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Tom Danielson’s Langkawi not the season starter he wanted

March 3, 2012

Tom Danielson at home after the 2011 TDF (by Mary Topping)

Nearly all pro-cyclists will fight an injury at some point. When a crash injury prevents a rider from performing his best at a race that means the world to him, that can be a pretty decent setback. That’s where Tom Danielson of Team Garmin-Barracuda found himself this week at the Tour of Langkawi.

Danielson crashed on stage 3 of the Malaysian event during the sprint finish, gifting the country with skin souvenirs the size of young banana leaves. He rode up the final climb of stage 6, Genting Highlands, with a swollen leg. The effects of the crash and the ensuing infection led him to abandon the race before stage 7 started.

In an interview with Velonation after stage 6, Danielson expressed disappointment with his performance. He seemed to say he felt he’d let the team down. Prior to the race he couldn’t wait to gobble up Genting Highlands, where he won a stage in 2003; he couldn’t wait to return to the scene of a victory that launched his career. And now this week he stood on the same ground, perhaps thinking he hadn’t been able to honor the Tour of Langkawi with the type of result he felt it and the memory of his 2003 overall victory deserved.

Other riders have acknowledged the impact of injury on their confidence. Take Craig Lewis. Just before the USA Pro Cycling Challenge (UPCC) in August 2011, his first return to competition since May when he sustained multiple fractures in a crash during the Giro d’Italia, Lewis wrote:

“As a professional athlete, I know I should have more confidence. In fact, I should be oozing it. But you’d be surprised with how much confidence in your athletic ability you’d lose if you were just recently teaching yourself how to move an arm or walk again. At the start of every racing season, after a long winter’s break, there is always the worry about not cutting it in a race. Multiply that worry by ten, and that is where I am heading into next week.”

Lewis finished the UPCC, though not without pain. Many riders have come back from – even used, the disappointment and frustration of setbacks. Lance Armstrong beat cancer. Greg LeMond received 40 bullets in his back in 1987, almost died, then won the Tour de France again in 1989. Evelyn Stevens suffered over the Passo di Mortirolo in last year’s Giro Donne, crashing multiple times in what she described as “probably the lowest point in my cycling career.” Less than one week ago she won the Tour of New Zealand.

In a VeloNews interview prior to stage 7 of the Tour of Langkawi, Danielson said, “One of the things I’m lacking is the confidence to push it above my limit and go for the win.” Maybe something else explains his comment, but it sounds like the injury and disappointment at Langkawi have shaken his confidence. He can recover and fortify it, though, because he’s already learned how to do that.

Danielson nurtured his confidence in 2011 with aggressive riding in the Tour de Suisse and by summiting Alpe d’Huez and other mountains in last year’s Tour de France with the riders who stepped on the podiums at the finale in Paris. Danielson said in TourChats he knows that winning feeling and he knows he’s capable. He told the Denver Post as much last August when he described how it felt to race next to Cadel Evans and Frank and Andy Schleck: “I had to say, ‘This is just who you are. You can do this.'”

“He showed in the Tour de France he can ride with those guys,” Jonathan Vaughters, Team Garmin-Barracuda CEO and Director Sportif, said last August in the Denver Post. “I think now he wants to show that he can beat them.”

There’s every reason to believe the foundation upon which Vaughters’ words were built still stands strong.

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