Tom Danielson. Honorary Colombian wins in Aspen.

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Tom Danielson of Garmin-Sharp is letting it go. Known for conservative and careful racing, the Colorado rider has lit the US Pro Cycling Challenge on fire. Torched might be the better word.

On stage three, the queen stage from Gunnison to Aspen, Danielson jumped in the mid-race break and then proceeded to drop everyone and ride solo over the summit of Independence Pass.

It’s the new Tommy D and it turns out he’s starting to dig the new role. If nothing else, it’s scaring the hell out of BMC Racing, RadioShack-Nissan Trek and Cannondale.

“I think Tom’s got quite a career ahead of him as a breakaway rider,” said team boss Jonathan Vaughters. “He doesn’t like it — he likes to wait and wait and wait but actually his ability is to be out there on his own. He’s seen the way to be a more aggressive rider.”

It’s more than symbolic that the last rider dying on Danielson’s wheel was the Colombian Francisco Colorado (EPM-UNE). Last year before the start of the US Pro Cycling Challenge, Danielson called the attack-from-the-gun Colombians “crazy.” Now, Danielson is an honorary Colombian, the loco gringo.

The transformation isn’t just racing style — the real shift was mental, not physical. “Everybody knows what kind of engine he’s got, but I think often he fills his mind with unnecessary clutter,” said DS Charlie Wegelius. “He just needed to get back to letting it out. If he does, there’s nothing that can stop him.”

The team of race leader Tejay van Garderen did everything they could to stop Danielson and bring him back. He had two and a half minutes at the summit and only 15 seconds in the final kilometer. But this is the new Tom, who is fully invested in the snazzy new Garmin-Sharp motto: Damn The Torpedoes. He beat the combined efforts of three ProTeams to win by two second.

In the past he wouldn’t have made such a defiant and high risk attack but working with Wegelius on the mental side of racing has changed his attitude. For Wegelius, it was about getting back to basics and perhaps a more instinctive and aggressive attitude.

“Start off by just racing hard and if you blow, then you start again. If Tom spends his entire time sitting behind wheels just going for classifications, its just another opportunity to confuse himself. Best to keep it simple,” said Wegelius. “It’s not just the way he races, it’s his state of mind.”

Listen to Danielson at the press conferences in Colorado and you hear a relaxed, confident and funny guy who can’t wait to attack the next day. He’s become almost as funny as Zabriskie and there’s a joy in his racing that everyone — including his rivals — can see.

“Tom did a fantastic ride,” said Wegelius. “Remarkable.” What he meant was the new Tom Danielson, breakaway climber, relentless bad-ass, gunslinger from Colorado.

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