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An interview with Tom Danielson, January 17, 2005

Great Expectations

Lance Armstrong and Tom Danielson ride side-by-side at the Discovery Channel training camp in Solvang, CA.
Photo ©: Discovery Channel
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Two days into Discovery Channel Cycling Team's first official team camp in Solvang, California, Steve Medcroft caught up with new recruit Tom Danielson, where both team and rider have great expectations for the upcoming season.

2004 started out with a lot of promise for Tom Danielson. After an early career dominating the U.S. Elite racing scene with Saturn Cycling, he signed with Alessandro Petacchi's Fassa Bortolo to begin, what he hoped, would be success in the European peloton.

But Fasso's team dynamics were not what he expected and he ended up spending much of the year living alone in Italy (Danielson's long time girlfriend Kristin Johnson was busy with her own racing schedule in the U.S.), without many friends, and on a team that didn't seem to be the right place for a young rider looking to learn and grow. Given the same circumstance, any other rider would have probably come back to domestic racing and given up the European dream.

Not Danielson. He rode it out, taking whatever knowledge he could from every start. Then, toward the end of the season, the offer of a lifetime came his way - an invitation to race and ride next to the most dominant racer in cycling, Lance Armstrong.

Cyclingnews: We last talked to you just after you'd signed a letter of intent to join Discovery Channel. How has your life changed since then?

Tom Danielson: Well, probably the biggest change is that my motivation for the bike, for training and racing, has just increased twofold. This is making the work that much easier -- really wanting something and wanting to do the best you can gives you a fresh perspective on everyday life. As soon as I knew I was going to ride for this team, I was already thinking forward to the next year; to how I could do everything to be ready and be the best I could. I want to perform for Lance; he's been an idol to me my whole life. Not just from winning the Tour de France, but before too. And since I signed on, I wanted to come prepared and show that I am ready to work -- to Lance, to Johan (Brunyeel), to everyone on the team. These guys have high expectations, so motivation is my big change.

"Over the next couple of years, I'm going to keep pushing my limits, stay out of that comfort zone, never let myself feel satisfied or lay back and say, 'wow, I had a really good race."

- Tom Danielson speaking about his short-term ambitions

CN: Is it an intimidating peer group?

TD: It's clearly the best team in cycling on paper and it's obviously the best team when you spend time around them and see how everyone operates; the sponsors, the riders, the staff. Everyone has been incredible. Just the amount of people that surround the team is amazing. It's a big road show. Every day you show up at a different place or a new hotel and there's a new group of smiling people. Then you find out that they're like these renowned specialists in their field. It's so cool.

CN: Back when you first worked out your contract, had you been part of any team meetings or is the Northern California training camp your introduction to your new teammates?

TD: I had met with some of the guys on the team already, but I hadn't really trained with the team. Except that I did a camp in Austin earlier this year where I got to meet 12 of the guys.

CN: Was that the first time you had spent any real time with Lance?

A happy camper
Photo ©: Steve Dascomb
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TD: Actually, I spent time with Lance a year ago. I got to go down at his house in Austin and ride with him for a little bit. I didn't really get to know him of course because I was just so intimidated. You know, I was blown away. The second time I got to spend time riding with him, I was still intimidated but it was important that I show I was there to work and not, you know, be a fan. I mean I am a fan, but I want to show him that I can look up to him but that he can rely on me if he ever needs me.

CN: How have you prepared, mentally and physically, for camp?

TD: The team has actually worked a lot to let me know the things I should be doing for my training, so I've paid careful attention to that. The goal wasn't to show up at camp really fit and ride fast. The team has made it clear that my objectives are much later in the season, so I've been doing a lot of riding and gym stuff. And a little bit of running. I wanted to show up at camp right where they needed me to be.

CN: Are you getting comfortable with your teammates?

TD: Lance and Johan go through great lengths to make everyone comfortable. People wonder why this team is so good and right when I got to camp and saw how the staff and Lance and Johan were working to make the team gel, I could understand where it comes from. It's comforting to know that they hand-pick every guy for the team - they know who they're picking and how they'll fit in. This energy makes you want to work for the guys next to you. It's like he's your brother or something and you don't have any problem spilling it all for your teammate. Especially because you can see that they feel the same way.

