The stars and stripes of the American road race champion’s jersey have stood out all week at the Vuelta a San Juan, but Greg Daniel nearly didn’t make the trip to Argentina at all, as illness threatened to delay his first appearance as a professional.
The 22-year-old, fresh off the Axeon Hagens Berman production line, signed for Trek-Segafredo for 2017 and was so eager to impress that he over-trained and became badly sick after the team’s camp in mid-December.
"I was like extremely thin, and probably didn't have enough time off. After last year I only took about two weeks off when I should have probably have taken four. I think I was probably too far ahead in my fitness," Daniel told Cyclingnews in Argentina.
"I had two cycles of antibiotics, which didn't work. Even flying over here I had a sore throat. I got sick and was basically not training for a month, then the week prior to this I did an effort and was just struggling. I talked to my coach and said, ‘I don't even know if I should be here [in San Juan]'."
The aim of the game this week was simply to get through it – "just make the time cut" – but he has exceeded those low expectations. A strong stage 3 time trial put him into 15th overall for awhile, and he has since helped protect Bauke Mollema's race lead.
"It has all come together pretty well. I had an ok TT, then Bauke [Mollema] basically just took care of the queen stage by himself and crushed it on the final climb," said Daniel.
"I was disappointed [on the queen stage] but at the same time I had to think that like a week ago I could barely hold 300 watts for 10 minutes because I was so sick.
"When I came here I was like, ‘Just make the time cut', so showing up and actually being able to ride pretty well was more than I was thinking I'd be able to do, so I'm pretty happy with it."
Daniel will leave Argentina on Monday and head to his new home in Girona, which he shares with teammate and compatriot Peter Stetina. His next race will be the Abu Dhabi Tour at the end of February, and after that the plan is to race a predominantly American calendar as he continues his neo-pro campaign.
"I think I do Abu Dhabi after this, then I'm reserve for a few races in March. It depends on who's feeling good, who's injured and sick, and stuff like that.
"I'd like to do California and do well there. I guess a lot of it is just learning, and hopefully at the end of the year do well at Utah. My schedule is still being worked out a bit, and it just depends on who's going well. It seems like an American calendar for this year then perhaps more European next year."
As for those races, Daniel feels that, in a perverse way, his illness and setback will serve him well for what's to come.
"I think the illness was more of blessing in disguise than a curse," he said. "Now I'm a little bit behind in my preparation but I'd rather go into the season a little underprepared than over, so I can ease into it and be good for April, May, June."