Park City • With the crowd growing antsy on Park City’s Main Street, the cowbells clanging deeply into eardrums everywhere, the name Tom Danielson began to reach soaring decibel levels.
The 35-year-old American on Team Garmin-Sharp had stalked long enough. After trailing Stage 5 winner and yellow jersey owner Chris Horner, Danielson saw Empire Pass, the grueling grand finale climb of the 2013 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, as a chance to change his fortunes.
For much of his career, Danielson has second-guessed himself in those sink-or-swim moments. But on Sunday afternoon in Summit County, he figured he’d try something else.
“I don’t like to just be a guy in the peloton,” he said.
He isn’t anymore. Danielson is the 2013 Tour of Utah crown holder.
After a memorable second-place finish behind Horner in Saturday’s Stage 5 at Snowbird Resort, Danielson, the Tour de France vet, viewed the final climb up Empire Pass as one perfectly suited for him.
“I knew I had to take everyone to their limits, including myself,” Danielson said.
He did exactly that, upping the ante.
Needing time to catch Horner and having a shot at the center of the podium, Danielson passed Horner on the ascent up Empire Pass and didn’t look back, leaving the former leader of the general classification in his wake.
With each pedal of his bike, he distanced himself up the hill and eventually caught the descent down the old mine road toward Park City. Danielson didn’t win Stage 6; he was eventually caught by Francisco Mancebo, the stage winner, and Janier Calle Acevedo, who finished third.
But that didn’t matter.
It was Danielson’s surge up a punishing mountain that delivered him the Tour of Utah title. He distanced himself from Horner enough to own the yellow jersey, soak in the cheers and eventually douse spectators in champagne.
“That’s who we are as professional cyclists: We’re very determined people looking for moments like today,” Danielson said. “We’re not out there just trying to make money or anything else. We’re out there trying to seize that moment.”
Horner, who finished second overall in the GC, said it wasn’t difficult to foresee Sunday playing out the way it did after Danielson’s tremendous chase Saturday in Stage 5.
“I always race by facts, and [Saturday], tactically, we raced a brilliant race,” Horner said. “Today, no amount of tactics could help when Garmin did the job at the bottom to put everyone in the red and allow Danielson to get away.”
Before Danielson put himself in an opportunity to charge for victory, long before he showed up in Utah before the six-stage, 586-mile event, he questioned what he was doing in a sport he’s been pro in since 2002 after suffering an injury early at the Tour de France.
“I had a lot of time to reflect while I was getting my head kicked in in that race,” Danielson said. “When I came home, it was pretty clear to me: I’m doing it to win races.”
Hoping for experiences like Sunday. That’s why Danielson parted dark clouds hovering over himself and his career in the weeks leading up to the Tour of Utah.
“I think it’s because I love cycling too much,” he said. “I’m too afraid to lose it, so when I get to that moment, I almost choose to not take it because I’m afraid if I do take it and I don’t succeed, then I failed.”
There couldn’t have been a more different script in Park City.
Danielson’s performance in the final two stages ensured his owning of this year’s Tour of Utah yellow jersey, giving him no more room for second-guessing.