August 22, 2011

Racing the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado has special significance for Team Garmin-Cervélo. Boulder, Colorado is where sporting director and president Jonathan Vaughters founded the team in 2003 and where its U.S. headquarters remain today.

Back in 2003, Vaughters started out with a dream, a chunk of his personal savings and a humble objective: nurture young American riders while also fostering a 100-percent clean racing and training culture.

Fast forward eight years and the team has returned to its roots, revisiting the place of its birth to race against a lineup that includes the entire top-three podium from the 2011 Tour de France — Andy and Franck Schleck and Cadel Evans.

The seven-day race starts on August 22 in Colorado Springs and finishes August 28 in Denver. Along the way, the course takes the riders over two 12,000-foot passes—each one twice the altitude of France’s Alpe d’Huez.

Tom Danielson placed ninth at the Tour de France this year, and is motivated to ride for the win in the state where he started racing bikes and that he calls home today.

The day before the 5.2 mile prologue into Colorado Springs, Danielson said “It feels amazing to race in the home state of Colorado.”

“I started racing road bikes in my collegiate days at Fort Lewis College in Durango and travelled the state in a 15-passenger van with 30 people eating peanuts and chips and camping out before races. This will be a different way to travel the state, but I’m really looking forward to it. Instead of racing against the different colleges I’ll be racing against the different countries of the world. It’s really cool to come full circle and do it in my home state of Colorado.”

Earlier in the day, while team mechanics washed cars in front of the team hotel and team chefs Barbara and Chris Grealish prepped dinner in a mobile kitchen out back, Danielson told gathered media at the pre-race press conference that he is extremely motivated to do well in Colorado. “I’m super pumped. I’m super excited.”

Sitting on a dais in a row with Ivan Basso, the Schleck brothers, Cadel Evans and Christian Vande Velde, Danielson added “It’s really a magical moment for me to even be at this press conference with these people here in my state of Colorado.”

From the press gathering at USA Cycling’s Colorado Springs headquarters, Christian Vande Velde pointed out that while “we’ve been based out of Boulder, Colorado since day one,” the team is always extra motivated to perform for the fans whenever it is racing in the United States.

“Being here in Colorado, being on a lot of our home roads, Tom Danielson’s home roads, we are extra excited.”

Along with Danielson and Vande Velde, the team’s race roster includes Canadian Ryder Hesjedal and Americans Tom Peterson and Dave Zabriskie. Local Coloradans Danny Summerhill and Peter Stetina round out the squad with Britain’s Dan Lloyd, the only non-North American rider,

22-year old Summerhill, who normally races with Slipstream’s Chipotle development team and just did the Tour of Utah, is stepping up to the big leagues in his home-state race.

Since nurturing young riders like has been Vaughters’ motive from day one, putting riders like Summerhill in the race with the best from the Tour de France brings him great satisfaction.

In fact, Vaughters was inspired to start riding bikes himself when he saw European pros racing in Colorado in the 1980s. “I wouldn’t be involved with cycling if it weren’t for the Coors Classic,” Vaughters recalls after the press conference. “It inspired me to start racing bikes.”

It’s been over two decades since the likes of Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond raced on Colorado’s high altitude roads, and Vaughters, who lives in Denver, is delighted that racing has returned at that same world-class status. “It’s great to have high level competition. If you want to win a race in Colorado you want to win a race in Colorado against the best.”

Vaughters thinks that bringing top-level pro racing back to Colorado will continue to inspire. “Without great events like this young kids don’t have anything to look at, to see and feel like, ‘Oh, I want to be part of that!’”

“If you put on a great event like this with top competition, people want to want to be part of it, and kids are going to want to be part of it and that’s how you have the next great American champions.”

More photos from the USA Pro Cycling Challenge:
[flickr-gallery mode="tag" tags="2011, USAPro" tag_mode="all"]

In 2011 Mark Johnson is writing and photographing a book on Garmin-Cervélo to be published by VeloPress in early 2012. You can follow his travels with the team on Twitter @argylearmada