Attacking Early and Often
Transforming a talented young bicycle racer into an accomplished pro takes more than strong lungs, legs, and mind. It also takes support and mentorship from a broad network that includes family, friends, teams and sponsors. We believe no one has been more effective and dedicated to preparing top Under-23 racers for the pro peloton than Axel Merckx and his Axeon Hagens Berman team. We caught up with one of the team’s top riders, Greg Daniel, to gain insight into the mindset of an aspiring Axeon rider…
Big Goals, Big Attacks
Greg Daniel’s aspirations far exceed those of the typical 21-year-old. Always one to go big or go home, Greg is fiercely committed to one day not only competing in the Tour de France, but also winning it. It’s this dream that fuels the heroic attacks for which the Colorado resident is becoming famous. Attacks that have earned him the Mountains Classification Jersey in the 2015 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and the Most Courageous Rider Jersey on Stage 4 of the 2015 Amgen Tour of California.
“To maintain an aggressive approach to races is something I will always have. It may be my Achilles heel sometimes, unfortunately, but it also is my favorite way to race. Learning to control that and making the move when it matters is something I will be paying close attention to this year,“ Greg said.
Contributing to Greg’s desire to race aggressively is the debt he feels he owes to his friends and family.
“They have always supported me every step of the way,” Greg said. “I have been blessed to be able to ride a bike and they understand that it is a different route in life, but one I definitely want to take. Since they have supported me so much, as well as my friends, I would love to pay them back by being the best cyclist I can be. When I am suffering through a long day, I always think of the people who have gotten me here and that always motivates me.”
But Greg is learning from the best on how to make the most of his attacks. Axeon Hagens Berman Team Manager Axel Merckx and USA Cycling’s U23 Development Program Manager Mike Sayers are training the young rider to recognize the right moment when it presents itself. Even so, at the Axeon team camp in Calabasas, Calif., he took every opportunity to go off the front whenever he got the OK from Axel.
“Mental toughness is everything in this sport,” Greg said. But maintaining that toughness requires more than simply attacking whenever possible. Even the most single-minded rider has to recover. Near-constant travel is another reality of pro cycling that can sap a rider’s focus. While being at home with family is a priority, Greg tries to keep a positive outlook on the road, too. “It's never too bad, honestly… The schedule does get a bit hectic, but I remember that being busy is more of a blessing than a curse.”
Know Roles and Responsibilities
As a member of the Axeon Hagens Berman team, Daniel also serves as an athlete test rider for SRAM’s advanced development projects. Such responsibilities are part of being a pro. Chief among the projects Daniel has worked on is SRAM RED eTap. With respect to eTap Greg said,
“I have been riding it for a year and a half now. I have always loved it… It is so smooth, and when holding the shift lever down, it slides down all the gears, which is nice,” Greg said. “And it takes less effort in my opinion than mechanical. Love the lever and hood shape, too. Very natural feeling.”
Going into the 2016 season, in addition to handling his product product-development duties, Daniel is determined to win some key races. He said,
“I would love to do well in the Nations’ Cups in the beginning of the year. Being able to play a GC roll for those races is a goal of mine. I would also love to win a stage of the Tour of California this year,” he said. “That is probably my favorite race of the year because of the atmosphere, competition, and course itself. Last year I got 2nd and 3rd at the U23 national road race and time trial championships, so winning those back to back is also a goal of mine this year.”
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