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RAPALLO, Italy (VN) — Tom Danielson (Cannondale-Garmin) returns to the Giro d’Italia this month in what’s his first grand tour since 2013.
Now 37, Danielson is no longer the new kid on the block. Once hailed as a possible Tour de France winner, Danielson remains committed to racing at the elite level despite unfulfilled dreams of winning the yellow jersey.
As the last active rider among 11 who testified in the USADA case involving doping practices at the U.S. Postal Service/Discovery Channel teams that led to Lance Armstrong’s lifetime ban, Danielson is certainly older and wiser than he was when he turned pro in Europe in 2004. With his contract up at the end of this year, he’s more motivated than ever to show he can still be a player in the elite of the peloton.
This Giro offers new opportunities for Danielson, and a chance to shine again in the deep mountains. He’s had a solid approach to the Giro, winning the climber’s jersey at the Volta a Catalunya in March, and riding to third in the “queen stage” at the Vuelta al País Vasco in April.
VeloNews caught up with Danielson before the start of the Giro.
VeloNews: It’s been awhile since you’ve raced a grand tour, what are your goals and expectations?
Tom Danielson: The last grand tour I rode was the Tour in 2013. That year I rode both the Giro and the Tour. This year, I asked to do the Giro, because you don’t know what’s around the next corner. I’d like to try to get some results throughout the year, in different shapes and forms. In the earlier races so far, I did my best. On courses like Catalunya that don’t suit me so well, I went after breakaways and the mountain jerseys. It was a similar thing at the Basque Country, when I am not as explosive as the top guys, so it made more sense to try to win a stage. I got third on the queen stage. I used Romandie to build up for here. At the Giro, the plan is to be up there as one of the last guys to help Ryder [Hesjedal]. That’s the objective.
VN: You’ve been on this team for a long time, how have things gone with the merger between Cannondale and Garmin over the winter?
TD: It’s been a really smooth transition. It’s an American company, and an American team, so everyone is thinking on the same page. Things have gone really well in terms of equipment. With a sponsor like Cannondale, they already had a relationship with Mavic, so it’s made the transition go smoother. The riders that we’ve taken on are all very similar to what we already have. We have had so many news guys this year, it’s hard to even differentiate between the old Garmin guys and the Cannondale guys. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a roommate almost every night who doesn’t speak English, so I’ve been improving my language skills this season. I really want to experience a lot of different things I have yet [to experience] so far in my career, and having these news guys is part of that.
VN: The team has not won a lot of races yet this year, with only two wins, do you or this Giro squad feel extra pressure to deliver over the next three weeks?
TD: It’s a different group of guys here at this Giro than the other races that didn’t go as well as hoped. So I don’t feel like anyone here feels as if we’re under any different pressure than normal. Anyone who is here has put the Giro as one of their major goals of the year, so everyone has personal pressure to perform, but it’s not as if they’ve done a lot of a racing, and didn’t get the results, so now they have to get a big result.
VN: How has your approach been to this season?
TD: I’ve had a great year. I’ve prepared well for this season. I had a great winter, and I finished off last season really strong, winning at Utah, second at Colorado, third in the time trial at Alberta, so I feel good. I’ve been trying to be a bit more aggressive, and work on areas that are weakness from before, so I hope it comes together in this grand tour, and be up there with the best guys in the mountains.
VN: What is your contract situation with the team?
TD: I am up for contract [renewal] this year, and so are a lot of guys on the team. I’ve spent pretty much my whole life with this team, so I am hoping to stay. I like it here. That’s in the back of my mind, for sure.
VN: You’re 37, you’ve been through a lot, do you still have the same passion for racing?
TD: I keep hearing people asking me, oh, how much longer are going to race. Is it one or two more years? I started pro at 25, so I am 12 years into it. I don’t really feel old. The barometer is how you feel in the morning, do you feel tired? No. Are you motivated to train? Yes. When I go out on my bike, do I like it? Yes. Do I keep improving? Yes. Am I upset with anything? No. Those are all those questions. When I stop improving, that’s when I might say, ‘OK, I am done.’ But even this year, I’m improving. Now it’s time to get some results in the GC races, and prove that I am not done. And to help Ryder.
VN: What’s the rest of your season looking like?
TD: I don’t even know. I wanted to get through this race, truly take it one day at a time, and then I will worry about the rest of the season. After this race, we have a trip planned to Disney World with the children, so that will be nice. That’s the next event after the Giro, and after that, we’ll see where I am for the rest of the season.
VN: You’ve been top-10 at both the Vuelta and Tour, how has the Giro gone for you before?
TD: This is my fifth Giro. I never came into a Giro making it a true objective. So when you go into a grand tour, and it’s not a true objective, and it’s hard, you’re constantly suffering. You’re not as focused. That is super important. I am hoping I have a better Giro this year. It’s a tough beast to slay.
VN: What makes the Giro different or special, from a racer’s perspective?
TD: It’s different, because there is nothing straightforward. Most stages have huge climbs. You’re constantly on guard. The roads are twisting. You have to be a good bike rider. On top of that, there are a lot of things going on. There are a lot of allergies, a lot of stuff blooming. The weather, in the Dolomites, and it can be snowing and raining up there. It’s May. The race is so mountain-heavy in the end. The mountains we go up are true mountains. Every day you’re at threshold. Up-down, left-right. Full concentration. The people are fantastic. There is really no reason why no one should not like the Giro. You just have to embrace the challenge.