The Wheelsucker was interested in hearing what the man had to say, so registered for the event. Traffic on 301 South near Waldorf was so bad, it reminded the Wheelsucker why he doesn’t live down there, and avoids driving through if he possibly can!
A large crowd had gathered; 100 tickets had been available.
Once things got going, there was Dave Zabriskie, sitting on a stool in front of the seated audience, answering questions.
A variety of questions were asked including:
How did he get started in cycling?
How did he prepare for a TT?
How different were the pro teams he was on?
What did he do for nutrition?
The answers that stuck in the Wheelsucker’s mind were:
Mr. Zabriskie was an improbable bike racer; an accident while skateboarding near home in Utah led to him temporarily riding an MTB, and then trying road biking. After a few typical newcomer miss-steps, he quickly became a very strong cyclist perhaps mostly due to his exceptional aerobic capacity. Soon enough he was racing at the national level, against far more experienced road racers.
Perhaps it was Mr. Zabriskie’s appealing sense of humor, or perhaps his experiences getting from starting racing at the national level as a top U23 rider to riding with Lance and getting onto pro teams really were bizarre …
He went to the USPS team first, but the Wheelsucker’s first recollection of Zabriskie is of him winning the opening time trial at the 2005 TdF, beating Lance Armstrong (who in turn had caught and passed an injured Jan Ulrich) by two seconds. He crashed out of the yellow jersey just before the finish of the team time trial. The Wheelsucker asked him what had caused the crash, and Mr. Zabriskie answerd that he thought the chain had slipped on the cassette/rear disk.
Mr. Zabriskie has been hit by cars four times, and his injuries really affected his racing as he has lost power in one leg and the knee does not track straight. He says he “faked it” after the worst of the accidents. The Wheelsucker thinks this was an impressive job of “faking it!”
His description of preparing for a TT was impressive. He would pre-drive and ideally pre-ride the course, noting the slightest climbs or descents and landmarks to distinguish the start and end, so he would know where to go harder and where to back off and recover slightly.
The Wheelsucker asked him why did Garmin chase down George Hincapie in the 2009 TdF, denying him the yellow jersey by 3 seconds? (per Mr. Zabriskie apparently someone in every group asks this question).
Mr. Zabriskie’s answer was that all he knew was the instructions in his earpiece from the DS to go to the front and drive the pace. It may have come down to Garmin not wanting HTC Columbia (which was looking for the same sponsors to continue as a team) to have an HTC Columbia rider wearing the yellow jersey.
In answer to another question about women’s racing, Mr. Zabriskie said that women should do their own thing, not copy the men’s tour. “The women are much smarter.”
The Wheelsucker was asking too many questions during the evening, so did not ask the last one, but e-mailed Mr. Zabriskie later, and he was gracious enough to reply. The last question was why he drove the yellow jersey group so hard on the last descent of stage 19 in the 2009 TdF.
Stage 19 of the 2009 TdF
To refresh your memory (if you have this on DVD, watch it again):
This was an exceptional stage, both because of the profile and because of what happened. The stage featured the climb of the Grand St. Bernard, then the last climb was the col de Petite St. Bernard. Contador was in the yellow jersey with Lance close behind and Wiggins riding for Garmin was hanging very tough.
A large break was up the road, but it shattered on the Petite St. Bernard climb, leaving four chasing four and the rest swallowed up or dropped by the yellow jersey group. The Schlecks needed time to get closer to Contador and Armstrong, and Andy attacked furiously, getting clear with Frank, Contador, Wiggins, someone from Liquigas, and Andreas Kloden. Armstrong missed the initial move, except that as the small yellow jersey group got near the summit of the Petite St. Bernard, Armstrong sprinted away from his group, passed Frank, passed Voigt (who had come out of the break to help his Saxo Bank team mates Andy and Frank, and was then dropped by that group) and Armstrong got to the yellow jersey group.
With Armstrong there, no one wanted to drive the group, and they eased up, letting more riders back on, Frank and Voigt arrived back on just behind Armstrong but more riders made it on. Cadel Evans and Dennis Menchov were missing. Dave Zabriskie showed up with about five other riders including Sastre and Moreau. The slowing down also opened the gap to the leading four riders. The yellow jersey group summited at about 2:07 behind the leading four.
Jens Voigt crashed badly very early on the descent (he was airlifted to hospital), shortly after the crash Dave Zabriskie “gets the nod” and moved to the front of the yellow jersey group with about 26.6 kilometers to go, and started to drive it hard on the descent. The gap to the leading four was then 1:56. He drove the group to inside 1 kilometer of the finish, so for something like 25 to 30 minutes.
The two groups of four were racing like mad, downhill, for the stage win. The second group caught the lead group just outside 1 kilometer to go, but just as they did, Mikel Astarloza jumped out of the first group and got a gap, which he kept to the finish. He finished at 4:14:20.
Shortly before the finish, Zabriskie had pulled the yellow jersey group to within 55 seconds of the leaders. 24 seconds after Astarloza crosses, Zabriskie shows up near the finish, still pulling the yellow jersey group. He finally pulls off and the yellow jersey group sprint starts. Zabriskie rolls across some seconds behind the group.
The first finisher out of the yellow jersey group crosses the finish line at 58 seconds. In a non-stop continuous effort of 25-30 minutes length, Zabriskie had gained over a minute on the leaders, and “nailed the coffin shut” on Cadel Evans and Dennis Menchov’s TdF hopes.
The Liggett/Sherwin commentary repeatedly mentions Zabriskie driving the yellow jersey group really hard and his braking very late coming into the corners. Mr. Zabriskie’s answer to my e-mail really sticks in my mind:
“Stage 16 downhill I remember that one. Jens crashed bad at the top. I was excited I made [the] front group and there were a few key guys missing so I got the nod to give it gas and that’s what I’m good at. The trick on those twisty downhills for time gaining is to sprint really hard out of every turn, hurts the guys in the back too! Glory days…”