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Stephanie Danielson, hub of Team Danielson

April 9, 2012

Stephanie Danielson with Stevie in Avon, at the 2011 USA Pro Challenge

At 7 p.m. in late February Stephanie and Tom Danielson were running late. The couple and their 22 month-old son Stevie were driving home to Boulder after a delayed flight from southern California where Tom had been training. In about twelve hours a film crew would arrive at their house to shoot Tom, the top-finishing American in the 2011 Tour de France with eighth place, for a good portion of the day. As they neared the Rocky Mountain foothills, Stephanie thought, “I have a couple of hours to get everything ready.”

A former mountain bike and road racer, Stephanie understands the stress of competition and a professional athlete’s needs. She raced on the University of Missouri-Columbia NCCA bike team. “Tom likes to talk about how we discovered that we both medaled as junior racers at a NORBA event in Sleeping Bear, Michigan, but we never met…that was 1995 or 1996,” she said.

When she declared, “I do” to marry Tom, Stephanie became the wife of a superstar professional cyclist. She also signed on as a member of Team Danielson. Stephanie said, laughing, “There’s definitely like this whole unwritten deal. I tell everyone I’m the man of the house. If it has to do with the yard or painting, or anything like that, it’s on my shoulders. I mean, he is not interested.”

Like other pro-cyclists, Tom, who rides for Team Garmin-Barracuda, doesn’t want to come close to anything that might cause an injury or prevent him from training to maintain his fitness. Stephanie has joked about creating a version of the popular video, Shit cyclists say. The video could be titled, Shit pro-cyclists say to their wives, and when asked to take on yard work or some other manual task, the filmed pro-cyclist would mutter something like, “I can’t. I don’t want to throw out my back.”

Stephanie’s experience as the spouse of an elite athlete has evolved over time. Initially her heart skipped numerous beats when Tom traveled or raced. “I would definitely have anxiety about his performance; I would feel it on my shoulders,” she said. “And then over time you just get a little hardened to it. You get used to emotional ups and downs, you learn to just roll with it, understand that you’ll have days when you’re feeling stressed, or you’re lonely, or maybe you’re crazy busy.”

Sweethearts’ fuel

Crazy busy describes the majority of the Danielsons’ days. Stephanie works freelance for an ad agency. With Tom racing and training to maintain his fitness year-round, Stephanie said, “There’s maybe two weeks out of the whole year where he’s truly carefree.” Tom spends any free time away from training or racing by catching up with people he hasn’t been able to speak with for months, or might try to squeeze in a four to six hour mountain bike ride just for fun. “There’s always something on our agenda,” Stephanie said.

In the midst of all this activity, Tom and Stephanie found a unique way to connect when they’re apart.

“Tom finds little hearts for me. Just this morning he sent me a heart in scrambled eggs, a picture of it. He’ll send me pictures from the road, too, like if he sees a heart in the asphalt or something. I love that stuff,” she said, laughing.

Dairy Queen Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Blizzard (small)

A trip to Dairy Queen sneaks onto their agenda just three times a year, the number of occasions when Tom indulges in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Blizzard. “One thing about Tom is he has to go big. Moderation is not his strong point. So when he goes to Dairy Queen, he gets a large Blizzard and then he likes me to order a larger one than normal. I’ll say, ‘I don’t need anything really,’ and he’ll say, ‘Oh no, you should, you should totally get it.’ And then no matter what I’ll be half-way through mine and he’ll kind of look over at me and say, ‘How’s that going over there?’”

Team Danielson fuels Tom in more ways than sharing Blizzards. In a recent interview with VeloNation, Tom recognized the role of his family in his rejuvenated career. Coming home to his family, he said, “solidifies everything you’ve done on the bike and makes you feel like you are doing something for a cause.”

Stevie, the third member of Team Danielson and an expert Strider Bike handler, is already a seasoned spectator.

“We definitely love to travel. It’s more challenging with the baby but when we can go we do it for sure,” Stephanie said. Stevie has traveled twice to Spain for the Vuelta a Espana, once to France for the Tour de France, and twice to California for that state’s tour to see his dad race. Last year in August they watched Tom compete in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge (UPCC) in Colorado, where he finished fourth overall.

Infallible faith

Tom Danielson warming up for the Vail time trial, 2011 USA Pro Challenge

On the Wednesday morning of the UPCC uphill time trail in Vail, Stephanie and family were setting off to drive to the race when her phone rang at 6:45 a.m. It was Tom. “His voice was gone. He said, ‘Stef, I’m out of the race.’ And I was like, ‘What the hell, I just talked to you at 9 o’clock last night; what could have possibly happened between then and now?’”

The day before Tom had attacked on the descent off Independence Pass. He gained 45 seconds on the current race leader and moved up to third place overall. That night Stephanie told Tom on the phone he’d won the race and she was packing Stevie’s podium outfit.

Stephanie said, “Tom didn’t want to admit it – he never wants to put the cart before the horse.” She based her confidence in Tom’s time trial track record. “You could argue he’s almost one of the best in the country, or the world, holding every record in North America basically for uphill time trialing,” she said. She also knew that whoever won that Wednesday time trial would likely lock-in an overall victory when the race ended in Denver.

Around 2 a.m. Wednesday morning Tom became ill with digestive problems. He hadn’t slept and couldn’t eat. Leading up to the UPCC Tom felt he could win it, and the entire family shared his excitement. “My heart just sank for our whole family,” Stephanie said, as she recounted the 6:45 a.m. phone call.

Tom thought food poisoning was the culprit, so Stephanie felt he should recover soon. “I told him, ‘Tom, you know I’ll be there for you, I’ll come pick you up right now if you want to drop out, but that’s not what you are going to do.’ I don’t remember the exact time, but I said, ‘You’ve got six hours until the race. Food poisoning is food poisoning; it’s nothing you did, it’s just bad luck.’”

Was it the push Stephanie gave him, his own reserves, or his uphill time trialing talent that landed Tom fourth in that time trial? Stephanie said, “I don’t want to take any credit, really. It was his determination. I heard that after the race guys like Andy Schleck were saying to Tom, ‘Hey, I want the sickness you had,’ giving him trouble because obviously he did so well.

“I’ve always told Tom, the reason I am a little hard with him is because I believe that he can do it. I’ve always believed that he’s the best. Eighth in the Tour [de France] now, so he’s definitely always reaching up higher, and then I’m pushing him.”

Stephanie thinks her racing days are over, but she still loves riding for fun. “He pushes me too,” she said, “when we’re on rides. Definitely there’s never a dull moment.”

Stephanie Danielson and her pink Pinarello, a gift from Tom

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2 Comments
  1. Great job! Loved learning more about Tommy D’s family. Sounds a lot like being a cop’s wife. We often face the same things at home. Love that they take time to connect with sweet things.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mile-high smiles at Tommy D’s Turkey Day Juniors Ride 2012 « ProVéloPassion

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