When it all comes together like it did this week, I think we all understand what that means and it's really special. —Tom Danielson
PARK CITY — With a 57-second lead heading into the final stage of Sunday's Tour of Utah, all that stood between Tom Danielson and a second-straight overall victory in the race was a climb up Empire Pass. Danielson overcame the 7.7-mile climb, then held off the Lampre-Merida duo of Chris Horner and Winner Anacona, who tried to dispatch the defending champion up the steep slopes, and cruised home with a second-straight Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah Victory.
"It's magic. It's really special to come across the line and see so many fans," Danielson said. "When it all comes together like it did this week, I think we all understand what that means and it's really special."
That final climb of the day did have the defending champion more than a bit nervous.
Danielson followed a strong break by Anacona at the beginning of the ascent to the top of the 8,500-foot pass, then felt concerned when Anacona's teammate, Horner, bridged the gap to make it a three-man break.
Horner said he had no illusions of snatching the yellow jersey away from Danielson.
"When I came across, my goal at that point was to get the stage win and get my teammate, (Anacona), up to third," Horner said.
Goal accomplished as Horner and Anacona finished second and third in the overall race, 52 seconds and 1:43 seconds, respectively, behind Danielson.
With that effort, Lampre-Merida was declared the winner of the team competition and Horner said he couldn't be prouder of the group.
"They really looked after me and there was never a point in the race where they weren't near me or looking after me," Horner said "When the team does that much work and pushes that hard for you, you feel obligated to work hard and repay them."
While Danielson and the Lampre-Merida duo were fighting it out up the stage's biggest climb, Stage 6 winner Cadel Evans was breathing down their necks from behind.
Evans reached the summit of Empire Pass about 15 seconds behind the leaders, then tucked his way into that group with a furious descent down the final miles of the race.
And just like he did Saturday, Evans used all of his experience, nailing the last two turns of the race and earning a second-straight stage win.
"Today was a pleasant surprise," Evans said. "After yesterday's effort I didn't feel very good early on, but the longer the race went on, the better I felt."
Evans' ascent down the mountain and into Park City seemed to catch several of the riders off-guard.
"I was quite surprised when Cadel passed on the descent," Horner said. "I thought we'd dislodged him, but his tactics in the last two corners caught us all off-guard. But it was beautiful to watch."
With the race celebrating its 10th year, Tour of Utah President Steve Miller spoke of some of the improvements racers and fans might expect in the coming years.
"I think it's safe to say we'll visit some part of Utah that we haven't visited before," Miller said. "We'd like to add another pro tour or two and I think our goal is to continue to elevate the talent and quality of the athletes that compete here."
While the stage belonged to Evans, the 2014 Tour of Utah belonged to Danielson.
The 36-year-old rider took control of the tour during Stage 4 from Ogden to Powder Mountain. Danielson's charge with 3 miles to go in that stage opened the 57-second gap on Horner that turned out to be all the room he needed.