"Normally I'm in the race, and I'm kind of there and knowing I could be there, but then at crunch time I just can't do it," Danielson said moments after having secured the overall win at the 2013 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah with a daring solo attack over Empire Pass in the closing kilometers of the race.
"I think it's because I love cycling too much," Danielson said. "I'm afraid to lose it, so when I get to that moment, I almost choose to not take it because I'm afraid if I do take it and I don't succeed, then I failed. I just mentally kind of second-guess myself. But I had a different Tour de France this year, getting injured in the beginning, and I had a lot of time to reflect while I was getting my head kicked in in that race; you know, why am I doing this sport?"
The 35-year-old, who is in the midst of his 12th professional season, answered that question for himself Sunday in front of several thousand cheering spectators along the finish line in Park City.
After coming in second to Chris Horner (RadioShack Leopard) the day before during the stage 5 summit finish at Snowbird Ski Area, Danielson was placed second overall but tied on time with his friend and former teammate. When Garmin Sharp put pressure on the field over the lower slopes of Empire Pass during stage 6, Danielson surged away from Horner's yellow jersey group, then held off the chase during the harrowing descent into the finish line to claim the overall win.
"I was very proud of myself, because it takes a lot of mental strength to go up against a competitor like Chris," he said. "It would have been really easy for me to just sit behind and try to hang on, but I owed it to myself to try and be the person that I want to be and take the bull by the horns and do it. So I'm really proud, and I dedicate that one to my teammates, who have basically stuck with me the last years and tried to help me do that many times when I didn't do it."
Danielson said he came home from the Tour de France determined to win bike races. The parcours and altitude at the Tour of Utah suited his skills, and he marked the race as the first major target where he would go all in for the win. But when 21-year-old teammate Lachlan Morton soloed away over Mt. Nebo on stage 3, taking the win and the overall lead, Danielson settled in as a loyal teammate.
"Even though I knew I felt really good at this race, I owed it to Lachlan, and the team owed it to him to give it a shot," Danielson said. "I really believed in him, so on [stage 5's climb up] Guardsman Pass I put it all out there for him, and I had a blast. It was really cool ripping the peloton apart, and it was a great experience for him to be in the yellow jersey."
But when Morton faltered on the final ascent to Snowbird Ski Area and told his teammate to ride for himself, Danielson was ready to pick up Garmin's overall hopes.
"RadioShack kept putting it to us," Danielson said of the stage 5 finale. "That dang Jens Voigt, he's so frickin' strong. He brought Tiago Machado with him and they got like a minute on us, so I had to bring a minute back on him, and he's no slouch. He's very strong.
"After that I thought, well, I'll just make a hard pace for Lachlan," Danielson said. "And then I looked back and there were five guys there and not Lachlan. So I thought, uh oh, I guess I'm going to have to do the race now. Then we all know the rest."
The success in Utah has been a long time coming for Danielson, who accepted a six-month suspension at the end of last season after admitting PED use in affidavits given during USADA's investigation into Lance Armstrong. His overall wins at the 2005 Tour of Georgia and 2006 Tour of Austria while riding for the Discovery Channel team were vanquished as part of his deal with the American anti-doping agency, as were his other results from most of 2005 and 2006.
It's been a long, bumpy road for the rider who makes his home in Boulder, Colorado. But at the post-race press conference, Danielson laid out a very clear vision of why he is still "doing this sport."
"I think a lot of people don't quite understand what cycling is and what we're doing," he said. "A lot of people think, yeah, it's great that we're out there making money and racing bikes, and we look cool doing it. But it's a lot of work, it's a lot of suffering, it's a lot of injuries.
"Chris here, to my right, he's seen it all, and why is he still doing it? He's doing it for experiences like we had here today. That's why we do it," Danielson said. "We put up with the knee surgeries and the calf tears and the crashes just to get that one moment like I had today. And we just keep doing it. That's who we are as professional cyclists. We're very determined people who live for moments like we get today. We're not out there trying to make money or anything else. We're trying to seize that moment."
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