BOULDER, Colo. (VN) — Tom Danielson has waited his entire career for a major stage race in Colorado and the Garmin-Cervélo rider thinks he has the genetics and experience at altitude to contend for the overall win in the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
Having lived in Colorado for more than a decade, Danielson said the long-term mental and physical adaptations he’s made — and his unique physiology — put him at a distinct advantage over riders coming from sea level, even weeks before the race.
“There’s no advantage immediately; it’s more my ability to handle the altitude, the genetics I’m given,” said Danielson. “I have this giant, weird looking chest with a big heart and a small body and it gives me an advantage … and the ability to understand how to gauge my effort at altitude will be very important.”
Danielson moved to the high country when he enrolled at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, in 1997. He has lived in Colorado since, splitting time in recent years between Boulder and Girona, Spain.
A decade ago, Danielson broke through when he won the 2002 Tour of Quinghai Lake, the only UCI race to climb higher than the Colorado tour. He said the two events would be very similar and pointed to Quinghai Lake as a close indicator of how the racing will play out in his home tour.
“You could see in that race that altitude was a huge factor. There was a big climb in the middle of those stages, a lot further than Independence Pass out, and people came through in ones, twos all over the place and never regrouped.
“You wonder if you attack on this climb, what happens if we regroup. At altitude, once you hit your limit and empty the tank, there’s no recovering.”
Many riders have discussed in recent weeks the importance of training mentally at altitude. Boulder-based Australian Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare) will enter the race as another favorite and said last month that understanding how the body reacts to elevation is even more important than the physical training in the months leading up to a race of this nature. Danielson agreed.
“Some guys can adapt, but not understand how to manage themselves at altitude,” he said. “I just rode Independence Pass yesterday and there was no way to get over without experiencing all types of different emotions, physical sensations, just to ride over, even coming off the Tour de France.”
Danielson said that the hair on his neck stood up when the USA Pro Cycling Challenge launched last August. He’s hoping he feels even more emotion on the front of the race in four weeks.