Tom Danielson declared Tuesday night that he was glad to have the climb to Mt. Crested Butte behind him and to “move on to the parts of the race I like the most.”
Then, Wednesday he mounted a solo breakaway coming up Independence
Pass on Stage Three of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, the Boulder cyclist's second attempt in
three stages to win it from an early breakaway, and topped the pass, snagging
12 King of the Mountain points, minutes ahead of the peloton. In a press conference after the race, Danielson declared of his ride over Independence Pass, "That was awesome! Since I'm a Colorado guy, there's a lot of responsibility there. I'd a dream come true. I've dreamed about going over Independence Pass. For it to come true the way it did, it's something I'll never forget. Honestly, that was my finish line. After Independence Pass, I thought, only 35K to go," he said and laughed.
The descent into Aspen saw the peloton closing the gap by seconds, and Danielson’s team manager cheering for him from a support vehicle. Danielson was still leading by 40 seconds 5 kilometers from the finish — and needing 13 seconds ahead of the peloton to take the yellow leader's jersey.
"At 2K, I didn't think I was going to win," he said a press conference after the race. "What was going through my mind? I heard my wife's voice saying 'Don't look back!' All I wanted to do was look back, and I didn't. So I guess those are words for young riders to live by — when you want to win, don't look back."
He finished first, but just two seconds ahead of the peloton — enough to win the stage and keep a secure hold on his King of the Mountain jersey, though not enough to snag the leader's jersey.
Stage three was the 131-mile Queen Stage, which began with a sprint line in Almont and a moderate climb to Taylor Park Reservoir. Cyclists then climbed on dirt roads for 14 miles over Cottonwood Pass (12,126 feet), circle through Buena Vista, and climb over Independence Pass (12,095 feet).
Danielson came away on top of the King of the Mountain general classification after finishing second on Cottonwood Pass as well as the first on Independence Pass. Crossing the finish line, Christian Vande Velde came in three ahead of Boulder's Tejay van Garderen in the peloton pack, snagging the leader’s jersey. The two riders had been tied at 8h35m12s. Vande Velde says the leader jersey wasn't really on his mind during the stage.
"It was a bonus to be causing mayhem with the team, and we focused on setting Tom up for the breakaway," Vandevelde said in a press conference. "I'm incredibly proud of the team and what we did today, and every day."
Danielson moves from 11th to sixth in overall standings,
while van Garderen is in second. Ivan Rovny holds on to third and Levi
Leipheimer in fourth.
Vandevelde’s win puts the Garmin Sharp team — which includes Danielson, Vande Velde and the rider pulling commendations for his support of both of them through Stage Three, Dave Zabriskie — in control of the race coming in to Stage Four, which begins by climbing back over Independence Pass and finishes with an uphill climb into Beaver Creek. "One way or another, it's going to be hard," Vande Velde said of the stage. "I don't know who will throw spin in the works."
Stage Four begins at 11:35 a.m. Up to the minute the coverage is available at www.usaprocyclingchallenge.com.