai Lake.
“Finishing ninth overall at the Tour de France and the top American couldn’t have been a better run-in to the USA Pro Cycling Challenge,” Danielson said. “I feel really motivated, had the best season in my career so far. It was a dream come true to race the Tour de France and being one of the best riders in the world there. On that note, I am looking forward to this race and I will give it everything I have.”
Colorado climbs resemble Galibier and Tourmalet
Danielson is from the east coast in Connecticut but currently resides in the city of Boulder, and has been living at altitude for more than a decade. He believes that his long-term adaptation to higher elevations could play to his advantage during the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, especially over ascents that will climb in excess of 12,000 ft (3,600 metres).
“Spending 15 years at altitude, training, living and racing is definitely an advantage,” Danielson said. “Most of my competition will come prepared for altitude whether it’s from Colorado, Utah or back in Europe. So, I don’t think I will have an advantage because these guys will be coming from sea level and suffering without fitness. I think the advantage is more in my ability to handle the altitude. Having spent so much time training and racing here means that I have an ability to understand how to gauge your effort at altitude and that will be very important. A lot of this race is extreme altitude, not even altitude. Altitude is going to play a big part in this race.”
The USA Pro Cycling Challenge seven-day event is set through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Each road stage includes between 3000 and 9,800 ft of elevation gain. Stage two’s 200 km route from Gunnison to Aspen will no doubt be the ‘queen’ stage as it passes over two significant climbs on Cottonwood Pass and Independence Pass, both reaching above 12,000ft. Danielson believes this stage will be one of the most decisive because of the high altitude and length of each climb.
“They are similar to the Tour de France climbs in terms of the length and gradient,” Danielson said. “I think they are similar to the Galibier and Tourmalet, the high altitude that we have on our climbs in Colorado will make them feel similar.”
The first of the two ascents over Cottonwood Pass is located in mid-race and is roughly 22 kilometres in length. The climb will top out at 12,126 ft (3,696 meters), which is the highest point of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Part of what makes the ascent unique is its hard-packed dirt road. “I rode stage two and I don’t think Cottonwood is super difficult in terms of road surface,” Danielson said. “I think the dirt road might make it a little more difficult but I think the altitude and the length of the climb are what is going to make it selective.”
Independence Pass is longer and approximately 6.5 percent in gradient during the first sections. The climb becomes increasingly more difficult over the final six kilometres to the top where the elevation sits at 12,095 ft. The peloton will then descend the mountainside towards the finish line in Aspen.
“I rode Independence Pass and there was no way for me to get over that without experiencing all different types of emotions and physical feelings, just from the altitude alone,” Danielson said. “There I was in Tour de France form, riding over the Independence Pass and feeling light headed and suffering a bit. It will definitely be an advantage that when we hit those climbs to be from here and having experiences here at altitude. If you attack on Independence Pass and you are strong, you are going to go all the way to the finish. If you get dropped on that climb, I don’t think you are going to be able to work together because of the altitude.”