Armstrong: "Danielson's something special"

At the stage five post-race conference at the Tour de Georgia, third placed rider on the stage, Lanc

At the stage five post-race conference at the Tour de Georgia, third placed rider on the stage, Lanc
PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM The crowd went amok as the Discovery Channel rider attacked on the day's final climb of the day, leaving his closest rival, Levi Leipheimer, for dead, and taking the applause, the stage win, and the yellow jersey. But this wasn't Lance Armstrong winning at the Tour de France. This was stage five of the Tour de Georgia, in the USA, with crowds to rival its French sister race. And this wasn't Lance Armstrong. It was his 27-year-old team-mate Tom Danielson. Still, the crowds seemed almost ready to accept him as their new Lance after the six-time Tour winner announced his retirement as of this July on Monday. As modest as ever, Danielson fielded the questions from the press with ease, perhaps reassured by Armstrong at his side. In matching baseball caps, joking backwards and forwards, the two team-mates acted like a rehearsed double-act. "First off, just being able to come to this race and race with Lance was huge motivation for me," Danielson said. "This is his last year, and every opportunity I have to be in the same race as him and learn from him is an incredible experience. "So when he told me I was coming to this race, I was really motivated. He's kind of been giving me a hard time the whole month before saying, 'Oh, I'm going to be working for you.' But I said that I'd be working for him, as all I really wanted to do was come here and make it like a mini Tour de France and help him win, and win today." Armstrong, who it was rumoured might not have started in Gainesville on Saturday morning after experiencing stomach problems during the stage on Friday, said: "The team was awesome, and when Tom went it was nice to see, and I really believed that when he attacked that it was game over." The tough final climb of Brasstown Bald was always going to be decisive on the day's stage, and Danielson admitted that he had concerns about how tough it was going to be to launch an attack. "For sure I was afraid, because there was a headwind on the first part of the climb," Danielson said. He then caused a comedy 'walk-out' from Armstrong when he said: "It wasn't that steep until the very end." "He's going to ride the Tour this summer! Ladies and gentlemen: Tom Danielson!" Armstrong quipped. After the laughter died down, Danielson continued: "OK, it was steep, but Lance told me the last 'k' feels like you're standing still, and I was willing to risk pulling into the last kilometre and trying to win the stage and trying to win the overall. The only thing going through my mind was the vision of Lance pulling on the front on the second to last climb so I was going to try everything and go down swinging." Discovery team manager Johan Bruyneel should also take a lot of the credit, Armstrong added. "Johan's a great motivator. He gives the riders a ton of confidence. He told Tom [on the radio] - I was listening - that Levi was on his wheel but that he was going to drop him, and he kept telling him, 'Don't worry, you're going to drop him.' But as a rider, you're pulling and you're pulling, but you look back and this guy's still there, but then you've got your director telling you not to worry and that you're going to drop him, and that kind of confidence coming from your boss and your director is very, very beneficial, and sure enough. "For me that was a special moment," Armstrong continued. "I mean, you have to keep in mind that I've been around a long time, and I've had riders come onto the team, and have invested a lot of time and energy in each and every one of them - Kevin Livingstone and Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis and now Tom Danielson, and they've all become much better riders after they've left the team. "So to see one rider who's left the team on his own will," Armstrong said, referring to Landis, "be taken over by somebody who's come on the team and is happy and really pleased to be here, for me that's a special thing, and I think we have a special athlete in Tom. I think Floyd's a great athlete, too, but we all move on in life, and Tom's a good one and we're going to do everything we can to make him the next big thing. I always joke with him and call him 'the great white hope', and he doesn't like that - he hates it! But I told him last night, 'Alright, man, enough of this hope stuff. You've got to start living up to it.'" Asked whether Danielson would ride the Tour this summer, Armstrong replied: "You'll see him at the Tour of Italy. I don't know if you'll see him this summer - he's new to the programme, he's still a little. He's not 21 years old, he's a little older. How old are you now?" "Oh, I'm old!" Danielson smiled. "Tell 'em you're young!" Armstrong told him. "He is still a young rider, so we can't really expect him to do a Giro and a Tour in one season, but he'll be there soon enough. "I think Tom has a few things yet to learn over in Europe, and the Tour is crazy - it's not like any other bike race. It's ten times harder than the Giro, it's fifty times harder than the Tour of Switzerland. It's aggressive, scary, dangerous, and the first week is like Paris-Roubaix every day. He has to get used to that a bit more. But he can climb and he can time trial, so he could be a threat there one day."
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