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Results Thread: Shark Week! And Some Danielson Mutterings

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Today's winners:

  • Vincenzo Nibali, the Shark of the Strait, used his descending skill to drop a few compatriots in the finale of the GP Citta di Camaiore and solo home to victory. And yes, I am taking full credit for kinda sorta calling this one yesterday. Look it up!
  • Andre Greipel finally bagged that stage win at the Tour de Pologne, though his teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen couldn't make up ground on overall winner Alessandro Ballan. Everyone wins, right? Columbia pads its stage total and the world champion saves some face, showing that when healthy he knows how to carry the jersey on his shoulders.
  • Tom Danielson wins a time trial at the Vuelta a Burgos, seizing the overall lead for now. Tomorrow is the day the race will be decided, on a course that ends with three pretty hard climbs en route to Laguna de Neilas. Danielson leads Danny Pate by four seconds, with Alejandro Valverde (5") and Stefano Garzelli (26") stalking him as well. Should be a ripping finale.
  • Worst news of the day: Patrik Sinkewicz wins in the Volta a Portugal. If there was anything interesting to it, I refuse to go see. Punk.

But you know all of this. So here's a discussion point. People like to talk about Tom Danielson as a failed prodigy, or at least someone we got excited about before wondering what happened. But is that really fair? I am always a little sympathetic to guys who are pitted by the media against expectations (often themselves a media fabrication), so let's dip into some numbers and see.

Danielson turned pro in 2002 and scored some nice developmental results: winning the Tour of Qinghai Lake, and setting a new record for the Mount Washington Hill Climb, as 12km climb up the iconic New England peak averaging 12%. Translation: he was someone to watch among the young guys who ride Qinghai, and the Mt. Washington result shows that, if nothing else, he could handle really steep climbs at modest elevation. 

In 2003 he won the Tour de Langkawi, an early season romp in Malaysia, showing that he liked riding in Asia and could also handle a time trial. He got a nice result at Sea Otter, again on the strength of his crono skills, and took second in the US TT nats. In all cases, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that he showed both climbing and time trialing skill, but against fields that were well below the top levels of the sport, in all fairness.

Danielson got a ride with Fassa Bortolo the following season, but like a lot of Americans venturing overseas he was overmatched. So he came home for 2005 to Discovery Channel and turned in two solid seasons. In '05 he took fourth in Setmana Catalana and won the Tour de Georgia (with his memorable Brasstown Bald win), took fifth in the Austrian tour, and seventh in the Vuelta. Next year was even better, as he won the Austria Tour, took sixth in the Vuelta (with a mountain stage win), and won again on Brasstown Bald. Throughout, he showed a nice balance of skill in both key disciplines, looking a little stronger in the cronos in '05 and a little faster uphill in '06. And it's kinda been downhill ever since: illness, injury, and not much happening even when he was ostensibly OK.

In hindsight it's easy to see why people got excited about his potential -- which, for the record, isn't squandered, as the guy is still only 31. But it's probably unfair to call him a disappointment for climbing steadily up to a certain rung on the latter and stalling out. Danielson has never beaten the top guys in the world at the top races; rather, he has shone brightly against the best American fields, and scored occasional results in Europe which should be seen for what they are: the odd nice day. Winning a Vuelta stage out of a two-man break? Nice day. Winning the Osterreich Rundfahrt over Ruslan Pidgornyy? Nice trophy. But guys get results like this all the time, and we don't start measuring them for yellow. And winning in the US, even consistently, is no guarantee of success in Europe, let's be honest.

I'd say Danielson's career could have gone better -- with some extraordinary luck he might have brought his top form to some bigger stage races in Europe and gotten some bigger results. I don't want to speculate about his bike handling problems, or whatever else might be going on in his body or head. But that's cycling: everyone feels the pressure, the injuries, the illnesses, the dislocation (for non-Euros)... and the top levels of the sport are chockablock with guys who have comparable abilities. Only a few emerge into champions, and the other ten thousand phenomenal cyclists who don't? I see no reason to dog them about it. That's cycling.