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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

An interview with Dave Zabriskie, December 10, 2003

Dave's excellent adventure

A very promising start to the season for Blue Train member Dave Zabriskie was cut short when he was swiped off the road by yet another unsuspecting motorist, almost wrecking his chances of ever racing again. But as Anthony Tan discovers, Dave Z's back on his bike and just can't wait to "go and kick some ass!"

Dave Zabriskie

Born: December 1, 1979
Place of birth: Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Lives: Utah, California, & Girona, Spain
Marital status: Girlfriend Randi
Teams: US Postal Service Presented by Berry Floor (2003- ), US Postal Service (2001-02)
Web site: www.davezabriskie.com

Career highlights

2003

1st, Young riders competition, Quatre Jours de Dunkerque
4th, Sea Otter Classic
5th, GC, Quatre Jours de Dunkerque
5th GC, Tour of Georgia

2002

1st, Stage 1, Sea Otter Classic
3rd, GC, Sea Otter Classic
4th, Stage 3, Redlands Classic
5th, National Championships, Time Trial
5th, GC, Redlands Classic
15th, Stage 21, Vuelta a Espaņa

2000

1st, U23 GP des Nations
1st, U23 National Championships, Time Trial
4th, U23 World Championships, Time Trial

THERE ARE PLENTY OF COMPLEX CHARACTERS in the sport of cycling. Recently retired Jonathan Vaughters and Chris Boardman were considered the professors of the peloton for their wealth of knowledge on training and racing, their ideas and habits often considered extreme and a little kooky at times; Frank Vandenbroucke, or 'Francky-Boy' to his friends, one of the most naturally gifted riders in modern-day cycling, struggles to cope with the expectation of the local press and mental rigours of the sport, with depression and drugs seemingly never too far away; and Lance Armstrong, who incessantly battles his own demons, cancerous and mental, in his quest not just to live, but to live life to the fullest.

Then there's Dave Zabriskie.

"I didn't know what I was doin' in my first year... I'm lucky they asked me back again."

- Dave Zabriskie talking about his time as a neo-professional on US Postal

"Errr... not really," he says when I ask him whether the decision to turn dedicate himself to the sport was a difficult one. "I just decided I'd kinda put everything towards cycling - I couldn't really see myself trying to do school full-time... so I just decided all for cycling while I'm young and see how it turns out."

Always good against the clock
Photo: © Rob Karman
Click for larger image

Dave's Mom couldn't see him going to school full-time either. Seven years ago, Sheree Zabriskie made a 1200 mile round-trip journey by car from Salt Lake City to Colorado Springs to see if her 17 year-old son warranted a ride at the Olympic Training Center as part of the junior national team. (Thankfully, the drive turned out to be worth it.)

Zabriskie tells me his entry into the sport wasn't marked by any significant event, such as watching a stage of the Tour de France on television or knowing anyone that rode a bike. "It just kinda happened... we always had a lot of bikes around," says Zabriskie, not really too sure himself. "I used to rollerblade a lot, and I broke my arm doin' that, so I got a road bike, and it just kinda snowballed (his thick Utah accent pronouncing the word snowbaaalled). I wanted to keep going farther and farther, and then I went to the Olympic Training Center and did the national team thaang."

___________________

While others may have basked in the glory of simply being chosen, Dave Z's time on the national squad sounds more like the start of a big adventure than anything else: "It was pretty laid-back - we were all pretty good friends and we would always work together to try and good one good result... I mean, we weren't trying to snake each other in the team," he says. In fact, the more we talk about his early days as a cyclist, the more the 24 year-old sounds and behaves like Keanu Reeve's character played in the film Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure; it's not too difficult to picture Zabriskie catching a flight to San Sebastian for the '97 Junior World's - his first exposure to world-class competition - finishing fourth in the time trial, then saying, 'Whoooah... excellent! Party on dudes!'

"I was 18, I think. That was my first real international competition and I got fourth in the time trial, so it kind of... I mean, I'd never been over there [Europe] before and done any other races, so I was kinda excited about that result. So I figured I'd give a go and stay at it a little while and see what happens," he says in a happy-go-lucky sort of way.

