CEDAR CITY, Utah (VN) — Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp) is one of the favorites to win the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. Maybe the favorite.
He won here last year, and he has shown that he excels at the type of steep climbing at altitude that the race provides over seven grueling stages.
But in this game of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, Danielson has a lot to prove. He took the first steps on Monday during stage 1 in Cedar City, Utah.
“I’m really happy with how I’ve arrived here. I’m super pumped and I love racing in Utah. Today I felt really good,” Danielson told Velo just after stage 1. “It wasn’t a stage where we really saw how everybody is, but it definitely takes a bit out of you when you’re riding for five hours at 10,000 feet. You could see a lot of guys hurting today.”
After taking the win at the Tour of Utah last year, Danielson, 35, took third at the USA Pro Challenge just weeks later.
In 2014, however, he has struggled across the entire season. The highlight came in May when he was third on the Mountain High summit finish at the Amgen Tour of California. Still, he finished 14th overall.
He suffered a string of DNFs in the first half of the year, including the Volta a Catalunya, in March, and the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, in April. He was able to finish the Tour de Romandie in May, but remained anonymous throughout. Then, in June, he failed to finish the Tour de Suisse, and he was not selected for the Tour de France, a race where he finished eighth in 2011.
His teammates have been as uncertain of where Danielson is as anyone.
“We don’t know what kind of condition Tom’s in. We have faith in him, but we don’t know — he hasn’t raced in a while,” said teammate Alex Howes, who just wrapped up his first Tour de France campaign eight days ago.
Danielson, on the other hand, isn’t worried.
“My form, in a nutshell, is really good,” he said just after stage 1. “I’ve been around for a while, I know how to train, I know what I need to do. You know, I’ve done lots of grand tours, I’ve got all my power files so I know what to do. Ironically, I was in the best shape of my life in the beginning of the year and just had some unfortunate incidents, injuries and sickness and stuff, that just derailed it. That’s enough excuses for now.”
Though Garmin brings, arguably, the strongest team to support its GC leader, there is the conspicuous absence of Australian Lachlan Morton, a stage winner and overall leader for a day at the 2013 edition of the Utah race. It leaves the team with only seven riders on its roster.
Morton, 22, has struggled with visa issues in 2014, missing the Tour of California. He will also miss the USA Pro Challenge later this month.
“We’re definitely going to miss him here, and Utah’s going to miss him, because not only is he a ‘hitter,’ but he’s a character,” Howes said.
Still, Howes and Ben King, also fresh from his first Tour, bring major firepower. Danielson isn’t worried about how their form will be coming off of three hectic, harsh weeks across France.
“Ben has one of the biggest engines in the sport. I really want to see Ben make it to that last selection of guys — I think he’s capable of doing that. He rode a great Tour de France and it’s normal [to struggle that first day back],” Danielson said. “You take a week off and you come to altitude, you know, you’re gonna suffer. Everybody’s suffering … guys are talking and trying to mess with one another, but you know if we go 10 more watts or higher, there’s 20 guys left. Ben’s fine. Obviously he was suffering today, but a big engine like that needs a big kick start. Today was it and he’s just going to get better all week.”
Howes, known for his relaxed demeanor as much as his big engine, found his form late in France after struggling in the second week. He noted that with a kilometer and a half to go on the final stage in Paris, he was sitting on the wheel of Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano), the eventual stage winner.
“I’m more or less recovered. I was kind of … lucky, I guess, to be coming up in the last week,” Howes said before the stage. “I got pretty sick in the second week … I had the [respiratory] stuff that everybody had. But I was on the up-and-up — I hit rock bottom in the second week, was rebounding, and I’ve been able to follow that trend upward. We’ll see how that translates in Utah. Could be good, could be really bad. Might not finish today. Could win [laughs].”
For the record, he finished ninth on the stage. King did struggle, sitting at the back of the peloton as it made three finishing circuits in Cedar City. He eventually fell off the pace, finishing 2:32 down on stage winner Moreno Hofland (Belkin).