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The second coming of Tom Danielson in Utah?

The American shows the attacking style of his earlier years to claim one of the biggest wins of his career

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PARK CITY, Utah (VN) — Garmin-Sharp’s Tom Danielson won the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah with the synergistic duo of climbing firepower and mental strength that has been dormant within his quiver of talent for years.

Danielson was never exactly gone — he finished eighth in his Tour de France debut in 2011 — but the GC winner of a decade ago certainly is back, dumping race leader Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) on the final stage of the Tour of Utah to take the overall victory.

“I’m very proud of myself because it takes a lot of mental strength to go up against a competitor like Chris like that,” Danielson said. “You know, it would have been really easy for me to just sit behind and try to hang on, but I owed it to myself to try to be that person that I want to be, take the bull by the horns and do it.”

And so he did it. It was a far cry from the mire in which Danielson has been stuck for the past few years of his career.

Early on, Danielson was touted as the next Lance Armstrong. He had the climbing bravado and the time trialing acumen, and he was an American riding for Armstrong’s Discovery Channel squad, so the timing was right for a second coming (even though the first had yet to end in the early 2000s when Danielson arrived on the scene). But what Armstrong had in bushels — confidence and swagger — Danielson lacked in droves.

Their careers took very different paths — Armstrong won seven straight Tour de France titles, while Danielson showed glimmers of stage race success and fits of climbing prowess, but he suffered from a reputation of underperforming.

Ultimately, their paths came back together again, when Danielson assisted the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) probe on Armstrong and admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs in the past as part of his testimony.

He, along with current teammates Christian Vande Velde and Dave Zabriskie, and his team manager, Slipstream Sports CEO Jonathan Vaughters, as well as retired Levi Leipheimer and George Hincapie, among others, were given the minimal bans allowable under World Anti-Doping Code — six months — in exchange for their cooperation. Danielson’s results, including his 2005 Tour de Georgia win, were nullified.

According to Danielson’s sworn affidavit, he last took banned substances in 2007. Since then, he’s been on the podium at stage races such as the Amgen Tour of California and the USA Pro Challenge, and in the top-10 at European stage races such as the Tour de Burgos, Vuelta a España, Tour of Poland, and Tour de Suisse — but he hadn’t won.

An epic solo stage win at the USA Pro Challenge last year in Aspen, two seconds ahead of a hard-charging chase group, was a precursor of things to come. Danielson showed a brief glimmer of what he was capable of when he stormed to victory to take one of the most thrilling victories on American soil. What was missing, of course, was a week of racing intelligently, confidently, and passionately. But that wasn’t missing in Utah.

As evidenced Sunday in Park City, Danielson is back to winning, attacking, climbing his way to a stage-race victory. It wasn’t the Tour de France; it was the Tour of Utah. It wasn’t three weeks long; it was six days. It wasn’t 100 years old, it was nine.

Some fans may never forget Danielson’s misdeeds; others couldn’t care less, they are just happy to see “Tommy D” back to flashing his way up steep slopes to overall victory like he did long ago in far away places like the Tour de Langkawi and, well, the Tour de Georgia.

Either way, the Tour of Utah may not be a comeback so much as a second coming for the Connecticut-born Colorado transplant. He found something inside of him that had been missing — mostly inside his head — for too long.

“Normally I’m in the race and I’m there just thinking I can be there, and when it’s crunch time I just can’t do it,” Danielson said. “Mentally, I just second-guess myself.”

But this year, this race, was different.

“I had a different Tour de France this year, getting injured in the beginning, and I had a lot of time to reflect as I was getting my head kicked in in that race, you know, ‘Why am I doing this sport?’” he said. “When I got home it was real clear to me that I’m doing it to try to win races; I don’t like to just … be a guy in the peloton. I decided this would be a good race for me to try that, and we had Lachlan [Morton] riding really well, so I gave a hand to him yesterday, but when I had my opportunity I took it.”

Vaughters lauded Danielson’s confident racing after he’d crossed the finish line in Park City, writing on Twitter, “Under pressure, Tom delivered. He never looked back. When he does that, he wins. Great ride.”

For fans of attacking, climbing, and tactical racing, Danielson, and his Garmin team, will look for more opportunities in a week’s time, when the USA Pro Challenge kicks off in Aspen on August 19.