Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
PARK CITY — Tom Danielson enjoyed the best win of his professional cycling career because he embraced an opportunity he hasn’t always welcomed.
The 35-year-old earned his first major tour victory with a spectacular performance on the final day of the Tour of Utah Sunday afternoon.
“I was very proud of myself because it takes a lot of mental strength to go up against a competitor like Chris like that,” Danielson said of battling RadioShack’s Chris Horner, who finished second overall. “It would have been real easy for me to just sit behind and try to hang on; but I owed it to myself to try to be that person I want to try and be and take the bull by the horns.”
He said he has not taken advantage of opportunities in the past because the risk was too frightening.
“To be honest with you, it’s because I like cycling too much,” Danielson said. “I’m too afraid to lose it. So when I get to that moment, I almost choose not to take it because I’m afraid if I do take it and I don’t succeed, then ... I failed. But I realized at this race, especially yesterday, that I’m pretty strong. So if I stay confident and relaxed, I have a lot more fun and I can enjoy what I truly love to do.”
Danielson finished third in Sunday's brutal Stage 6, which was won with a time of 3:12.52 by the day's most aggressive rider, Francisco Mancebo Perez, who rides for 5-hour Energy. Jamis-Hagens Berman rider Janier Acevedo Calle surprised everyone by claiming second place in Stage 6 and third overall. Danielson passed the two men on the climb, but was happy to let them claim the stage win as he knew his efforts had earned him the overall victory.
"I didn't take any risks on the descent," he said smiling.
Danielson and his Garmin-Sharp teammates spent the beginning of the week trying to help their youngest rider, Lachlan Morton, contend for the overall win after his impressive solo performance Thursday earned him the yellow jersey.
But when Morton told Danielson during Saturday’s fifth stage that he might not have the legs needed to hold the lead on the climb to Snowbird, Danielson decided he could be the team’s hero. He led the charge up Big Cottonwood Canyon, losing at the last second to Horner, who stayed on his rear wheel for much of the climb.
Horner, who finished second overall, said it was evident to him after that climb, that Danielson had the advantage if Garmin-Sharp applied the right strategy.
“It wasn’t too difficult for me to see that if Garmin played their tactics right, which they did, I told you guys Danielson was the best guy on the climb," said Horner. "They raced wrong yesterday; they raced right today. I could tell yesterday, he had more punch than me.”
Danielson said he didn’t think his team’s tactics were wrong Saturday, but instead acknowledged the depth of the RadioShack team. Garmin-Sharp lost a rider Saturday and another mid-race Sunday.
“I don’t think we made any tactical mistakes yesterday,” Danielson said. “We were playing the Lachy option. They had a phenomenal team. I’m really impressed with George Bennett this week. The tactics they had yesterday wouldn’t work if his guys didn’t have the legs they had.”
He said his teammates did what they could to help him, and when they couldn’t, he helped himself.
“I’m really proud,” said Danielson, who served a six-month suspension last year after admitting to using performance-enhancing substances earlier in his career. “I dedicated that one to my teammates, who have basically stuck with me the last years tried to help me do that many years and I didn’t do it. So I’m very happy to finally do it.”
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