CN: Discovery is building unit integrity very quickly?

TD: Extremely. Like right away. After the second night, I could already see everyone coming together. I was like, 'okay, here we go.'

CN: What have they had you doing at camp so far?

TD: The first couple of days were pretty hectic; we did the presentation in Washington with Discovery Channel and went to an event on Capital Hill and met a bunch of congressmen and staffers. Basically, we lived Lance's chaotic life for a day. All of us were pretty tired afterwards. Except Lance; he's looking around saying 'what, what, why are you guys so tired?' That's his life you know? He rides six hours on the bike and then flies around on his airplane doing these press conferences and events. It's pretty incredible what he does. After those hectic couple of days, we came straight to Santa Barbara and we've been on the bike since.

CN: Team management has said that one purpose for the camp is to develop the racing schedule and set goals. What have you been told so far?

TD: They told me that my number one goal for the season will be the Giro and they worked backwards from there to show me how I would achieve the level of form and experience I need to be good for that race. I'd say I'm most excited about doing that. I was really disappointed after last year (Danielson was passed over by Fasso to participate in their Giro team). I'll have a couple of different motivations to do well at that race (laughs). Maybe more than a couple.

CN: You moved from being a successful, established team leader on a U.S. domestic team to being a worker in a major European team and didn't have the success you hoped for. Do you think the Discovery team will give you better support for racing in Europe?

A strong support network
Photo ©: Discovery Channel
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TD: It's better for a lot of reasons but first of all, they put a lot of emphasis on the team; the team gels and works really well together in the races. I need to work as a team; I can't do it all on my own.

I'm at a place in my career where I need to learn how to race and I need people around me that are willing to teach; people who can help me and who I can help in return. I mean, riding tempo on a climb would be an opportunity for me at some of these big races because I'm really not so good in the peloton - my positioning isn't great. If the team helps me start to climb at the front and then I help the team by riding fast up the climb, I mean, I think we achieve two things. In the long run, I'll become a better racer from the experience.

In the U.S., I was babysat by Saturn; well protected. With Fassa, it was exactly the opposite. It was a team where everyone was independent. It was difficult for someone like me to learn because there was no-one interested in teaching me. There was more of an individual mentality. I had to race every race all by myself. I had to be strong and keep improving, but at the same time, it feels like I was getting smacked in the face with all these new things that I had just blown over racing in the U.S. because my team was so strong. I appreciate the experience though; I learned so much last year.

CN: What's the big dream goal for Tom Danielson at Discovery the next couple of years?

TD: I would really like to learn from Lance and my amazing teammates how to be a great bike racer. I'm ready to learn what I might be capable of. Over the next couple of years, I'm going to keep pushing my limits, stay out of that comfort zone, never let myself feel satisfied or lay back and say 'wow, I had a really good race.' I'm going to help the team the best way I can and by doing that, I'll become a better bike racer. As for a specific goal, a specific race I might be after -- I really don't know. I don't know what I'll end up being good at. I might end up being better at one race or one type of race than another. I don't know.

CN: Do you live full time in Europe now?

TD: We live in Italy now but we're moving to Girona just because Italy is impossible to do anything as an American. It's difficult to have a home life that's more stressful than your racing life and in Italy trying to setup telephone lines and automobile insurance and work visas and so on is next to impossible.

CN: It's less complicated in Spain?

TD: Exactly. My teammates (several Discovery riders make a home in Girona) have already outlined what I need to do to move there successfully. I'm very excited to be around my teammates at home.

CN: Is your wife (Tom recently married longtime girlfriend Kristin Johnson) out looking for houses now?

TD: No, she's preparing for her own racing season (Johnson races for Basis/Ford). Her big races are domestic, so she'll go to Spain with me in February, help setup our house and train there for a month. Then she'll come back to the U.S. and race. One of her mentors, who she's receiving coaching help from, is Dede Barry. Dede lives in Girona, so we're really excited for that reason too. I think we'll have lots of friends there opposed to Italy where it was just us. Well, just me most of the time - Kristin wasn't there more than a month all year.

CN: It all sounds exciting. Best of luck with your new team.

TD: It is. Thanks.

See also: Discovery Channel begin training in Solvang; September 2004 interview - A year of learning and a new start in 2005

Other Talking Cycling Interviews