At the recent Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, the peloton was screaming towards the grueling climb of Mount Nebo on the fifth stage when a touch of wheels near the front of the peloton sent riders tumbling everywhere.
U.S. national road champion Greg Daniel (Axeon Hagens Berman) was headed headfirst into the pavement, but he instinctively turned, his right shoulder taking the impact, breaking his right collarbone.
Twelve days later, on August 15, Trek-Segafredo announced Daniel would be joining the team on a two-year contract. The day also represented a milestone in his recovery, as he went for a ride outside for the first time since the crash and subsequent surgery.
The Trek contract was the reward for a season of impressive results, including the national title, in May, where he surprised the favorites with a crafty attack in the final kilometers, and an overall win at the Tour de Beauce, in June.
While Daniel recovers, he can come to terms with the fact that he’ll soon be competing with his childhood heroes on the sport’s biggest stage.
“I’m in complete awe right now and I don’t even know if it has sunk in yet,” Daniel told CyclingTips. “This has been the goal since I was 13-years-old, to go WorldTour, and now that it is official and is happening, it’s like ‘Is this really happening?”
“It’s just an honour to be able to race with these guys and be at the training camp with guys like Alberto Contador, Jasper Stuyven, John Degenkolb, Peter Stetina, just these big names and guys I’ve been looking up to my entire life. To be on the same team as them is just a huge honour.”
Daniel had surgery the day after the Utah accident; surgeons installed a plate and six screws to repair his broken right collarbone.
He is now sporting metal in both shoulders, as he broke his left collarbone four years ago. That break was much worse, Daniel explained.
“It was a compound fracture,” Daniel said. “It broke into three pieces and a bunch of little splinters of bone around there too. It was a nasty break on my left, so I have a plate and nine screws. That took a while to heal. It was about a year before it was comfortable to sleep on my left side. I was racing about four weeks after surgery.”
Daniel hopes to be ready in time for the Tour of Alberta, which begins August 31, just 27 days after the surgery. Alberta would be Daniel’s last race with the Axeon Hagens Berman team, a team he has spent four years with. He also hopes to represent the United States at the world road championships in Qatar in early October.
Despite his confidence and drive to get back, one of his main mentors, team manager Axel Merckx, is keeping him in check and making sure he doesn’t sacrifice anything for next year. The stated goal of Merckx’s team is to prepare riders in hopes of one day signing a WorldTour contract
“Just to go through the program and graduate successfully is the cherry on top,” said Daniel. “Axel’s been really supportive of me and is making sure I take the recovery seriously right now, so I can make sure to be ready for next year.”
Next year will be a giant step up for Daniel and the excitement is evident in his voice when he speaks of riding with his childhood heroes.
Stuyven, winner of the semi-classic Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne earlier this year and a Vuelta a Espana stage in 2015, rode alongside Daniel on Merckx’s teams in 2013 and 2014.
“WorldTour was the goal, but deep down inside I was like ‘I don’t know if it’s going to happen,’” Daniel said of his goals at the beginning of the year, entering his final under-23 season. “I mean, I had a great group of people supporting me and in some cases they had more faith in me than I have had in myself. I mean just to have those guys on my side and saying, ‘Hey this is possible and something you can achieve,’ definitely made me believe. But just to have it happen is awesome.”
Daniel is no stranger to the Trek brand, as Trek was a founding partner when Merckx’s development team began in 2009. The team was known as Trek-Livestrong from 2009 through 2011, before the company put its house brand, Bontrager as title sponsor in 2012-2013. Trek decreased its role in 2014 while remaining the team’s equipment provider before Merckx and Trek parted ways for the 2015 season.
“I am excited to be back with Trek; I know a few of the people from the Bontrager days, like Matt Shriver (Trek-Segafredo technical director) and Jasper Stuyven. Returning to Trek is really nice, and I couldn’t be happier,” Daniel said.
Daniel has experienced a whirlwind season, but that’s “just how the sport is,” he said. “There are really high ups, and really big downs, and I try not to let that get to me just because it’s part of the sport.”
May and June brought the stars and stripes jersey, and the UCI stage race win in Canada. After the Tour de Beauce, however, Daniel got sick, only to come back to form and then break his collarbone in Utah.
“After Beauce I got sick and I worked to come back and then I get a broken collarbone, but that sometimes is just how the sport is,” Daniel said. “It could be a lot worse, and I work just to remind myself of that.
“Being in ambulance, it was hard, just because I wanted to do the Tour de L’Avenir, but also I wanted to finish the Tour of Utah because I had great success there last year [he won the KOM competition in 2015] and I wanted to help the team out. I was just trying to focus on the positives, and there’s still some racing at the end of the season. I don’t want to stress too much about it.”
Daniel has already begun to learn from his future WorldTour teammates even before he has formally met all of them. “I went up to a couple of them during [the Amgen Tour of California] and they were all actually really nice,” Daniel said. “I mean these guys who have been in the WorldTour over 10 years could be like, ‘Oh it’s a development team’ and ignore us a little bit, but those were some of the nicest guys I’ve ever met.
“I’m excited to work with those guys and hopefully in the future when I’m older and I see a development team like Axel’s, or any development team or young guy going up the ranks, I would like to do the same thing that Trek has done for me.”
Despite the setback of a broken collarbone, Daniel remains confident and positive coming off a season of several dreams fulfilled. He will formally meet the entire Trek-Segafredo team at the first training camp in December.