As the leader of the Team Slipstream-Chipotle Presented by H30 at the Redlands Bicycle Classic, a relaxed Tom Danielson was riding in his first race after major back pains forced him out of the fourth stage of the Amgen Tour of California, in February. It was later diagnosed that Danielson had suffered a herniated disk from his crash at the first stage of the Vuelta a España in September of last year.
Tommy D at Redlands Time Trial, photo © Lyne Lamoureux
After weeks of rehabilitation, Danielson felt ready to race again and was eager to refine his form before one of his favorite races, the upcoming Tour de Georgia.
“I feel really rested, I feel like my back is strong, I don’t have any pain at all in it. It’s just really nice to be finally racing in 2008, it’s been quite a struggle to get here from my big crash in September but I’m here in America, enjoying American racing so it’s really good.” said a smiling Danielson.
Danielson was clearly enjoying the laid back atmosphere of racing in America when I caught up with him before the fast and furious criterium in downtown Redlands.
“It’s just a great atmosphere, the racers are really a fun group of people. It’s just kind of funny, a lot of people think roadies are a bunch of snobs, and a bunch of cocky people and they think that mountain bikers are the only ones that are fun. But coming back and hanging out with all the American guys, it’s such a great group of people, everyone loves to have a lot of fun, kind of shooting the shit, talking about what they’ve seen on youtube in the peloton,” laughed Danielson, “it’s just a fun group of people.”
Danielson has been through a hellish seven months which took a toll on him both physically and mentally. It all started with his broken shoulder at the Vuelta followed by a very painful surgery that forced him away from his bike for a couple of months, and then, capped off with his back pains at California.
“First, it was hard physically because it hurt a lot you know the surgery was really, really painful and then mentally it was very hard. First to not be able to ride for two and half months was hard and then just dealing with a lot of other problems that came along with it every day.” explained Danielson about the hurdles he faced during his recovery.
Danielson’s morale took a hit, but with the help of his new team and his friends and family, he was able to put it all behind him, and gain strength from the experience.
“You know I went into depression which I guess is quite common for athletes when they go through something like that but I’ve heard the word depression many times and I had no idea exactly how strong it is and when I had that on top of being behind the eight ball in terms of getting back to where I was… it almost seemed like an impossible challenge but luckily with the help of my new team and the great people around me, I was able to fight back and become stronger. And now I feel like I’m getting close to my top level and I’m here in Redlands to kind of put the icing on the cake before Georgia.”
Throughout his recovery, Danielson was confident that he had the wholehearted support from his team who sent him home to Colorado and gathered a team of physical and massage therapists and chiropractors to help in his recovery.
“Basically (they) gave me full support and all the time I needed. They pulled me out of Paris-Nice when probably they would have needed me in Paris-Nice, they said don’t worry about it, just take your time, work hard, we’ll put you in Redlands, you just relax. It’s really been a really nice thing to see.”
After weeks of therapy to heal and build strong muscle, Danielson was ready to put the finishing touches on his form. To do so, he combined the aggressive racing by the top domestic teams during the 4-stage Redlands Classic, with an extra 60 kilometers of training after every stage.
“I feel very, very strong on the bike, yet I don’t have my top end quite developed and that’s exactly why I’m here in Redlands, it’s because it’s the type of racing that’s almost all top end. The short stages are very, very short, (and) very, very fast, not a whole lot of difficult climbing, nothing I’m really good at so besides maybe tomorrow (Sunset loop), really that’s why I’m here, to work on that high end.”
As the ‘old guy’ on the Redlands squad, primarily made up of the Slipstream’s VMG/Felt U23 Team, the 30-year old Danielson was happy to share his experiences with his younger teammates, in a somewhat new role for him.
“It’s a lot of fun just to share stories everything from my experiences racing to personal experiences and it’s really rewarding to spend time with these guys and like I’ve said before, I wished I had been as young as them when I started, I didn’t start until I was 24 and these guys are nineteen, twenty and twenty-one.”
Barring disaster, Danielson wants to do a great performance in Georgia to announce his return to form to everyone.
“I’d like to be in really good condition there and I’d like to do a great performance on Brasstown Bald to just sort of show my comeback and celebrate all the hard times that I’ve been through. For me, that would be extremely rewarding, just to ride well on Brasstown Bald.”
Following Georgia, Danielson is slated to start the Giro d’Italia in May. On his second time at the Italian Grand Tour, he is targeting a stage win at the 13.8km mountain time trial finishing atop Plan de Corones.
“I’d like to do the Giro, mainly to prepare for the Tour but I’d like to do a good result in the end of the Giro. There’s an uphill time trial on Plan de Corones, I’ve done it in 2006 and I really, really liked it so try maybe for the stage there and then maybe one mountain stage at the end. And then just ride the beginning of the Giro, relaxed, grupetto, chill,” laughed Danielson, “kind of like I’m doing here in Redlands.”
While the Slipstream team might have experienced a few growing pains with its growth this year, Danielson feels that the organization is up to the challenge, and is excited about the future. And the excitement is contagious as he noticed at training camp earlier this year.
“It’s just typical of having a new young group of people to have such motivation, at training camp with Discovery, it was always the young guys, the new mechanics, or the new racers that were always putting the most effort at training camp trying to impress everyone. And when I came to training camp this year, the whole team had this sort of look to them and I realized ‘wait a second everyone is new’, this is all their first year at this level so it explains why there is so much motivation and why everyone is so excited.” said Danielson about his new team, Slipstream-Chipotle.
Tom Danielson finished in thirteenth place, one minutes and fifty-three seconds behind the GC winner at Redlands and more significantly managed to avoid all the crashes.
Tommy D at Redlands Beaumont Stage, photo © Stephanie Gutowski