Chris Council/Aspen Daily News
Round 3 to Tommy D.
Danielson, with a shout-out to his Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda cycling mates.
Fort Lewis College graduate and professional cyclist Tom Danielson pedaled away to a dramatic solo victory Wednesday in the third stage of the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
Danielson, who nearly won the opening stage from Durango to Telluride in a breakaway with teammate Peter Stetina, used a daring solo move climbing up Independence Pass to create enough of a cushion on the run down into Aspen to win the grueling 130-mile Silver Queen Stage that started in Gunnison.
Danielson, on this day, held off the charging peloton in downtown Aspen, crossing the finish line with his 30th professional victory and his first since 2009.
“Everybody, everybody on the team had a hand in this ... and we pulled it off,” Danielson said at the postrace news conference in the historic Wheeler Opera House in downtown Aspen.
“We had some crazy plans, but fortunately we had the legs,” said Danielson, 34, who also reclaimed the climber’s jersey with Wednesday’s victory.
“You can have all the crazy plans in the world, but they won’t work if you don’t have the legs,” Danielson said.
But he did, and so did his Garmin pals.
“I bet nobody thought this would work,” Danielson said of the perpetual attacking mentality of the entire Garmin roster. “But we thought it would work.”
Just as the team did Monday and Tuesday, Garmin sent break riders out early to push the pace and “create chaos.”
David Zabriskie and Nathan Haas of Garmin were in the first break before the cyclists had reached the lower sections of Cottonwood Pass, less than 10 miles into the stage.
Later, Zabriskie was credited for pulling on crucial stretches on the windy flats between Cottonwood Pass and Independence Pass where he led the Garmin rush, putting Danielson into a position to break.
“This guy, Dave Zabriskie, pulled like a freight train for like 70K in the valley (coming into Buena Vista),” Danielson said of his teammate. “He’s the best time trial (rider) in the world, and there he was pulling.
“He’s a bad, bad man,” said Danielson, meaning just the opposite, of course.
“I’m really lucky he’s on my team. I owe my victory (Wednesday) to him and my team, for sure,” said Danielson, sitting next to teammate Christian Vande Velde, who took over the yellow race leader’s jersey after finishing 10th in Wednesday’s stage.
Vande Velde won the yellow jersey in a tiebreaker ruling over Tejay van Garderen, who won Tuesday’s stage in Crested Butte. Van Garderen was 12th Wednesday. They both have the same combined time.
“The biggest thing was causing mayhem early,” Vande Velde said of the Garmin attack plan. He said Garmin put two riders out early to start the action.
Later, he said, they supported their effort with climbers working the front of the race.
“We had young 20-year-old Lachlan (Morton) go up the road (to help),” Vande Velde said of the Australian who was added to the Garmin squad right before the USA Pro Challenge. Morton won the 2012 Iron Horse Bicycle Classic road race from Durango to Silverton.
”I’m really proud of the team,” said Vande Velde, who called the first three days of the 2012 Challenge “ridiculously aggressive.”
He, too, credited Zabriskie.
“He’s 3-for-3 in breakaways so far. He threw up on himself (Monday), but he was back at it again (Tuesday and Wednesday). You can’t say enough about teammates like that,” Vande Velde said.
“This really is a team. Without the team, there’s no way Tom and I would be standing here,” said Vande Velde, 36.
In the closing minutes of the five-hour race, Danielson’s lead was shrinking with the peloton charging down Independence Pass – his position on the podium in question.
But unlike Monday and Tuesday, this time the break held up as Danielson crossed at 5:02, with Damiano Caruso of Liquigas-Cannondale in second place just 2 seconds back. Jakob Fuglsang of RadioShack-Nissan-Trek was third in the stage (also 2 seconds back).
“With 2K to go, I didn’t think I was going to win,” Danielson said, worried that his wife would yell at him for looking back with a lead late in a race.
“So, don’t look back,” Danielson said with a huge smile.
Then, with 1K to go, he could sense victory.
Danielson said he picked up a huge boost when he crested Independence Pass (12,095 feet) alone. He dropped fellow breakaway rider Francisco Colorado of the Colombian EPM-UNE team after the two had pulled away on the climb.
“That was awesome,” Danielson said, who now lives in Boulder. “When you go over a Colorado climb, and you’re a Colorado guy ... it’s a dream come true.”
“It was so cool to see all the fans and see people running next to me,” Danielson said. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”
When Danielson summited Independence Pass, there was a thunderous ovation in downtown Aspen as spectators acknowledged his break on the Jumbotron screens.
“I dreamed about going over Independence Pass alone,” said Danielson, a former collegiate national mountain bike champion at FLC. “It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Wednesday’s stage featured 14 miles of dirt on Cottonwood Pass as well as an extra six miles of dirt and gravel, part of the roadway repaving project in Gunnison County near Taylor Park Reservoir.
In the overall standings, Vande Velde and van Garderen virtually are tied. Ivan Rovny of Russia is third, 6 seconds back.
Defending champion Levi Leipheimer of Omega-Pharma pulled up to fourth overall, 8 seconds out of the lead.
Ramiro Rincon Diaz of Colombia is fifth.
Danielson is sixth, 10 seconds back of his teammate.
The cyclists, who went over 12,000 feet twice Wednesday, will get back to 12,000 feet today when they go back over Independence Pass on the 97-mile stage that finishes in the resort of Beaver Creek in Eagle County.
Jim Ryan/Special to the Aspen Times
Andre Salvail/The Aspen Times
Cliff Vancura/Durango Herald