Danielson’s Challenge starts as an MC

Pro cyclist, FLC alumnus is thrilled to be back in his ‘hometown’

Tom Danielson wasted little time getting back in touch with Durango’s cycling community, playfully cajoling Durangoan Chad Cheeney during a cameo as master of ceremonies during Friday’s Roller Races at the Irish Embassy Pub. Enlarge photo

Steve Lewis/Durango Herald

Tom Danielson wasted little time getting back in touch with Durango’s cycling community, playfully cajoling Durangoan Chad Cheeney during a cameo as master of ceremonies during Friday’s Roller Races at the Irish Embassy Pub.

Tom Danielson loves Durango.

A brief walk-and-talk downtown, past a bevy of tents attempting to pawn off their wares in the buzz surrounding Monday’s opening stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, gave the cyclist enough time to make that point abundantly clear.

The Fort Lewis College alumnus is more excited about the race’s opening locale than perhaps anyone else in a vast field, and only four hours after touching down in the town he used to call home, the man they call “Tommy D” was getting reacquainted with Durango.

Fresh off a training ride, Danielson took to pumping up the crowd during Friday’s Roller Races at the Irish Embassy Pub, drawing a strong roar from the crowd when he was announced. He wasted little time playfully cajoling a bare-chested and jean-clad Durango DEVO coach Chad Cheeney to pedal faster while also playing to the crowd’s love of the hometown Skyhawks.

“Who in here loves Fort Lewis?” he said, drawing a solid roar from the crowd.

Yes, Tom Danielson’s glad to be back, indeed.

“It’s just a phenomenal feeling already,” he said. “It was raining (on my training ride). I didn’t care. ... We rode all around Durango; it was just fantastic.”

Danielson, who finished fourth in last year’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge, said he was thrilled when he found out the poking and prodding of himself and several others had paid off – the 2012 Challenge would open in Durango.

“I don’t think there could be any better start to a big race like this than Durango,” he said. “You could do a big start in any other city, (but) just the way Durango is – the level of intensity of the fans, the people ... the community, and on top of that, a closed-in area. Everybody’s compact right here ... it’s a great area.”

The atmosphere in an already-famed cycling town appears to be building toward a fever pitch. The Irish Embassy Pub’s front room was wall-to-wall crowded for Friday’s event, in which riders tried to outdistance each other on training rollers for a prize of $500 for the top male and another $500 for the top female rider.

And tents marked Main Street in the earlier portion of the evening, trying to capture the attention of the bevy of folks milling around downtown on a Friday night.

Danielson’s hoping the atmosphere come Monday will cement Durango not only as a Mecca for mountain biking, but one that goes just as crazy for guys – and gals – on thinner tires.

“They don’t really care who you are or what you do; if you’re on a bike, they love you,” Danielson said of Durango.

For the Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda rider, it’s some of the clichéd little things he’s enjoyed so far – training rides on once-familiar roads, a look at the FLC campus that bears a message of support, connecting again with the Durango cycling community.

He’s excited for the climb up the front hill toward Fort Lewis’ campus come Monday, and the Boulder resident seems laser-focused on capturing his home-state race.

“It’ll be amazing to go up front hill, you know, and up Hesperus like a Tuesday night group ride,” he said. “It’s going to be cool for sure.”

Race aside, at some point – perhaps after he’s moved on to cycling of a more leisurely nature – Danielson could see himself back in the Four Corners.

“I really would like to live here again. I feel like it’s my hometown,” he said.

rowens@durangoherald.com