What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ Interviews: Tom Danielson, Part II

We know him as an up-and-comer on the Discovery Channel team. Some people think he’s the next Lance, but before he hit the roads, Tom Danielson was a national mountain bike champ. Tommy D came to the birthplace of mountain biking as the featured speaker for the NorCal High School Mountain Biking League fundraiser and dinner. He talked to PEZ about his love for dirt bikes, and in a continuation of Part I, his bold plans for ’07.

Tom, this is like going back home for you, isn’t it? You started out as a mountain biker, and you come to this group of mountain bikers. What does it mean to you, to be able to give something back to the sport like this.
I’m really impressed with this organization, but what really drove it home for me was my past, and how I was a mountain biker. I didn’t have a program like this to start me at such a young age. I went through a lot of social struggles in my high school career, really trying to figure it all out. I really loved cycling, but socially there’s really not a whole lot going on. There was no active program, so I’m not meeting friends, I’m becoming more of an individual, I’m doing it all on my own. It forced me to look at a lot of other things, like running track and other sports, even though my heart was with cycling. It forced me to go to other places to meet people…and meet girls…so for me, this is the ultimate. It’s giving kids an opportunity, at such a young age, to pursue a sport that’s so fantastic and to have the support and the structure that these guys are providing, it’s awesome. I think this really sets a high standard, a high bar, for all the other programs, and I think that’s good. Now other programs and other high schools are going to have to step it up.

Tom gets wide-eyed as he mets mtb legend Gary Fisher at a NorCal fundraiser in December.

A lot of these kids will naturally look up to you, even though you’re a road cyclist now, they know your history. But when you were younger, did you look up to guys like Gary Fisher and Joe Breeze, or were they a little bit too old for you at that point?
I don’t know if I looked up to them. I knew they were pioneers of the sport, and I was very impressed with that, but I’d say that I probably look up to them more now because I have lot of respect, being in the industry and seeing what they did back then, and how they created it, and how mountain biking has gone through all the phases and these guys are still on top of their game. So, with my business background in college, seeing what they’ve done with their businesses, and how they’re so successful now, that makes me really impressed. I just saw Gary Fisher tonight. I’ve never met him before, but I immediately sent one of my friends a text message and said, “Hey, I just saw Gary Fischer…he’s here!” Maybe that makes me a little more nervous about having to talk to this group later on.

Tom doin it old school.

Does Johan Bruyneel (Discovery team boss) allow you to ride a mountain bike in the off-season?
Oh yeah, oh yeah. That’s my roots, and that’s my thing, and I always look forward to that last race of the year, to be able to hang up the road bike and pick up the mountain bike and just go out. Where I live, in Durango, Colorado, is probably some of the best mountain biking in the world. We have all those trails right at our doorstep. Typically, I just love to get up, drink my coffee (check out, Tom’s Own Coffee Blend), go on a two or three hour mountain bike ride, then come back home. It’s awesome.

There are some big changes on the team. How do you see your role this year, as opposed to what it was last year?
Yeah, there’s been some big changes in the team, but I really can’t focus on that. I have to focus on what my personal goals are, and my aspirations as a cyclist. That’s to become the best rider that I can be, and to be honest with you, I really want to break into the top three in a grand tour. I really want to be that podium contender. There are some really strong riders on the team, but as you can see when I was on Team Saturn, I came on to that team as a really small fish in a big ocean, and I left that team as a big fish. I think I have similar goals this year.

I can’t really give good info on it right now though, I don’t know. Tomorrow (23rd January) I leave for training camp, there are like 15 new guys on the team, so it’ll be like going to school on the first day – when you know three people, and the rest are all new, it’s exciting. There are definitely some new guns on the team, and that will change the dynamics. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, on a personal level I’m not really conscerned – I have to stay true to my goals as a pro and do my work the best i can andwhen i show up and ride, that decides what’ll happen.

Any specific races that you’re pointing to, or is it too early to even think about that?
I don’t want to say too much, but my main objective will be the Tour de France this year. Obviously my role at the Tour will depend a lot on what’s going on with the team, but that’s my big objective. I have some other objectives along the way. I have some unfinished business in a couple races in America, so I’d like to perform at a higher level than I did last year. I’ve been working on a lot of tricks that I developed in the off-season that I’m excited to show everyone this year.

Tom expounded a bit more a few weeks later:

I have a lot of big goals and aspirations, the Vuelta opened my eyes to reality, it’s cutthroat. You have to be on your game at all times. This year I found new weakness, and I’ve spent all offseason addressing them and making big goals. I’ve got about eight good year ahead of me, and I’ve got to go for it now, I can’t wait any longer. I feel like I’ve got the tools to start chipping away and accomplishing some big results.

In 2007, I’ll target some smaller races to start getting some notches in my belt, because I want those races in my belt when I retire. The Tour de France is a big goal of minute this year. I can’t really target any goals in the race, as my role in the Tour will depend on two things: my performance and theirs (the team leader(s)), we’ll see how that pans out.

