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RadioShack wins the Battle of Snowbird, but who will win the war?

Horner and Danielson, former teammates turned rivals, will cross swords once more in the finale to the Tour of Utah

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SNOWBIRD, Utah (VN) – RadioShack vs. Garmin: RadioShack won the battle, but who will win the war?

The two teams clashed on the queen stage of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah as only two talent-laden, climber-heavy teams could. And when the dust settled, RadioShack held the yellow jersey, and Garmin held second, on the same time overall.

“Garmin was amazing today, the RadioShack boys were amazing; I hope the fans at home really enjoyed what they watched. It was about some of the best bike racing I’ve seen all year,” Horner said.

“This year at the Tour of Utah we certainly put on a show for the fans; I know you guys got your money’s worth, your time’s worth, and your energy’s worth.”

The talk before the stage was how Garmin only needed to follow wheels, since they had Lachlan Morton in yellow and strength in numbers; they ended up doing much the opposite.

The team began the day rallying around their young race leader; then they weren’t. The young Aussie climbing sensation, winner of stage 3, was having an off day; when he could do no more, Tom Danielson threw grenade after grenade into the trenches to blow the race apart, and assumed leadership of the team in the final fight for GC.

RadioShack, meanwhile, was on the offensive from the gun, sending Jens Voigt into the day’s breakaway, and putting four riders into the final group heading toward Snowbird. And, they got the yellow jersey onto Horner’s 42-year-old shoulders.

When all was said and done, RadioShack had taken command of the race through sheer strength; Garmin, through the work of many and the final blow of one, Danielson, had matched them stride for stride.

Going into the final stage, though Horner wears yellow, the two are tied on time. The man who finishes first in Park City should win the race.

Garmin sticks to its guns, then fires

Garmin kept a short leash on the break.

“The team was so strong; [the break] couldn’t get more than 2:30, 2:40 on us,” said Danielson. “We’ve got Christian [Vande Velde], [Dave] Zabriskie, and Rohan Dennis pulling, you know, three of the best time trialists in the world. I mean, you’re not going anywhere.”

Zabriskie was familiar with the terrain of the stage and told his team about the long downhill after Guardsman Pass. The plan was for them to ride tempo and have Ryder Hesjedal take them over the top after sitting on. He rode a good pace at the bottom. And then the fury began.

“We really planned on just riding tempo; we didn’t think that RadioShack was going to be that aggressive,” Danielson said. “I knew George Bennett was good, I’ve been seeing it all week, and he was throwing bombs off and I didn’t want to let them get too much time.

“I knew Jens Voigt was ahead; if those two connected… they already had a minute, if they connected, who’s left to chase — me and Pete — and me and Pete versus Jens, that’s not great. So I just decided to ride quite fast up the climb to just stop all this RadioShack abusing us.”

But what looked like fury was a perfectly executed assault by Team RadioShack’s many moving parts.

Tiago Machado linked with Voigt, having slipped from the break, and opened that gap of a minute. That forced Danielson to take matters into his own hands. He brought Machado back and then set a hard pace for Morton, to quell other attacks. In the process, he smashed the field to bits.

“I looked back and there were five guys there and not Lachlan and I thought, ‘Uh oh, now I have to do the race!’” Danielson said.

Still, Yannick Eijssen (BMC) was up the road, the last man standing from the day’s breakaway. And, yes, Danielson had to race now.

He lobbed another grenade, shedding Bennett and ridding himself of Janier Acevedo. Horner was farther back, following wheels; his interest was piqued.

“I’m sitting back there and I’m saying, ‘Uh, this one is gonna hurt; I’m gonna have to do 450 watts at 9,000 feet. When I got to him I was a little bit cross-eyed and I knew I had to get through those first few K so you can recover,” he said.

And the battle was on.

Dueling frienemies

Horner and Danielson have known each other for more than a decade. They were teammates at Saturn in 2003, and raced against each other countless times. One came to Utah hoping to redeem himself after a lackluster showing at the Tour de France. The other came to prove to himself, and to the cycling world, that he could still crush it at 42.

“Chris is super special, he finds a way to get into race shape coming straight from home,” said teammate Matthew Busche, who finished sixth on the day, 37 seconds back. “I don’t know, he’s really unique that way; he can not race for a long time and then come in and just be flying.

“There’s something to be said for being fresh too. I mean, I don’t know how many hours and miles he’s got in his legs throughout his career, so sometimes it doesn’t take [him] a lot to get that feeling back.”

In some regard — because of the etiquette of racing and the fact that Horner had teammates behind in the chase and so he wasn’t obligated to pull through as the two drove toward the finish — the battle was anticlimactic. He sat on, kilometer after kilometer, while Danielson killed himself into a headwind, and up the Little Cottonwood Canyon climb.

But it was merely a prelude to stage 6, Park City to Park City, over the monster of Empire Pass. Tommy D is back again; Chris Horner has turned back the clock. The duel on the final stage may well be one for the ages.

“It’ll be fun. It’ll be like the Sunset Loop at Redlands Classic [when we were on Saturn]. Even though we were teammates, it hurt so bad. We would see who could hang on the longest. It’ll probably be like that [on stage 6], just uphill … and really steep. It will be a blast,” Danielson said.