"I want revenge. I don't want the lady that ran me over... she's not gonna end my career... I'm gonna come back after what she did and do well."

- Zabriskie determined to make things right in 2004

'A little while' later in the year of the millennium, the boy from Salt Lake started kickin' some serious tail: Zabriskie went on to become the US Under-23 time trial champion, won the U23 GP des Nations (also a time trial), and achieved the same result at the espoir world time trial championships in Plouay as he did as a junior in San Sebastian three years prior. As Ted would say, 'a most excellent' performance, with US Postal confirming their interest by offering him a ride for the 2001 season.

However, turning professional came as a bit of shock for Ted, ummm... I mean Dave. "I didn't know what I was doin' in my first year... I'm lucky they asked me back again," he says frankly.

Other stuff

What were your goals before the 2003 season began? "I wanted to do World's and do well in the time trial there, but obviously that didn't happen, and I wanted to do well at the Vuelta also and help Roberto again."

Before your crash at the end of May, what do you believe contributed to your excellent run of performances - does it simply come down to the time it takes to mature as a pro racing in Europe? "Yeah, definitely. Compared to my first year... me now compared to my first year - the way I train, the way I eat - I didn't know what I was doin' the first year on the team."

So what is different about the way you train and eat? "There's not a whole lot of advice - there's no magic book - just more close observation of everyone else and understanding what a professional is - I think a lot of it just comes from observing, y'know. And being around those guys and seeing what they do."

Was there one particular rider who helped you, that acted as a mentor? "There wasn't any one in particular - everyone contributed, giving me little bits of advice. I started out living with Julian Dean and Matt White in the south of Spain, then later on in my first year on the team, I moved up to Girona with Tony Cruz, and he took me in; he's helped me quite a bit, living together, sharing time together."

Have you had the opportunity to ride many races with Lance? "Yeah, I have, quite a bit... more than most guys I think, because he does a lot of the races I do when building up [for the Tour], y'know."

Do you get a chance to talk to him much? "A little bit... I don't call him up or anything like that; I think he's busy man, and I'll just see him when I see him, y'know."

Did you file a lawsuit or receive compensation from the lady who hit you - what's going on with that? "No... she has insurance, but it was like the minimum coverage, so it'll probably just all go to the medical bills and it'll all break even... I'm not getting very much money out of them."

Do you normally go back to California after the season ends? "Yeah, it's too cold to do the riding you need to do in Utah, y'know, so I usually spend a pretty big block out in California with my girlfriend, Randi... we just had our three year anniversary."

What type of music do you and Tony Cruz listen to? "It usually comes from my computer, which has just about everything on it. I have like, 20 gig [gigabytes of music] on my computer, so anything we're in the mood for, it's usually there. And Tony plays the guitar, so sometimes we'll make songs of our own."

So you can sing? "Err... I try to sing and he trys to plays the guitar..."

Do you and Tony share the things like cooking? "Yeah, but he's pretty good in the kitchen - he does more elaborate recipes and stuff like that; I just do quick recipes with not very much mess. But he's into using every damn dish we have and I have to clean it! But it tastes really good, so it's worth it. I kinda just make noodles and put kidney beans and tuna into it."

Do you enjoy living in Girona? "Yeah, I love it there... it's beautiful, and I hope that my girlfriend can find a job where she is able to work over there, so we can spend more time there.

Do you have a passion off the bike? "Err... not that I can think of right now. Let's say this for my passion: croquet.

Are you being serious? "No, but let's just say it anyway." [We both start laughing]

Finding his feet at Sea Otter
Photo: © Rob Karman
Click for larger image

It probably didn't help signing for arguably the strongest team in the world with the expectation that that carries, though just 12 months later, Dave Z began to find his feet, placing third and fifth overall at the Sea Otter and Redlands Classic - two nationally-ranked and hard-fought events won by Chris Horner, the most successful US rider the last two seasons (according the National Road Calendar's final rankings).

"Yeah, the first time I tried it three years ago, I couldn't even finish," he remembers, not one to boast or elaborate. Only 23 at the time, Postal directeur-sportif Johan Bruyneel already decided Zabriskie was ready for his first Grand Tour: the Vuelta a Espaņa.

