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Vuelta a Espana

Danielson hopes to climb higher in mountains

Tom Danielson is licking his lips ahead of Saturday’s decisive climbing stage to Sierra Nevada in the 13th stage at the Vuelta a España. The route will retrace some of the roads over the Cat. 1 Alto de Monachil where he attacked three years ago to claim his biggest win of his career into Granada during the 2006 Vuelta. Danielson has twice finished in the top 10 at the Vuelta, but is now poised to make a run for the final podium — or perhaps even more.

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By Andrew Hood

2009 Vuelta a España, Stage 12: Garmin’s Tom Danielson is climbing with the best in this year’s Vuelta.

Photo: Graham Watson

Tom Danielson is licking his lips ahead of Saturday’s decisive climbing stage to Sierra Nevada in the 13th stage at the Vuelta a España.

The route will retrace some of the roads over the Cat. 1 Alto de Monachil where he attacked three years ago to claim his biggest win of his career into Granada during the 2006 Vuelta.

Danielson has twice finished in the top 10 at the Vuelta, but is now poised to make a run for the final podium — or perhaps even more.

“It goes over Monachil where I won into Granada. I like the altitude. We’ll see how the wind is and see what happens,” Danielson told VeloNews. “Hopefully we can win some more and get on the podium in this race.”

With all eyes on race leader Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne), the Coloradan is sitting quietly in fourth place overall at 51 seconds back.

Following the emotional victory of Garmin-Slipstream teammate Ryder Hesjedal, Danielson said he hopes the ball keeps rolling.

“The team’s been doing a great job. It was just icing on the cake to have Ryder win the stage and I kept my high position on GC,” Danielson said. “It was ideal to have Ryder in the break. The GC guys were coming up to the break, so if I were to have a problem or something, then Ryder could be there for me. So it worked out really well.”

Danielson is arguably in the best form of his career and he showed that he’s capable of riding with the best Friday by finishing with the top GC favorites, crossing the line ninth at 16 seconds back to retain within shot of the podium.

Despite Friday’s summit finish at Velefique, the GC remains at a stalemate, with first to sixth separated by just 1:03.

Danielson said he expects things to get even tougher up Sierra Nevada on Saturday and the shorter, but steep climb up La Pandera on Sunday.

“I felt great today. I really wanted a harder climb today. I wished guys would have attacked more at the bottom, but I think some guys were really hurting, so that’s a good sign for the coming days,” he said.

“Valverde’s team was very strong, but I was hoping some of the other guys would attack. I really wanted to go, but I rode smart and followed the other guys around. There are six of us are bouncing in there. It looked like some guys were hurting so maybe they will start to crack.”

Danielson has avoided any major mishaps or crashes so far through the Vuelta. Luckily, he wasn’t seriously injured in the stage 4 pileup coming into Liège and he enters the decisive climbing stages with growing confidence.

He was quick to thank the support of his Garmin-Slipstream teammates.

“Besides the crash in stage 4, I’ve had no problems. Every grand tour is hard. Everyone has trouble at some point. It’s been smooth for me and my team’s been phenomenal,” he said. “They’ve really helped me, they’ve been a big inspiration. Today, Julian Dean was up there keeping me in the front.”

Danielson is hoping he can pay them back for their hard work in the coming days — perhaps with something even bigger than a stage win, if the mountains go well.

As Garmin boss Jonathan Vaughters noted by phone from the Tour of Missouri: “It’s important to remember that out of those guys he was with today, Tom is probably one of the best — if not the best — time trialist of the group.” —VeloNews.com senior editor Charles Pelkey contributed to this report.