The Tour of California is an exciting challenge for me – there are two TT’s and kind of a mountain stage, for sure it’s not a textbook race for me, it’s not a race that I normally would be able to win, so that’s exciting to me, and a chance to see if my winter paid off. I’d like to try and go for that race – we’ll see. I don’t know, it depends where my fitness is at, and the race is not exactly my 100% strength.

It’s not a 100% target, but it’s a goal to have a good ride there. It’s really TT oriented. The big climb (Sierra) really suits me, but it’s far away from the finish.

Last year, my training had been better than in years past, I was in the best February shape I’ve ever been in, and I found out I wasn’t even close. At my level of fitness, I assumed I was going to ride Levi and Floyd off my wheel (on the Sierra Road climb). But when I looked back, Levi still had his mouth closed, and Floyd wasn’t even stressed. Those guys just rode right around me.

For me, I’ll go with aspirations of performing well, if I can win, great.

Mano a mano: Tom and Floyd duked it out like heavyweights on the spectacular climb to Brasstown Bald at the ’06 Tour de Georgia. Tom took it on the line.

What other races are you looking toward this year?
Paris-Nice (March 11-18), Vuelta a Castilla y Leon (March 26-30), maybe go for a stage there? Tour of Georgia (April 16-22) of course. I’d like to get back my title there. I love that race, and I was very disappointed that I didn’t win last year, but I felt like I could have, had I been a better rider. Floyd was obviously great, but I definitely want to take that race back this year. Then there’s the Vuelta Catalunya (May 21-27) – that has an uphill time trial. The Tour de Suisse (June 16-24), right before the Tour de France.

That appears to possibly be the hardest race of the season with almost more climbing than the Grand Tours in 9-days.
That’s why I’m doing it I guess. After the Tour, maybe I’ll do the Vuelta, not sure just yet. It’s at the end of the year, so that’s always hard. I did it at the end of a hard year last year though…

You’ve made incredible improvements in your time trialling abilities: how?
Oh yeah, especially for me, because I’m not a natural time triallist. The first thing I did was ride my time trial bike more, and that helped a lot. Then I started working on my position, and there were some big changes. Last year, I did a little bit of wind tunnel testing; this year I spent two full days in the wind tunnel. I was there with all the Trek engineers and Steve Hed, and tried every position possible and came out with the best, most aero position possible within the legal limits. It’s a great position, it was hard at first, but now it’s great. I have good control and produce some good power.

There’s no doubt that Tom Danielson’s time trialling has improved leaps and bounds over the past few seasons.

I’ve been on the time trial bike tytpically three times a week. It’s obviously not that comfortable of a position, so maybe one day a week of specific time trial training, then a 2.5 hour recovery ride on the time trial bike, and another time where I’ll switch bikes for 1-2 hours somewhere in a long 6-7 hour ride.

Do you see yourself as a guy for the hilly Classics?
You know, I never really thought about it, but I’m not going to retire without having done them. I want to try them and see what they’re all about. I don’t really have a fast finish. Some people think I’d be well-suited, others don’t. For 2007 they’re not in the schedule, but as I gain more experience, and a lot of it becomes – what do I want to accomplish in cycling, then I’ll probably have a go. Obviously, it would be cool to do well in the Classics, but stage racing is where it’s at for me right now: I love climbing and time trialling.

Tom with two other Americans before the start of a stage at the Giro: Jason McCartney and Patrick McCarty.

What role does a powermeter play in your training?
It’s huge, the powermeter is really the best indicator of performance. You really can’t take times on climbs for so many different reasons – wind, snow, the list goes on. It’s really a good indicator of performance and improvement, combined with heart rate, that really makes a great package: you can see your heart rate threshold, power at threshold, and then add a portable lactate measuring device to it, and that gives a really precise indicator of where you’re at. The powermeter has been huge in my training.

So, just for interest’s sake, and knowing that you won’t tell me, about where are you right now?
Of course I can’t tell you! Then everybody that does California will know. Basically, for a big race like the Vuelta, I shoot for a threshold of 7 w/kg – that’s really the number that allows me to be one of the top climbers in the world, and that’s where the best climbers climb at. Of course there are tons of other factors that go into a good performance – recovery, mental toughness, list goes on and on, but w/kg is really a quantifiable measure for a good performance for me. So for me at 61-62 kg, that means the power has to be around 430 watts. That’s at Lactate Threshold.

Tom and Kristin – a happy couple.

What does your training look like for this time of year?
I’m still keeping the majority of riding below threshold, as I don’t want to compromise my goals for later on in the year. I’ve taken a more motivated approach. Obviously, there’s still some really low intensity, and then climbing near, but not quite at threshold. I usually do a couple hours of climbing in my rides, which is quite a lot of time in that zone.

How about the rough winter Colorado is enjoying?
I’ve had to go skiing, ride the trainer, and do some other stuff. I’ve been getting a little tougher, but there’s obviously the concern for safety when the conditions get poor.

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