"Oh yeah, I remember all right," he says about his first experience at 21 days of pain. "It was challenging for sure. I was young and it was hard to get up and do that every day; I mean there were good days and bad days... but it was exciting and I'll never forget that - I want to do more."

Atypical for a second-year pro, Zabriskie went stronger and stronger as the Vuelta wore on, and on the final stage to Stadion Santiago Bernabeu, a 41.2 kilometre test against the clock, he finished fifteenth - the second-best finisher in the Postal camp and just one second behind his leader Roberto Heras, who relinquished the golden jersey to Aitor Gonzalez. "It made me feel that I could be competitive in the future in races like that, and I learned the body's capable of amazing things," says Zabriskie laughing half-heartedly, his mind still juxtaposed between feelings of pain, the elation of simply finshing, and what it would take to win one day. "I don't think it's possible to over-train now."

___________________

Climbing with the best in the US
Photo: © Mark Shimahara
Click for larger image

Zabriskie continued his upward progression into 2003, repeating a solid schedule of racing in April, where he took fourth overall in Sea Otter and fifth at the inaugural Tour of Georgia - he, team-mate Michael Barry and Fred Rodriguez the only riders capable of fighting the might of the unbeatable Saturn trio of Horner, Tom Danielson and Nathan O'Neill. Then, less than two weeks after Georgia, Zabriskie went totally awesome, dudes.

It was at the Four Days of Dunkirk where the cycling world saw the emergence of a future superstar from Utah. On the fourth stage from Wimereux to Boulogne sur Mer, featuring seven difficult climbs in the space of 179.5 kilometres, Dave Z went into overdrive, finishing fifth on a stage that deciminated a class field save five men. With his speciality discipline the following day, he did enough to secure his top five overall placing and earn himself the best young rider's competition, beating up-and-coming talents like Anthony Geslin, Jurgen Van Goolen, Michael Rogers and Mark Scanlon. "That was far more exciting for me than Redlands or Sea Otter," says Zabriskie, now totally in love with the European lifestyle and way of racing.

After Dunkirk and the Tour of Belgium, Zabriskie was flying, and the programme of races he was scheduled to do suggests that a ride at the Centenary Tour may well have been possible.

"No, we didn't talk about that, but I guess it's always possible. They know every rider pretty well, and they may have thought that [saying the Tour de France is a possibility] might've freaked me out a little bit - if that was the case, they may have sprung it on me right before," he says, sounding as if he would have liked that surprise very much indeed.

Asked if he was thinking about it at all, Zabriskie says "only a tiny bit". "I was kind of getting really excited for Philadelphia [the USPRO Championships] actually, 'cos I was feeling amazing and that race was coming right up... "

After a rocky start, Dave Z's come good
Photo: © Rob Karman
Click for larger image

Unfortunately for us but more himself, which way either of those situations or decisions may have gone, we'll never know. Swiped by a careless driver at the end of May and lucky to come out of the crash with 'only' a broken leg and wrist, it was season over before he could say, 'total bummer, dude'. Six months later and after countless hours in the gym, Zabriskie's back on the bike but still in rehab mode, doing his best to build a base and regenerate the massive muscle loss from his right leg.

"It doesn't really bother me when I ride, but there's still not the full range of movement - all my muscles aren't back yet either. I think I can race, but I'll just kinda wait on the intensity until camp starts, I guess... I just want to get back into it," he says, sounding a little despondent yet hopeful for the future.

Talking of the first unofficial Postal training camp in Armstrong's hometown of Austin, Texas - just one week away now - it doesn't take long for him to get fired up. Says a charged Zabriskie, almost incomprehensibly, "I just want to kick ass! I want revenge... I don't want the lady that ran me over... she's not gonna end my career... I'm gonna come back after what she did and do well."

Which is about as far Dave Z's got with his plans for 2004, although briefly mentioning the Olympics are also on the agenda. "Yeah, I'd really like that [the Olympics] to happen - that would be very nice," he says. "I'd just like to kick a lot of ass and then kick some more ass!"

I think you get the picture. However, Dave Z's excellent adventure at Postal will also depend on the program of races he is scheduled to do and the freedom he is granted; Lance and Johan's coterie of young acolytes are paid to take orders, not give them.

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