Danielson unable to match van Garderen’s poise — and legs — at Pro Challenge

Garmin-Sharp suffered a blow on Tuesday when Tejay van Garderen won stage 3 at the USA Pro Challenge to take the race lead

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

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MONARCH MOUNTAIN, Colorado (VN) — On the day the Garmin-Sharp team announced a new sponsorship deal that will keep the Jonathan Vaughters’ outfit very much alive, a big day at the USA Pro Challenge wasn’t in the cards.

On the gradual pitch of Monarch Pass, against a headwind, the Garmin squad suffered a setback when Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) distanced themselves from Garmin’s GC man, Tom Danielson. As it stands now, Danielson, who is fresh off a Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah win, is third, 36 seconds back of stage winner van Garderen with four stages remaining.

Tactically, Garmin tried to make the race hard early on, knowing the climb’s shallow depth didn’t suit the feathery Danielson’s strength on the steeps.

“We made a plan to race it super aggressively, and it didn’t really turn out the way I wanted it to,” Danielson said at the finish line. “We wanted to force them to ride and use their guys. Yeah. It turned out kinda disappointing.”

Van Garderen and Majka jumped ahead with about a kilometer remaining and weren’t seen again by the others. Garmin, though, felt it wouldn’t be able to wait around and get hit with a late attack by van Garderen, even though that’s exactly what happened.

“We knew with the grade of it being relatively easy, and with the headwind, it wasn’t down Tom’s street. Ergo the tactic that we chose, you know?” said Garmin sport director Charly Wegelius. “They went away with their legs, Majka and Tejay. So full respect to them. Can’t win ’em all. You ride to win and that’s how it is. And we’ll see how [Danielson’s] feeling tomorrow.”

For van Garderen, Garmin was the team to watch, and the race leader proved strategically keen during a hectic race.

“[Garmin] were obviously really aggressive today. They were even aggressive on day one. … I just think they’re going to keep being aggressive. The best part is that I think Garmin’s playbook is pretty easy to read,” van Garderen said at the post-race press conference. “I remember back in 2012 they had four GC guys … and they would use all of them and it was really hard to keep them under control. Now, it’s looking like Danielson is really their only guy. … So I think he’ll probably be aggressive but it’s not that much of a concern because now we only need to watch one guy.”

Thus far, BMC has proven to be the strongest team in the race, controlling the past two stages, and its leader seems to have done what’s necessary, at least for today, to defend his title from last year. If Danielson was his No. 1 concern, van Garderen showed Wednesday he’s in control of that matchup.

“Danielson. All due respect to Danielson,” van Garderen said. “But I think he just got a little nervous. … It never seemed like he wanted to commit to an attack. Every time he saw I was on his wheel he just kind of sat up. … But at the same time, he didn’t want anyone else going up the road … so I could just sense that he was nervous. I thought, ‘OK, I’ll just sit behind him.’”

Asked if van Garderen had done enough up Monarch to win the overall, Danielson said, only, “Ah. I don’t know.”

The race marches on to Colorado Springs next, and there’s the Vail time trial looming, in which van Garderen is favored. Garmin, though, certainly won’t lie down.

“No,” Wegelius said. “You know us better than that.”

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