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An interview with Tom Danielson, April 16, 2007
Carrying the Discovery torch
Tour de Georgia pre-race favourite Tom Danielson has returned in an attempt to claim an overall victory that eluded him last year. This season he put forth a tremendous effort for his teammate Levi Leipheimer to win the Tour of California. However, Danielson told Cyclingnews' Kirsten Robbins that the torch is in his hands this week.
Levi Leipheimer was undoubtedly Discovery Channel's outright leader at the Tour of California this past February. The team displayed an impressive amount of work to retain the yellow jersey from stage one through the finale, controlling the front of the peloton day in, day out. This week, Discovery has decided to shift the focus from Leipheimer to Danielson with as much determination behind winning the race overall. Danielson won the event in 2005 and placed second to Floyd Landis last year. Since then he has been focused on the overall win and wants to take the opportunity to graciously provide it for his team who will be working in his support.
"Here at the Tour de Georgia I have been given the opportunity to start in a good position to race for the overall with a fantastic team behind me," smiled Danielson, while kicking back in the lobby of the race hotel. "It is based on my past [performance] because I have had a good record in the Tour of Georgia and the characteristics of the course suit me really well. Plus I just love this race and it has been a big goal of mine since the beginning of the year and the team is motivated with me on this goal."
However, Danielson did admit that Leipheimer is the overall team captain when it comes to calling the shots out on the road. "Obviously Levi is a very strong rider and more of a true captain when it comes to experience and race tactics, as do many of the others on this team. They will all be running the show out there and hopefully I can come through with my legs."
Discovery's primary goal is, of course, to win the overall, but according to Danielson they'll still be happy with a place on the podium and a couple of stage wins to match. "We don't want to be too greedy or over confident because there are a lot of really good riders here and the courses are harder this year," Danielson said." But our team will be forced to step up to the occasion and perform at the best level possible. I think our whole team is very strong with many options. It is important for us to be conservative whenever we can and we are not going to just be putting on a big show out there. We have a lot of respect for the other teams that are here and the other riders. We need to be very cautious with our efforts."
There is an additional stage to this year's Tour de Georgia, with a finishing circuit race in Atlanta, as well as several changes to the other routes. The course that distinguishes the general classification may still be on stage five's grueling climb up Brasstown Bald but the race offers multiple opportunities before then. "I think the whole race is very important," Danielson said after previewing the race bible. "Some of the finishing circuits are dangerous, there are climbs where splits can happen and the new stage three from Rome to Chattanooga can also be dangerous. But, I feel that Brasstown is still the key to winning the race. How we perform in the stages before will really dictate the race and how hard Brasstown needs to be in order to win."
The cast of characters
Last year saw a battle between Danielson and Landis all the way up Brasstown's six kilometre climb in a tactical race to finalise the yellow jersey winner. In the end it was Danielson who won the stage but Landis who kept the yellow jersey. "It was a good battle and I am sure we will see similar battles this year," Danielson said. "Personally I am not so happy with my performance last year. I am happy that I won Brasstown but I feel that I didn't do the best performance on that climb as I could have. This year I would like to do a better job."
Danielson took the time to decipher the key players in this year's race that have the potential to win the overall. Many of these riders are from European ProTour teams but he does not discount the domestic squads and their talented climbers.
"I see Simoni from Saunier-Duval as a big threat - I don't think he would come to this race so close to the Giro d' Italia and ride it just for training but to race hard - he has good legs. Millar from Saunier-Duval is also riding very well right now and could do extremely well in the time trial. I also think Zabriskie from CSC will ride very well here. Plus Health Net's Nathan O'Neill and Toyota-United's Chris Baldwin race well."
When asked about the appearance of fellow American Tyler Hamilton, Danielson noted, "I have only raced with Tyler Hamilton one time before and I think here he will be riding well here too."
During the interview, George Hincapie was spotted sitting in the lobby of the hotel while the Paris-Roubaix race was being televised. Most of the riders and staff took the time to watch CSC's Stuey O'Grady win the cobbled classic while Hincapie sat prepared to start the Tour de Georgia, an unforeseen change to his race schedule. "I am very bummed that George couldn't do Paris-Roubaix," Danielson said.
"Seeing how fit he was in January and how strong he was seemed like this year was going to be his year. It was disappointing for him to be unable to be there today. At the same time we are all very excited to have him here. When I heard this was going to be his first race back I was super excited. Having an experienced rider like that here makes it a lot more fun. His experience, savvy and tactical awareness is incredible. I think he can play a big part in the race overall."