Tom Danielson Interview: Self-belief brings a lazer focus
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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tom Danielson Interview: Self-belief brings a lazer focus

by Shane Stokes at 11:15 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Tour de France
 
“The Tour makes you dig a little deeper and push a little harder”

Tom DanielsonOver the course of a ten to fifteen year pro career, riders can develop in different directions to how they were as young professionals. Some such as Sean Kelly and Laurent Jalabert metamorphose from sprinters into strong all-rounders, with both of those riders winning the Vuelta a Espana during their careers.

Other fast gallopers also expanded into other areas, with the likes of Johan Museeuw and Andrei Tchmil backing off on the bunch sprints and succeeding instead in races such as Paris-Roubaix.

Then there’s the likes of Bradley Wiggins and Christian Vandevelde, who showed little signs of being general classification contenders in Grand Tours until the second half of their careers. Both would go on to finish fourth overall in the race, and will return this year aiming for a podium slot.

Tom Danielson has also changed a lot, but in his case it can be argued that the main transformation has been a mental one. He’s always been a rider with proven physical capabilities, with early victories in races such as the Tour de Langkawi and Tour of Qinghai Lake combining with superb lab tests to illustrate the capacity of his engine.

However for years it seemed that the power of his mind didn’t quite match the force in his legs and lungs. He appeared at certain points to lack self-belief and, fairly or not, earned the reputation as a rider who burned up a lot of energy through stress.

That was reflected in his answers in interviews. During his Discovery Channel days, he repeatedly said that he was pleased to get the opportunity to race with the team, to compete alongside certain riders, to ride certain races. It was endearing in ways and showed a modesty that some professional sportsmen lack, but it also gave the impression that he didn’t fully believe in himself and his own right to be in a top team.

Now, speaking to him, it’s clear that he does. Danielson’s a transformed rider, more secure within himself and also more able to remain calm in the world’s top events. He rode the Tour de France for the first time last year and combined with his Garmin-Cervelo team-mates to victory in the team time trial. Equally importantly, he took ninth place overall – now upped to eighth after Alberto Contador’s sanctioning - and was the best American rider.

It was a major breakthrough for the 33 year old, who in performing strongly in the world’s top event, finally shook off the What Ifs raised by his missing of the event for several years.

He went there, he took part, and he proved that he’s capable of fighting amongst the best riders on the biggest platform. If he can build on that, the podium is within reach.

Speaking to VeloNation in the build up to the Tour de Langkawi and his 2012 season start, Danielson spoke in depth about the change in his mentality and his modified approach to the sport.


VeloNation: First off, Tom, you are coming into the 2012 season after what was your strongest year ever. You took a number of big results, including ninth in your first Tour de France and third in the Tour of California. How do you feel compared to this time last season?

Tom Danielson: It’s always hard to compare fitness and all that. You can always look at your Garmin and see how your fitness is, but it’s always hard to tell. But I’m not so worried about analysing stuff or whatever…I’m just being focused. I had a great year last year and I feel good coming off that. That’s been really positive for me in off-season. It just helps with the motivation, and knowing you are working hard helps you feel good every day.

Tom DanielsonI can just hope that things will continue to progress. I’m just really enjoying cycling right now, I’m really enjoying the spot I am in my life with my family and everything…it’s just all coming together nicely.

VN: You appear to have become a lot stronger mentally than you were in the past. Do you think the family aspect, the fact that you are a father, is part of the reason why you have clicked on the bike?

TD: Yeah, I think so. I think that helped me see things differently and in a right way. It makes me appreciate what I’m doing and what I’m doing it for. You know, it’s nice, at the end of the day - you come home and have a great family. It just solidifies everything you’ve done on the bike and makes you feel like you are doing something for a cause.

It’s definitely helped my progression as a cyclist.

VN: Last year you rode the Tour de France for the first time. There, you were part of the team time-trial winning squad and best team in the general classification and, on a personal level, you also finished ninth overall and were best US rider. Given that you were waiting so many years to do the race, how big was that for your confidence to perform so well in your first Tour?

TD: It was a really cool experience. We’ve talked just now about perspective on things and racing - I think it was a good example to me of that. I went into the race relaxed, even though we had a big goal at the team time-trial. My family were there at the start, I felt good, I felt confident. I wasn’t really stressed about anything. That really helped my mentality.

Once it started, I felt strong the entire race. I now believe that the Tour suits me really well, given the type of rider that I am. The race is hard every single day. It really requires someone that has a big engine, who can be in a really hard race every single day, and not really fatigue too much from it.

I really liked it, I thought it was a really awesome race. We have a great team and it was fun to be part of all the things that we did, on top of my finishing in the top ten.

VN: So what’s the effect been on you?

TD: Well, it’s really helped my off-season. It’s much more different now knowing what the Tour de France is like, and all because of all the great mental pictures of the Tour that you have taken along the way. Every time you go out and start suffering on the bike in the off season, you really know why you are doing it, what the outcome is.

Thinking of the Tour makes you dig a little deeper and push a little harder, and that’s what you need as a professional athlete.

VN: Is it accurate to say that you are a lot more focused than ever before?

TD: Yeah. Well, when you say more focused, I don’t necessarily think that I’m trying harder or something like that. I think that I’m able now to see the correct things clearly. So, yes, I’m more focused, but I’m more focused on the right things, the things that make me tick, the things that I need to address, the perspective I need to be in to perform well.

Tom DanielsonI think saying that I’m more focused sounds almost like you are sort of fighting yourself every single day to drill yourself into this form. For me, it’s really not that. I just wake up in the morning and I feel like I can see clearly what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.

Also, that I’m enjoying it. That enables me to perform very well every single day.

VN: We’ve done several interviews over the years and what’s interesting is how your language and tone has changed over that time. You sound far more confident than you used to – it’s quite a noticeable difference when speaking to you.

TD: Yeah, for whatever reason, it’s taken me thing long to figure things out. Of course, becoming a dad and having all the responsibilities really forces you to mature. It forces yourself to see things right.

Before I was really results-oriented. I think now that’s not the way to go about things. You can’t really listen to what people say, or to just say yourself ‘my goal is to win this race or finish on the podium in this race.’

It doesn’t work like that. You can’t control all the different outcomes. Before, I’d start seeing a different outcome that I had planned on and I would just pull myself out of the picture. I felt that I couldn’t achieve the result that everyone said I should achieve…and that I thought I should achieve. That made things difficult.

So now it [the new approach] is really cool…you just look back and say, ok, well, I’m not going to make any expectations for myself and I’m not going to let anyone make any expectations for me. Or, at least, I’m not going to internalise that. I will just see where I can get and that’s all I have to worry about… It’s much easier to do it that way.


In part II of this interview, Danielson talks about his condition heading into the new season, his thoughts on his first season race in Malaysia, his goals for the Tour de Langkawi plus his buildup to the main season goal, the Tour de France.

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