Tales from the team car, April 20, 2005
Cyclingnews reporter Kirsten Robbins joined CSC directeur sportif Tristan Hoffman and team mechanic Nicholas Legan in the support car during Dave Zabriskie's time trial this morning. The shot gun seat provided a perfect view of the one of the most talented time trialists in the world along with some insight into Team CSC.
Winning the time trial was the primary objective for Zabriskie and possibly his only opportunity at wearing the yellow jersey. "He will have difficulty getting the leader's jersey in the climbing stages," directeur sportif Tristan Hoffman told Cyclingnews as we climbed into the CSC team car. "Danielson and Landis are climbing very well right now and Brasstown Bald will be very difficult so we must do our best in the time trial today."
As we spoke, Zabriskie was on the starting ramp and looking very focused in anticipation of the start of his forty-kilometer effort. He knew that this was his best opportunity to wear the yellow jersey.
Many of the time trial favorites were out pre riding the time trial route early in the morning. "The team pre rode the time trial route so that we had no surprises along the way. The course is very hard," said Hoffman. "The climbs are all very hard and most difficult climb is long and very steep. But, Zabriskie really liked the time trial because he is a man that really likes to spin his legs and when you have a lot of steep climbs he can really spin well up them."
Time trailing is a lot about technique and every route requires a different technique. However Hoffman felt that Zabriskie's long experience as a time trial specialist meant he knew how to tackle almost every type of time trial from prologues - as proven in last year's Tour de France - to long and difficult courses.
The riders who race well in time trials are just as unique as the courses themselves. Hoffman explained how Zabriskie's needs compared with other riders on Team CSC.
"As a director I will be giving him very little direction because he is the type of rider that does not like us to talk to him too much when he is working hard. The only things we will tell him are the time splits. This is good information because it will provide him with some motivation to push harder. Zabriskie does not need too much external motivation because he is always in is own world when he is preparing for a time trial and while racing the time trial. He needs little information and he just likes to ride hard on his own."
However Team CSC has many personality types that differ from Zabriskie. "All of our riders have different personalities in terms of the things that they need to perform well," said Legan. "Some of our riders like to have a lot of information given to them. They also like the director to talk with them during the race to help motivate them and to encourage them to ride faster. Some riders really are motivated by speech and others don't like anything said to them. In the same way some riders are motivated in a time trial when they are passing or being passed by another rider in a time trial while others loose focus and get anxious."
As the directeur sportif in the following car Hoffman knows what physical signs to look for in Zabriskie, which will show how he is feeling. "Zabriskie is very focused right now during the time trial and we can see this by the look on his face," said Hoffman. "He did a good warm up and then he knows what to expect from himself. I know when he is racing well because I can see his form as I am following him. Zabriskie is riding great for right now because you can see that he is pedaling very smooth and he looks very relaxed and fluid. He is also very comfortable on his bike. He does a lot of testing on his time trial bike and he trains on it at home. Right now we can see in the speedometer that Zabriskie is going over 50 kilometers an hour and he can hold this speed for a long time but, he is still pedaling very smooth with out rocking his back or neck."
By this time we were approximately at the halfway point in the race and Zabriskie had Navigators rider Chris Baldwin in his sight. Zabriskie redoubled his efforts to try and catch Baldwin on the climb. "Seeing Baldwin right in front will help Zabriskie ride faster," said Hoffman. " It is motivating for him to see a rider in front of him especially the U.S. national time trial champion."
Hoffman explained that, "catching riders is motivating for Zabriskie -- especially Baldwin because he is the U.S. champion. There is a lot of competition for us here from the American riders. They are very fast and very good with speed and circuits. The level of American racing has gone way up -- but still, in my opinion, a rider from overseas will win the Tour de Georgia. This is because they are used to racing long stages and having very long climbs. They have more attrition than the American riders do. Even if Tom Danielson wins it is because he has the attrition from racing in Europe."
Zabriskie was almost two-thirds of the way through the distance when we received notification that Landis had passed the intermediate time check at 24:01. We had still not received the intermediate time check for Zabriskie, who was nevertheless looking very steady and smooth and remaining seated up the bulk of the climbs. On the steepest section Zabriskie was out of his saddle and traveling startlingly fast. Fans lined the steep roadside cheering on Zabriskie. Rider's names were painted all over the street. "There are a lot of fans here to watch the time trial and I am very impressed by this here," said Hoffman.
Hoffman felt that with the increased standard of racing in the U.S. as well as the organization well in place it was worthwhile for the European teams to cross the Atlantic to race here. "The team really enjoys traveling to the U.S. because it is usually great weather, a different style of racing and the organization is great," he said.
"The riders and staff are very comfortable and relaxed here in Georgia. We are staying in very nice hotels and eating very good food every day and those are the most important things that a racer needs to be happy. The race day starts and finishes are very smooth and the transfers are very simple. When the organization is good than you have happy riders who want to race well."
After Zabriskie passed Baldwin a game of cat and mouse started as Baldwin tried to avoid getting dropped, while staying back far enough to conform with the rules. On the descent into Tennessee, Zabriskie flies down on the fine line between in control and taking risks.
So how does a person land a job working for the number one team in the world? "I travel all over the world as a full time mechanic for CSC," said full time team mechanic Nicholas Legan. "I got this job last year because I am friends with Christian Vandervelde and in this sport landing great jobs is all about who you know. I think it is fantastic working with CSC after all it is the number one team in the world. That is why we get to follow riders like Dave Zabriskie," he smiled. "I feel like I am an important asset to the team. A mechanic can't win a race but a mechanic can definitely lose the race. So my job is to not lose races for CSC."
Zabriskie powered to the finish line in the final two kilometers of the time trial and crossed the line with the fastest time so far, bumping Australian time trial champion Nathan O'Neill off the top spot. But Tom Danielson and Floyd Landis were still out on the course.
The riders like training and racing in the U.S., said Legan. "The morale of the riders is very positive here. The strong Americans like Zabriskie enjoy coming back here to race on home soil but they take these races very seriously. It is not a holiday for them here. I was here in Solvang with the team for their training camp in February. The riders were able to train better here than they can in Europe because the weather is better. The team focused on training and the Tour of California during that time and it paid off for us. Although we did not win a stage at the Tour of California we won some very big races (Paris-Roubaix, Amstel Gold) when we arrived directly back to Europe."
As Zabriskie crossed the finish line the team car was marshaled off to the post-race parking lot. "I am very happy that we are in first place for the moment in the time trial and Zabriskie had a great ride today. Now we will have to wait for the remaining riders to post their times," said directeur sportif Hoffman. "If we win the time trial today we will celebrate with a lot of champagne."
Zabriskie joined us at the team car to gather his warm clothing layers and some water. He looked tired but pleased with his performance. "I think I had a good ride today but there are still two riders (Danielson and Landis) who still need to come in so I have to wait now," said Zabriskie. "But, I know I will have a hard time on the next couple of stages because they are climbing well."
Both Danielson and Landis finished faster than Zabriskie, by 20 and 24 seconds respectively. He didn't seem to mind finding himself on the podium with them too much, but he certainly looked like he'd have preferred the top step.