Garmin Sharp chasing repeat success at USA Pro Challenge
Defending champion Vande Velde doubts he is as strong as in 2012
The 2012 edition of the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado witnessed a virtual blitzkrieg from Garmin Sharp, which sent riders up the road from kilometre zero of the opening stage and never really let up until Christian Vande Velde took the final yellow jersey on the last day in Denver.
It was an impressive display of aggressive riding that led to the overall win, but neither Vande Velde nor recent Tour of Utah winner Tom Danielson would tip their hats Sunday as to what would be the team's strategy this year.
Vande Velde crashed hard during the Tour de France in July and admitted Sunday that he is not in the same form in Colorado as he was last year. But Danielson, who took a stage win in Aspen in 2012, is obviously flying, and Andrew Talansky, the 24-year-old rising star who finished 10th overall at the Tour de France less than a month ago, will also be in the Garmin mix.
"I'm definitely behind," Vande Velde said of his current fitness. "There's no doubt about that compared with last year. I had to leave early from the Tour de France, but I've kind of put the pieces together in the last couple of weeks before Utah… But I hold this event near and dear to my heart, and I'm going to give it my all. It really doesn't matter how I am, though, just as long as one of us from Garmin is on the top step. That's all that really matters."
Team director Charly Wegelius was credited for last year's audacious attacking strategy, and the retired former WorldTour domestique is back behind the wheel of the team car again this year. But Danielson said on Sunday that Wegelius' presence doesn't guarantee the team will come out firing again when the race starts Monday.
"The course is different this year," Danielson said. "We have a different team this year, with a different scenario and different competitors. So it's not the same. Last year it was almost like two teams racing against each other. This year there are more strong teams so that tactic maybe doesn't work. So you have to be smart. You can't just say we're going to go nuts, because it really only works when certain guys are in certain form over certain mountains."
Danielson emphasized the key to success this year is a strong team, and Garmin obviously has multiple cards to play this week. But Danielson also said the 2013 field is much deeper, and repeating last year's long-bomb strategy could backfire.
"It's a very strong field this year with Sky and the Tour de France Champion," the Utah winner said. "You have to be careful, you can't do crazy stuff, 'cause they'll just smack you in the face right afterward. We'll be as strong as we can be, and we'll try to be as smart as possible."
Being smart, opportunistic and aggressive can take a team a long way, and having multiple riders who can win the overall puts Garmin in a strong position to repeat. But could Garmin find itself in the position of having too many cooks in the kitchen this year.
"Absolutely not," Danielson said emphatically. "That's why our team is so successful, because we're all good friends. We all buy into the plan. We all train together and we hang out together. We did Utah together and between Utah together. We're all on the same wavelength.
"I think our team is very good at coming together as one and doing our best, especially in Colorado where our roots are from and where a lot of us have houses," Danielson said. "We're quite a force in Colorado, for sure."
Garmin Sharp USA Pro Challenge roster: Christian Vande Velde, Tom Danielson, Thomas Dekker, Rohan Dennis, David Millar, Lachlan Morton, Andrew Talansky, David Zabriske.
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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.
By Jackie Tyson