American Tom Danielson surprised many followers of the Tour de France by becoming Garmin-Cervélo's leader. He starts the stage to the holy city of Lourdes today ninth overall, one day after the race's first mountain stage.
"A Surprise? No," Danielson told Cycling Weekly. "I've been riding well in the last months. I knew I'd be up there."
Garmin will back Danielson as its classification leader all the way to Paris, where the race ends on Sunday, July 24.
"Tom's riding great," said team-mate Ryder Hesjedal on the team's website. "We just need to be around him, and support him best as possible."
Canadian Hesjedal finished seventh overall last year. He was the surprise captain last year, filling in after American Christian Vande Velde crashed and abandoned in the stage to Spa. The year before, Bradley Wiggins became the captain. He finished fourth and signed for team Sky at the end of the season.
Vande Velde had his best place in 2008, placing fifth overall. He and Hesjedal, however, have been affected by the numerous crashes in this year's Tour de France. On the mountain stage to Luz Ardiden yesterday, they paid: Vande Velde lost 10 minutes and Hesjedal over three minutes.
Danielson, in his first Tour de France, finished within one minute of the leaders, including Fränk Schleck (Leopard-Trek) and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing). He now sits ninth overall and 2-46 minutes behind the top race contender, Fränk Schleck (Leopard-Trek).
"I was feeling really good this year, but crashing five times does not help you," Vande Velde told Cycling Weekly. "Tom is going great now, I am going to do everything I can to support him."
Danielson tested himself in the Spanish Grand Tour, the Vuelta a España, five times before. He placed ninth last year, sixth in 2006 and seventh in 2005. In 2006, he also won the 17th leg to Granada.
He proved himself and earned himself a chance to race his first Tour de France at the Tour of Switzerland this year. He finished ninth overall behind American Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack).
"Today," added Danielson yesterday, "I've proved I can be with the top guys in the Tour. I'm happy to have completed the test."
The Tour de France faces two more mountain days in the Pyrenees and three in the Alps next week. After placing 11th yesterday, Danielson is looking forward to testing himself again.
"If I can attack, I will."
Tour de France 2011: Related links
Tour de France 2011: Cycling Weekly's coverage index
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