Tom Danielson begins ride to the top
| Durango’s Tom
Danielson sports the yellow jersey en route to an
overall victory in Malaysia’s Tour de Langkawi
last February. Danielson has moved to the forefront
of the American road racing scene recently and is
positioning himself to be America’s next Tour
de France hopeful./ Photo by Rob Arnold.
Tom Danielson wants not only to win this Saturday’s
Iron Horse road race. He wants to break the sub-two-hour,
tailwind-induced record set by fellow pro Jonathon Vaughters
in 1997. Even with an additional 2.5 miles added to the
course and the potential for stiff competition from Vaughters
himself, Danielson’s odds are good.
A few years ago, Danielson, 24, was a member of the Fort
Lewis College Cycling Team struggling with inconsistent
results. Now, he’s in one of the brightest spotlights
in professional cycling. Following his overall victory
in Malaysia’s Tour de Langkawi this February, Danielson
is now being lauded as America’s next great road-biking
hope. Following the Langkawi victory, Phil Liggett, the
voice of the Tour de France and the world’s most
popular cycling commentator, said, “He seems to
have all the elements that could make him the next American
to win the Tour de France 85 He’s just cocky enough
to be a real champion.”
This is a sentiment Danielson’s and Fort Lewis
College’s coach Rick Crawford shares. “He’s
the golden goose if you ask me, and I’ve had my
hands on the golden goose before,” he says. That
other golden goose was none other than Lance Armstrong.
As Danielson waits in line for coffee at the Steaming
Bean, there’s very little that’s cocky about
him. When Liggett’s quote is mentioned, he replies:
“When I first read that I laughed. My friend (professional
Durango cyclist) Todd Wells jokingly calls me cocky because
I’m paid well, have the best bike and have a car.
I thought, oh no, that’s perfect ammunition for
“But Phil’s British,” Danielson continues.
“By cocky, I think he meant tough and resilient.
I hope he didn’t mean it as an ego thing. Keeping
my head level is one of the things I pride myself on.”
Even though he has won a 10-day stage race against some
of Europe’s best riders, Danielson is by no means
cocky about coming back to Durango and having the fastest
time to Silverton.
“Any race is an unknown,” he says. “I’ve
been racing in these flat stage races lately. So with
all the climbing, the Iron Horse is more my element. But
I won’t have a full team for support, and it’s
a short race and that makes it more difficult.”
|Danielson at the Sea Otter Classic./Photo
courtesy of Velonews.
Turning it around
Danielson, a Connecticut native, first came to Durango
in 1999 to attend Fort Lewis College, a run he concluded
last December with a double major in marketing and psychology.
During his time at FLC, he competed on the cycling team,
initially in mountain biking.
“My whole life, I totally was in love with mountain
biking and cycling in general,” Danielson says.
“I pursued it but could never put the pieces together.
I was a struggling racer my entire college career.”
However, late in 2000, Crawford came to Fort Lewis and
Danielson met his new coach.
“He steered me in the right direction,” Danielson
says. “He said, ‘your build and talents would
go better on the road scene.’ Of course, I didn’t
Crawford and Danielson trained hard during the winter
of 2001. That spring, Danielson entered New Mexico’s
Tour de Gila stage race, still officially many steps away
from pro status. He left the race with a third place in
one of the individual stages, an eighth place overall
and a contract to ride for Team Mercury.
“From May of 2001 on, I turned pro and was a competing
cyclist,” he says.
Fighting your bike
The Mount Washington Hill Climb in New Hampshire is a
7.6-mile race that goes virtually straight up. The ride
averages grades of 18 percent, and what was thought to
be an unbeatable course record was set in 1999 by U.S.
Postal’s Tyler Hamilton. In August of 2002, Danielson
showed up for the race fresh from a victory in the Tour
of China. He’d never ridden Mt. Washington before
and didn’t know what to expect.
“I went out there thinking I was a good climber,”
he says. “But the hills around Durango don’t
even compare to it. I would say the closest thing to the
grade is the top of the Telegraph trail. It never lets
up. You’re fighting your bike the whole time.”
After switching out to much easier gearing, Danielson
left the starting line and fought his bike up Mount Washington.
He pulled into the lead but didn’t know how he was
doing against the clock.
“The only indication I had that I was doing well
was that at one point the press vehicles stopped waiting
to film the guys in second and third place and just started
When he finished the climb, Danielson had not only won
the race, he had shattered Hamilton’s record by
nearly a minute. “That will always be an experience
that remains for me,” Danielson says.
Later that year, Team Mercury dissolved largely because
of poor management, and Danielson started shopping around
for a new sponsor and team. Several European teams were
options, and Danielson had an opportunity to join Lance
Armstrong on U.S. Postal. However, he settled on Saturn,
a team with a largely domestic focus.
|Tom Danielson/Photo courtesy of
“I felt I needed another year of racing domestically,”
Danielson says. “Saturn gave me an opportunity to
do some stage races in Europe and to develop more and
become more of a leader.”
On Saturn, Danielson shares leadership with Chris Horner
and Nathan O’Neill, two cyclists with impressive
domestic records. Unlike Postal, where Danielson would
have been largely a support rider for Armstrong, Saturn
takes a more Darwinian approach.
“We show up at a race with eight guys who can win,
and we make the choice from there,” Danielson says.
In the European peloton
This February, Saturn showed up at the Tour de Langkawi
with a full roster for the 10-day stage race. The race
in Southeast Asia ranks as the fourth-largest stage race
in the world behind the Vuelta a EspaF1a, Giro d’Italia
and Tour de France.
“I was interested in the race because it has a
big mountain stage,” Danielson says. “I was
also interested in going there and racing against the
top European pros.”
After a third-place finish in the first-day time trial,
Danielson rose to the top of the Saturn list. But there
was concern that his youth would prevent him from staying
in top form for the remaining nine days. “The whole
Saturn team and the director thought I had the overall
best chance for a stage win or an overall,” Danielson
says. “But they were there in case I faltered, which
everyone thought I would.”
However, after stage number six, Danielson took the yellow
leader’s jersey and held it in a duel up the notorious
Genting climb against last year’s winner, Dario
Munoz. Danielson also held onto the leader’s jersey
until the finish line and claimed the overall victory.
“It was a good situation,” he says. “It
showed my mental toughness and how I dealt with pressure.”
On the home track
After competing in the nationals in Pennsylvania for
the honor of wearing the stars and stripes for the upcoming
year, Danielson will fly back home to Durango to prepare
for the Iron Horse. However, coming back to Durango means
more than just another race for Danielson.
“There are a lot of attachments I have here,”
he says. “The first is the college. It gave me a
career in terms of racing, and it gave me my coach Rick
who turned me around. I also came to Durango as a nobody
and the town has watched me develop and given me support.
I know when I’m racing the whole town is behind
Danielson adds, “I’ve actually thought how
hard it would be for me to live somewhere other than here.”
However, if all goes as planned, Danielson will be living
somewhere other than Durango next year. He and Crawford
have their sights set on the Tour de France – Danielson
plans on moving to Europe and being at the start of the
world’s greatest bicycling race next summer.
“Eight years of pretty hard work is starting to
gel,” Crawford says. “We think that in 2004,
we’ll actually see Tom racing in the Tour.”
But looking to the future, there’s still no cockiness
in Danielson. Whether he’ll be at the start, eventually
win the race or become the next Lance Armstrong as predicted,
“Time will only tell,” he says. “All
I can do is absorb what people are saying and try. I will
say that I am going to devote the next eight or nine years
of my life to getting there.”