Comedy Central, USA Pro Challenge style
Not one somber face left the Community Concert Hall on the Fort Lewis College campus after the USA Pro Challenge’s opening press conference today. Those in attendance exited smiling and retelling one liners from Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma — Quick-Step), Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp), and others about to participate in the seven-day event.
Huge cheers filled the large auditorium when a Durango official mentioned Danielson’s affiliation with the college and a city he still calls “home,” a description teammate Christian Vande Velde would rib Danielson about several times.
Danielson waxed so emotional, he pledged to move back to Durango, and entreated the audience to help him convince his extended family that resides together under one roof to move from Boulder. After listing everyone but one who had to buy into the move, he concluded by saying, “And if you see my mother-in-law – she’s a short, French-looking lady, please try to convince her we need to move here.”
When a journalist later questioned Vande Velde about the Garmin-Sharp team’s depth, he replied, “Yes, we have depth – Tommy’s living from coast-to-coast, that’s depth.” Danielson trained in Malibu, California earlier this winter and loved the canyon-riding nearby.
Leipheimer refused to answer a question about which surprise riders could land on the final podium. That question has been simmering in experts’ minds since Johann Tschopp (BMC Racing Team), Matthew Busche (Radioshack-Nissan-Trek), and Leopold Koenig (Team NetApp) celebrated first, second, and third overall by spraying champagne over the crowd after the final day of the recent Tour of Utah, leaving such race favorites as Leipheimer and Chris Horner (Radioshack-Nissan-Trek) off the stage.
“Oh, I’m not falling for that; this isn’t my first time in the rodeo,” Leipheimer said. “If I answer and leave someone out, I’ll get roasted.”
Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing Team) called his 2011 Tour de France experience “fun.” Then he added, “Well, it was fun now that it’s over.”
Some serious answers filled in the spaces between the guffaws. The audience learned Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) arrived a week ago to acclimate to the altitude and prepare. Van Garderen said this year he’s “hoping to pull it off in the TT and take the yellow jersey home,” although his later statements suggested he’s not sure if he’s recovered from the fatigue of the TDF followed by the Olympics.
Questions and answers that focused on the importance of the Flagstaff finish on Stage 6 gave rise to an query about whether other stages would be as decisive in determining the overall winner. Vande Velde responded without naming another stage. “It will be nickels and dimes all week,” he said, echoing teammate Peter Stetina’s assessment of the 2012 USA Pro Challenge as a game of seconds, not minutes.
The gaps between leaders could widen if one or more of the contenders experiences a bad day or pulls off a super-hero effort on a stage. It’s quite possible spectators will witness the latter on that Flagstaff climb when about 17 Boulder-based or born riders in the race tackle it. In a video produced for the race, Danielson said of that day, “Flagstaff is my favorite climb. I think it’s going to be a pretty special experience and I probably won’t feel a whole lot of pain that day.”