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Cyclist Danielson enjoying strong year

Updated: August 16, 2011, 12:45

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) Tom Danielson has been beset throughout his decade-long pro career by injuries and illnesses, the banes of cycling.

But the 33-year-old Danielson, who has lived in Boulder, Colo., since he was a teenager, has finally pedaled to the top level of the sport.

Danielson's consistency, including third overall in the Tour of California in May and ninth overall as the top American finisher in last month's Tour de France, have positioned him in the favorite's role in the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

The seven-day, 510-mile race, which will include 17 domestic and international teams of eight riders, begins Monday with a five-mile afternoon prologue. The race concludes Aug. 28 in Denver.

"I've always dreamed of doing a hometown race like this,'' said Danielson, who placed fifth overall last Sunday in the six-day Tour of Utah. "When I have a chance to do local races in my home state, on my home roads and on the terrain that I'm sort of built for, high altitudes and climbing, I just love it.''

Danielson will be the leader of the Colorado-based Garmin-Cervelo squad. Teammates Christian Vande Velde of Lemont, Ill., Dave Zabriskie of Salt Lake City and Canadian Ryder Hesjedal all rode with Danielson in the Tour de France.

The field will also include reigning Tour de France winner Cadel Evans of Australia and brothers Andy and Frank Schleck of Luxembourg, who finished second and third, respectively.

In addition to Danielson's strong individual finish at the Tour de France, his team won the stage 2 team time trial and the team classification.

A former mountain biker, Danielson began winning multi-day road races early in his pro road race career. He claimed overall titles at the Tour of Qinghai Lake (China) in 2002 and Tour de Langkawi (Malaysia), one of his eight wins in 2003.

Two years later, with seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong as a teammate, Danielson won the now-defunct Tour de Georgia. It was the biggest win of Danielson's career and comparisons to Armstrong quickly intensified.

In 2006, Danielson finished second to dethroned Tour de France winner Floyd Landis at the Tour de Georgia, withdrew from the Tour of Italy with a knee injury and placed sixth overall at the Tour of Spain.

But in recent years, injuries, crashes in key events and illness overshadowed his results. Danielson's goal to reach the Tour de France was delayed for several seasons until this year.

Healthy and with his confidence intact, Danielson was locked in for the Tour de France team selection months in advance by team director Jonathan Vaughters.

Danielson's third-place finish behind race winner Chris Horner of Bend, Ore., and Levi Leipheimer of Santa Rosa, Calif., in the Tour of California solidified his spot.

"Finishing ninth overall in the Tour de France in my first time and as the top American, it couldn't be a better lead-in to this race,'' Danielson said. "I feel really motivated. I've had the season of my career so far. It's been a dream come true to race in the Tour de France and to be one of the best riders in the world.''

Following the prologue to determine the race leader, stage 1 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge will take riders 102 miles from Salida to Crested Butte.

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