SANTA BARBARA, California (VN) — As the breakaway swept into Cambria at the end of Wednesday’s stage, one of the Amgen Tour of California’s youngest riders sat tucked into the six-rider group. Nineteen-year-old Gregory Daniel is racing his second season in the U23 ranks for Bissell, and he managed a career-best second place behind stage winner Will Routley.
“It was surreal, I can’t believe it,” said Daniel. “I was happy to be selected for the team to come here and get to race. I really wasn’t expecting to get a podium finish at all during the Tour, so it’s great to be here and to represent the team and get some TV time. It was fun, I was just taken away by it all.”
Daniel started riding at age 13, and initially, he had ambitions to turn into a triathlete. He quickly discovered that swimming was not his sport, so he decided to focus entirely on cycling. When he won his first bike race, he figured that maybe he was on to something. “I just kept going,” he said, “and I didn’t look back.”
Since then, Daniel has steadily accumulated results in the junior and U23 ranks. In 2011, he finished second in the U.S. junior national time trial championship. That same year, he also won two national titles on the track in the team and individual pursuit events. He returned in 2012 to win the junior national time trial title.
Bissell sports director Omer Kem has touted Daniel as a strong all-arounder, and believes the young Colorado native has the talent to make it to the WorldTour ranks. Kem also noted that much could change as Daniel grows up in the sport.
“He’s a second-year U23. He’s 19, and he’s going to turn 20 this year,” said Kem. “Between 19 and 20, there’s a huge amount of just physical development, just growing up that happens. It’s really hard to say what kind of rider Greg is going to be. He has a pretty good sprint at the end of 100 miles.”
Bissell has worked closely with the U.S. national team to get riders the European racing experience they need to make the jump to the pro ranks. The team travelled to Europe earlier this season for the U23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and will return in June for a raid on the U23 Paris-Roubaix.
“Even with the Americans in their first year in the U23, they spend so much time in Europe,” said Kem. “And what that does is, you bring them back, and you have a 19-year-old Greg Daniel, who has the depth to race at the end of 105 miles at the Tour of California.”
Daniel enjoys the challenges of European racing and finds the dynamics of the racing considerably different due to the more technical roads. Positioning tends to be more important Europe, but it’s still the same sport.
“You have to be aggressive,” Daniel said. “There’s more fighting for position [in Europe]. But I try to keep it the same. What works in Europe, works in the United States, too.”
And like many riders, Daniel dreams of the Tour de France. “I like the climbs, and just the history of the race is, so big and significant,” he said. “A lot of races over there have a big history, but the race that would suit me best would be the Tour. I’m not quite a cobble crusher yet.”
After the Tour of California, Daniel is looking forward to riding the U.S. Pro Championship with his Bissell teammate Tanner Putt. With only two riders, it will be difficult for the young guns to get a result, but Daniel is excited about the challenge. And he’ll get his chance to try out the famous cobbles in June at the U23 Paris-Roubaix.
For now, Daniel is happy to bring home a result from the biggest race of his young career. “It’s hard to trump a second-place at the Tour of California,” he said. “Obviously, first would have been nice, but it’s definitely the biggest result I’ve had.”