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10th Telekom Malaysia Tour de Langkawi - 2.HC
Malaysia, January 28-February 6, 2005
An interview with Tom Danielson, February 2, 2005
Fresh for success
A previous winner of the Tour of Langkawi has come a long way since scaling the heights of Genting two years ago. And despite him playing down his chances of another victory, Tom Danielson has quietly moved into the top 10 on the overall classification. Anthony Tan reports.
I caught up with Tom Danielson soon after the fourth stage time trial in Bachok. It was a good 10-15 minutes after he finished, but he was still dripping with sweat, perspiring as if he had a fever.
"I mean, look at me - I looked like I just jumped out of the pool! You can write on Cyclingnews, 'there's Danielson, fresh out of the pool next to the TT course!'" he jokes.
It had been exactly two years since I'd last spoken to him, but our last conversation was a memorable one. After all, he'd just won the Tour de Langkawi. The victory in Malaysia led to a swag of success for Danielson, driving his Saturn team to its best year ever, also its last year after a decade's involvement in the sport.
At the year's end, the then 25 year-old signed his life away with Fassa Bortolo, one of Italy's top teams, and with no real GC contender, Giancarlo Ferretti's team appeared the perfect choice. Or so he (and everyone else) thought.
It turned out to be one of the least memorable years in his entire life. The races he was doing didn't suit him. Fassa Bortolo didn't suit him. Italy didn't suit him. He wanted to get the hell out. But something told him to stay.
Was it Danielson's potential that caught the eye of Johan Bruyneel and Lance Armstrong, or the fact he stuck out a tumultuous season with the man they call "Il Ferron" (The Iron Man)? Maybe it was a bit of both, but whatever the case, he's just finished a his first pre-season training camp in California, riding side-by-side a man he's idolised ever since he threw a leg over a bike a little over ten years ago.
"Lance has been my idol my whole cycling career - even when I was on my mountain bike, before he was winning the Tour de France and all that - so I'm really happy for him to be my boss," he says.
"If you could sum it up in one word, it would be 'happy'. I love spending time with the guys on the team, the staff... I miss Kristin back at home, but y'know, I feel so comfortable here. It's not like I'm going to dinner with stress - what I'm going to talk about or if I'm going to fit in - and on the bike with training, it doesn't matter who you're lined up in the paceline with training, you always have a good conversation."
While I don't doubt his happiness, the more I talk with him, the more I sense a certain sense of redemption in his voice. A chip on his shoulder, which he freely admits to. But it's a big chip, so it's little wonder he's already thinking about the 2005 Giro d'Italia.
"Yeah, it's... " he mutters, a little lost for words, before heaving a massive sigh. "I have a lot of motivation there, for a number of different reasons, so it makes it a lot easier for me to go to this [Tour de Langkawi] race.
With his mind focused on May, Danielson's come into the Tour de Langkawi slightly overdone. Before Discovery Channel's first official training camp in Solvang, he had just completed a large training block under the guidance of long-time coach Rick Crawford, and arrived in Malaysia just one day before the start of the race. "So it's pretty obvious we're just here to get some warm weather and hard riding, so for me, it's just training," he says.
"Y'know, it's really hot and I'm still a little bit jet-lagged, so me and my team-mates have been coming back a little bit tired. Today, I just kept a steady rhythm over the whole course and didn't try to win it, but I don't know how I did, so... "
Despite not giving the 20 kilometre race against the clock full-gas, he still finished in ninth place, 37 seconds behind his former Saturn team-mate and stage winner Nathan O'Neill, a guy who Danielson says is often misread.
"People are a little scared of him because they think he's a big, mean guy, just a bad-ass that just runs over people, but when they meet him, they realise that he's just a great guy; he was a team-mate of mine and taught me so much - I really like the guy."
After today's sixth stage to Cukai, Danielson lies eighth overall, a shade over two minutes in arrears of race leader Koji Fukushima from Japan. Though at this stage, a shot at victory is not on his mind.
"Right now, it's great to shuffle the classification a little bit, get some different teams riding on the front," he says in a matter-of-fact sort of way, playing down his chances of a high overall finish. "But Genting's such a hard stage and in this ridiculous heat... "
So far in the race, Danielson's only had one chance to test his climbing legs. The day before the Bachok time trial featured two Category 1 climbs, and although not overly difficult and in no way as long or steep as the 17 kilometre ascent to Genting Highlands, I did notice Danielson was comfortably sitting at the head of affairs, and when there was an attack, he hooked himself straight onto a wheel.
"When guys jumped, I was able to go with the jump, maybe suffering a little bit, but I didn't try any attacks or try anything special," he says. Maybe that'll come later.