Dancing salsa with Dave

Talking with Dave Zabriskie is like learning how to dance with a new partner; it takes some time...

An interview with Dave Zabriskie, June 16, 2005

Talking with Dave Zabriskie is like learning how to dance with a new partner; it takes some time getting used to, but as you step from side to side, figuring out one's personality through their footsteps, you gradually get to find out a little more about them, and learn to like what you have in front of you. Cyclingnews' Anthony Tan attempts a little verbal salsa with him.

One would think the last thing on Dave Zabriskie's mind after finishing his first Giro d'Italia two Sundays ago was to ride his bike the very next day - but that's exactly what he did.

"Yeah... you look up and you see it's a really nice day and you really want to go riding, but you know the smart thing to do is to try and rest," he says from the home in Girona, Spain. "Your body is asking you to go for a ride, but really you should take a rest."

"I didn't feel a lot of pressure; I felt comfortable in my abilities to help the team." - Zabriskie on his thoughts going into the Giro

Now, this may seem like a case of someone who just loves to punish himself - and maybe he does - but it's also the reason why riders still ride on the rest day during a Grand Tour, and why riders have a little trouble stopping once it's all over.

Sean Yates, a very successful former pro, now Discovery Channel's team manager at the Giro, summed it up best: "You're hyped up for three weeks and then all of a sudden, it's over. It almost feels like you can go another three weeks."

It took the 26 year-old three days before rest finally came into the equation, but when his body did rest, Dave Z practically went into a coma. In fact, probably the only thing that got him out of bed was knowing his girlfriend Randi was about to arrive later that week. "I've been a little... out of it," he mumbles.

With Zabriskie and Randi thinking about working out to some recently acquired cardio-salsa DVDs in the next day or so, it appears he's found which way is up again.

"Is that like a 'how to'?" I ask him.

"Yeah, it incorporates salsa dancing into a workout," he laughs, obviously reading straight from the box.

"And would this be the first time you've danced salsa?"

"Yeah, but I'm pretty good [at dancing]; I think salsa will come quite naturally to me... "

Yes, there's no doubt about it; this Utah native has a wacky sense of humour, but it most likely provided welcome relief during Team CSC's not-so-good moments at the Giro, and there were plenty of them.

Their first week ended on a high. Going into the Firenze time trial, Zabriskie's job was to act as Basso's point man and set a fast time for his leader to follow. Not only did he set a fast time, he set the fastest time, riding the final 16km at an incredible average speed of 55 clicks an hour.

In so doing, it earned him his second Grand Tour stage victory, becoming the third American in cycling history along with Andy Hampsten and Tyler Hamilton to win a Giro d'Italia time trial. A man of few but often funny words, Zabriskie said to Cyclingnews after the stage: "Rock and roll, dude!" - yet another example of his irreverent brand of humour.

What was equally (or perhaps more) impressive was Basso's second place, just 17 seconds off his team-mate's winning time, setting him up perfectly for the mountains to come.

"Anytime you win a race like that, it's a real big confidence booster, so [afterwards] I was just feeling better than before I won. It just gives you a good feeling throughout your body and mind, and helps you continue on," he says.

His confidence boost was apparent; on May 19, as the race hit the high mountains for the very first time, Zabriskie was often seen at the front of the peloton, keeping his leader safe as houses. When Basso took over, he was so strong and fresh, he rode everyone bar Paolo Savoldelli off his wheel, and sailed into the maglia rosa atop Zoldo Alto.

More was expected two days later on the next mountain stage, a mammoth 218 kilometre journey from Mezzocorona to Ortisei containing six sizeable GPMs. This time though, CSC's TT machine had completely recovered from his victorious chrono effort and was even stronger, pulling Basso all the way to the final climb, and was the last lieutenant to do so.

Asked if it came as a bit of a surprise, to be so strong, Zabriskie says: "Yeah it was actually - but it felt good."

"I knew I was strong, and I really tried to concentrate not to crack. The experience that I had from riding for Heras [at US Postal] gave me the feeling that doing [well at] the Giro was possible - so I didn't feel a lot of pressure; I felt comfortable in my abilities to help the team."

Unfortunately for the team, the final climb produced a reversal of fortune for Team CSC, as Basso's stomach problems saw him falter on the climb to Pontives. However, his five-minute deficit was minute in comparison to what happened the day following, which saw the pre-race favourite lose almost three-quarters of an hour and knock him right out of contention.

Like a true champion, Basso returned from one of his lowest lows to deliver back-to-back stage wins in the final week of the Giro. One of those was the Torino time trial on Stage 18, which he surprisingly won over Russian Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears) and Zabriskie. So how does he feel about getting beaten by two climbers?

"I think he came back and showed people what he was capable of, and it re-motivated the team," he says, not sounding miffed in the slightest. "I was feeling good; it was just a little longer climb, so I paced myself maybe a little bit too conservatively, because I didn't want to blow up."

It appears Zabriskie underestimated his own strength in the final week of a Grand Tour, but given that it's only his third one and his first with CSC, the caution that he showed is a sign of maturity. The maturity that one day may see him develop into a Grand Tour rider himself.

"It's possible; I still have other things to work on, but it's possible," he says with muted confidence.

Said team manager Bjarne Riis to Cyclingnews: "I saw him in the [last year's] Vuelta [where he won Stage 13] and in the World's TT [Zabriskie finished fifth], and we brought him onto the team. You have to get to know him and I think it's nice to be able to work with David; he takes some time but that's how we do it on CSC. He's a good guy and I think we have the possibility to work with David and see him progress in the coming years."

For now, after he's mastered 'Dirty salsa' (he assures me it's all good, clean fun), Zabriskie will turn his attention towards the ProTour team time trial in Eindhoven on June 19, now just a few days away.

And while he downplays his chances, it's not hard to see the name of David Zabriskie appearing on the nine-man line-up for the Tour de France. If that doesn't happen, there's always the possibility of becoming the first American world time trial champion, which, after his performances so far this year, must surely occupy a bit of space in his mind.

Says Zabriskie casually: "It's still a ways away; I haven't completely decided on it, but I think it's a good idea."

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