Editor's Note: All next week EverymanTRI.com will be bringing you orginal reports from the USA Pro Cycling Challenge thanks to our title race coverage sponsor Acura. Today we start by checking in with Boulder, Colorado based pro cyclist Tom Danielson.
Tom Danielson's consistency, including third overall in the Tour of California in May and ninth overall as the top American finisher in last month's Tour de France, have positioned him in a favorite's role in the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
But it's taken Danielson, 33, a decade to arrive at the top of the sport. Like many riders, he's been plagued throughout his career by injury and illness.
Healthy and with his confidence intact, Danielson was locked in for the Tour de France team selection months in advance by team director Jonathan Vaughters.
Danielson's third-place finish behind race winner Chris Horner of Bend, Ore., and Levi Leipheimer of Santa Rosa, Calif., in the Tour of California solidified his spot.
The seven-day, 518-mile USA Pro Cycling Challenge, which will include 17 domestic and international teams of eight riders, begins Monday with a five-mile afternoon prologue in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"I've always dreamed of doing a hometown race like this," said Danielson, who placed fifth overall last Sunday in the six-day Tour of Utah. "When I have a chance to do local races in my home state on my home roads and on the terrain that I'm sort of build for, high altitudes and climbing, I just love it."
Danielson will be the leader of the Colorado-based Garmin-Cervelo squad. Teammates Christian Vande Velde of Lemont, Ill., Dave Zabriskie of Salt Lake City and Canadian Ryder Hesjedal all rode with Danielson in the Tour de France.
The field will also include reigning Tour de France winner Cadel Evans (BMC) of Australia and brothers Andy and Frank Schleck (Leopard-Trek) of Luxembourg, who finished respectively finished second and third to Evans.
In addition to Danielson's strong individual finish at the Tour de France, his team won the stage 2 team time trial and the team classification.
A former mountain biker, Danielson began winning multi-day road races early in his pro road race career. He claimed overall titles at the Tour of Qinghai Lake (China) in 2002 and Tour de Langkawi (Malaysia), one of his eight wins in 2003.
Two years later, with seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong as a teammate, Danielson won the now-defunct Tour de Georgia. It was the biggest winner of Danielson's career and comparisons to Armstrong quickly intensified.
In 2006, Danielson finished second to dethroned Tour de France winner Floyd Landis at the Tour de Georgia, withdrew from the Tour of Italy with a knee injury and returned to place sixth overall at the Tour of Spain.
But in recent years, injuries, crashes in key events and illness overshadowed his results. Danielson's goal to reach the Tour de France was delayed for several seasons until this year.
"Finishing ninth overall in the Tour de France in my first time and as the top American, it couldn't be a better lead-in to this race," Danielson said. "I feel really motivated. I've had the season of my career so far. It's been a dream come true to race in the Tour de France and to be one of the best riders in the world."