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ASPEN, Colo. (VN) — With a roster that boasts the defending champion, the recent Tour of Utah winner, and a top-10 finisher at this year’s Tour de France, Garmin-Sharp has, on paper, the deepest squad at this year’s USA Pro Challenge.
Last year, Garmin’s Christian Vande Velde won the race ahead of Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), while Tom Danielson, the recent Utah winner, finished seventh overall, with a stage win. Vande Velde finished second overall in 2011, behind Levi Leipheimer, with Danielson fourth overall.
Garmin’s Andrew Talansky, who finished 10th in his Tour debut last month, has not raced in Colorado during its short two-year tenure, instead finishing seventh at the Vuelta a España last September.
Between the three of them — as well as talented young riders like Lachlan Morton and Rohan Dennis, and veterans David Millar, Thomas Dekker, and Dave Zabriskie — it’s clear the U.S. team, with Colorado roots, won’t be satisfied with anything less than the top podium step in Denver on Sunday.
Still, Vande Velde, who crashed out of the Tour de France with injuries to his collarbone, ribs, and knee, admitted that he was unsure of his fitness. At the Tour of Utah, Vande Velde rode in support of both Morton, who won a stage and held the leader’s jersey, and Danielson, who won the final stage and secured the overall victory.
“I’m definitely behind from last year, but I’ve been trying to put the pieces together over the past couple of weeks,” Vande Velde said Sunday. “It doesn’t matter how I am, as long as we can get someone from Team Garmin-Sharp up on the podium in the end.”
With Sky’s Chris Froome and Richie Porte acknowledging that they are using the Pro Challenge as a training race, rather than aiming for overall victory, Garmin will likely be the team the rest of the peloton looks toward to control breakaways, even before the GC truly takes shape.
Team director Charly Wegelius told VeloNews that when it comes down to team leadership, “it’s more important to think about the character of the riders and the people that can lead the group. I think that David Millar and Christian Vande Velde are guys with a lot of experience who can really keep that together. They’ll be the focal point of the team.”
The depth of Garmin’s roster will keep contenders like van Garderen, Michael Rogers (Saxo-Tinkoff), and Joe Dombrowski (Sky) guessing, and will also take the pressure off any one Garmin rider in particular.
“That’s the really nice thing about coming to this race,” Talansky said. “In other races the pressure has been solely on me to do something, but in this race, with the team we have here, it’s a totally different scenario. I finished the Tour healthy, I’m feeling good, but [after the Tour] I did need to take a break. So I’m building back up with this.
“As far as the team goes, it’s the strongest team in the race. Not just on paper but in reality. Tom just won the Tour of Utah, Lachlan Morton rode away from everyone and won a stage, Christian is the defending champion, Rohan Dennis is one of the best time trialists in the world and he came in a few days before Utah so now he’s had time to adjust to the altitude. It’s really nice coming in that way, because we can just play to our strengths.”
Danielson, who called his Utah win the biggest of his career, pointed to his team’s strength as the ultimate advantage.
“I think the key is a strong team,” he said. “As you saw last year, we were super aggressive. The course really favored an aggressive approach and this year is similar. You have to either control other people being aggressive, or be aggressive yourself. It’s a very strong field this year with Sky and the Tour de France champion. You have to be careful. You can’t do crazy stuff. We’ll be as strong as we can be, and we’ll try to be as smart as possible as well.”