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An interview with Tom Danielson, February 18, 2006
The whispers get louder
If Tom Danielson had a nickel for every time someone asked his thoughts about replacing Lance Armstrong as America's next grand tour hope, he wouldn't need to race for money anymore. But he still would - just for the love of the sport. And as Cyclingnews' Mark Zalewski found out at the Discovery Channel team presentation in Beverly Hills, Danielson is ready to begin his ascendency towards that spot left vacant by Lance.
Is Tom Danielson the next Lance? Those whispers became louder last April as Lance announced his retirement one day, and seemingly the next was riding in support of Danielson while the young American won the 2005 Tour de Georgia. He went on to start his first grand tour, the Giro d'Italia, helping team mate and overall winner Paolo Savoldelli during the first week before abandoning due to knee problems. He had a strong season with fifth overall at the Tour of Austria and a fifth place in the Vuelta prologue, going onto finish seventh overall, confirming his belief that the grand tours are for him - a focus he brings into 2006 after a year of learning.
"I definitely grew with the team a bit over the year, learned a lot from the great riders around me," says Danielson. "I spent some time with the directors, learning and training in the races. I took a lot of experience from last year, both on and off the bike. The confidence has helped me in my training and preparation for this year, and has pushed my work ethic to another level." Danielson also wants to continue to learn from the wealth of knowledge on the Discovery Channel team - a team he considers more like family after a tough stint at Fassa Bortolo in 2004. "I'd like to grow as much as I can with this team. This is my family and I'd like to have as many in-work experiences with them as possible - to grow and bond, which should make for a better career overall."
Ok Tom, that is great - but we have to ask...are you the next Lance? "First of all, Lance has left quite a void in American cycling, and there will never be another Lance Armstrong," says Danielson. "For sure American cycling needs more guys to follow and more people to keep pushing it forward. That's my job, and I'm on the best team with the best riders and the best directors in the world so I'm going to work as hard as I can, put my mental focus on, and push as far as I can." Regardless, Tom shares the same desire for stage racing that Armstrong had. "My goals are solely in the grand tours. After doing the Vuelta, I loved that - that style of racing, everyday battle. You have battles and then you have the war. Each battle you have to fight correctly, strategically, to come out of the war on top. I just love that, and I can't stop thinking about it. For me, it's the grand tours."
For this year, Danielson is setting his aim, and all of his training, on one of the three in particular - and will utilise many of the same training strategies as Armstrong. "I have a lot of personal goals, one is a specific grand tour - I'm not going to say which yet - but I'd like to give it everything I have. My real overall goal is to go one step closer to contending for an overall victory in a grand tour. I feel that the best stepping stone for that is to focus and put everything into the preparation, training and mental confidence - figuring out a template with Johan and Lance, follow that template from start to finish and seeing what happens when you race like that. Leave the race with the result...figure out what works and what doesn't work, go over it with Johan and then go back and train again."
His first race of the year will be the inaugural Tour of California, and is part of a very strong Discovery Channel squad. "The Tour of California is definitely in the plan - a big race for our team and a big race for American cycling. It's a great experience to train for a race like that and perform well. We are going to bring a very good team. I think the more races you do with the guys that will be around you for the majority, if not all, of your career is a good thing."
Up to now, he has been enjoying his first off-season without having to worry about his ride for next year. "[Training] has been going OK. I did a lot of mountain biking in the fall; got a new Trek Fuel mountain bike. I used to race mountain bikes, so I rode a lot of good trails. I just enjoyed myself and really let loose, then I transitioned back into racing in mid-November. I feel good on the bike, and really excited about the team." He got a sneak-preview of the new team at the Austin camp, hosted by Lance. "I asked to go to the Austin training camp because I just love the mentality of the team, hanging out with everyone. I left that with a really good feeling about the year, and it was nice to see Johan and Dirk. I met some of the new guys on the team, and they fit in really well."
Before letting him go, I had to press Danielson for some hint as to which grand tour he is targeting, but with a grin he replies, "It's a hard one! There is one that is very, very gnarly." Thanks Tom, that narrows it down.