An interview with David Zabriskie, October 15, 2005
A bizarre chain of events put an end to what was a dream run for Dave Zabriskie. Cyclingnews' Anthony Tan talks to the man himself in an effort to make sense of it.
Up until July 5 this year, Dave Zabriskie was living a dream. A stage victory at the Giro d'Italia, a call-up to his first Tour de France, and then winning the opening stage of La Grande Boucle, where he became the fifth North American to wear the coveted maillot jaune.
After three days in yellow, the next day's team time trial was always going to be a test of nerves. Zabriskie and defending champion Lance Armstrong were separated by just two seconds, and sure, the Discovery Channel team had a point to prove - but so did Team CSC.
"I think the chain just slipped and there was no torque... boom-town." - Zabriskie's explanation on his team time trial crash on Stage 4 of this year's Tour de France
"I think we'll ride fast tomorrow. It's our goal to win this [team] time trial," said CSC team manager Bjarne Riis, as the mind-games began playing out before the media the day before in Tours.
The first two-thirds of the 67.5 kilometre parcours from Tour to Blois were virtually flat and non-technical, and having driven the course behind Davitamon-Lotto that morning, it was obvious the final 20 kilometres or so would decide the day.
At the second checkpoint in Onzain coming after 45.8 kilometres, the three best teams - CSC, Discovery and T-Mobile - were separated by less than seven seconds, so far all three having ridden at a phenomenal average speed of 58 kilometres an hour. Riis' nine were marginally in front, and as the final kilometres ticked by, their advantage held, increasing ever so slightly to eight seconds over Discovery Channel with the flamme rouge in sight.
But then what is still an inexplicable turn of events unfolded. Shooting through one of the final corners, tight but by no means terribly difficult, Zabriskie appeared to lose complete control of his sleek Cervélo time trial bike as he exited the turn. Seconds later, the maillot jaune was seen lying on the ground, scrambling for his bike, his dream now a nightmare come true.
"I still don't know what happened," Zabriskie says to Cyclingnews three months later, now sitting comfortably at his home in Salt Lake City, Utah.
"I watched the tape just like everyone else, and I think the thing that I agree with, that most seem to agree with, was that the chain slipped. That's what I'm going with... I mean, you're just going in a straight line and the next thing you know is that you're on the ground. It sucks when that happens. I think the chain just slipped and there was no torque... boom-town."
At that point, the Tour wasn't yet a write-off for him. Returning to the team bus straight after he crossed the line on his own, now finding himself ninth overall on the general classification, his team doctor was fairly certain nothing was broken. X-rays later that evening confirmed this, where his elbow was stitched up and his hip wounds dabbed in antiseptic and bandaged. However, the bruised ribs were what worrying him most; with race due to hit some big mountains in a few days' time, breathing properly was going to become essential.
"The day after I was OK - I thought I was going to be getting better - but I actually fell down again on some railroad tracks and I fell on the other side of my body. I didn't think that was bad, either, but then as soon as I started some of the hillier stages, I couldn't use my upper body. I was just empty... I just didn't have it," he says, summing up a very sorry following five days on the road, which eventually saw him call it quits 10 kilometres into the ninth stage.
Returning to his European home in Girona, Spain, that he shares with buddy Floyd Landis from Phonak, rest was all that was needed. His American girlfriend Randi was there with him for support, and together, Zabriskie soon found himself on the bike again, motivated, ready to race a few post-Tour criteriums in Denmark at the end of July. "The plan was to finish the season with the World's."
But that's when it all started going wrong again.
On Friday evening, July 28, after the Herning criterium in Denmark, Zabriskie headed out for a meal with a few of his team-mates. Just as he was about to enter the double-swinging doors of the restaurant, someone shoved the door open as they were leaving, and as he put his hand out to block the door, his hand shattered against the glass pane. "Then all I heard was the sound of shattering glass. When I looked down at my wrist I almost passed out," he wrote on his website.
Severing a nerve and tendon in his hand and immediately losing feeling in two of his fingers, Zabriskie was operated on the next morning where his hand was placed in a cast, before flying back to the States to rest, knowing that he wasn't going to hear the whirr of his wheels spinning on the road for at least a month.
"I tried to stay focused and ride the trainer," he says. "Though at that point in the season it was hard, ‘cause you know with the trainer and the sun outside... I tried to ride the time trial bike, but at that point [the hand] needed more time before I could pull up on the bars and hold on. It didn't work out the way I wanted it to."
After a DNF at the San Francisco Grand Prix, Zabriskie spoke with manager Bjarne Riis, and decided it was best to end his season. "It was pretty easy to make the decision there. Just start up again slow and wait for 2006," he says, sounding assured it was the right thing to do. "I would have been even more disappointed if I hadn't done anything all season long, but I did a couple of things here and there, so it [the decision] was okay."
A consequence of the forced lay-off has seen him resume training at the start of this month, which he doesn't mind at all. "I enjoy the winter training. I always find it exciting re-tuning the muscles you get to use during the season, and work on all your core and stabilising muscles," he says.
He's also had a bit of time to see how the allegations against his former team-mate Lance Armstrong have unfolded, with the Texan paying a recent visit to Salt Lake City less than a week ago. Says Zabriskie diplomatically, "I just have to watch what happens in the press and see how it plays out. You know, it's always interesting reading; you just watch that stuff and never know how it's going to play out. It's not the first time it's happened."
Concerning the largely unchanged team composition for 2006, Dave Z was happy to see the amiable Spaniard Carlos Sastre re-sign after a place on the final podium at the Vuelta a España, and is excited about the prospect of being team-mates with another time trial specialist, Swiss Fabian Cancellara, third in the world championship time trial in Madrid and a solid performer in the spring Classics.
Given his success this year, Zabriskie's program is unlikely to undergo any radical changes. So for now, for this goofy though gifted kid from Salt Lake, it's a matter of staying focused and getting himself to his first training camp in one piece, keeping a watchful eye on swinging doors. "I always touch the frame now... you never really stop learning," he laughs.