By Daniel Benson in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Dave Zabriskie could be the man to beat at the Tour of California, according to his Garmin-Slipstream teammate Lucas Euser. Zabriskie finished third in the opening day prologue, 2.7 seconds behind winner Fabian Cancellara. Despite being thousands of miles away at the Tour of Langkawi, the young climber believes his teammate has all the credentials to shine, in what is arguably the biggest race on the US calendar.
"Anyone who saw Dave train this winter knows that this guy means business and that he's the real deal. At training camp he was on fire and doing some really amazing things on the climbs," Euser told Cyclingnews.com.
Zabriskie had a difficult year in 2008, crashing out in the Giro d' Italia early on and fracturing a vertebra in his back, before recovering form at the tail-end of the year when he won a bronze medal at the World Championships and a gold medal at the American time trial championships.
"Last year didn't go to plan for him and I've never seen him as motivated or as angry this time around. A lot of people didn't realise how serious the back injury was and how much pain he had to ride with."
Now heeled and back in form, Euser believes Zabriskie will be watched by all the other overall race contenders, especially those from the Astana team. "Those boys have a huge team and they're the ones to beat. You just have to look at Levi. He takes this race so seriously and he's been training hard, too. We live near each other so I've seen first-hand what he's been doing."
Garmin-Slipstream will be aiming to de-throne Leipheimer, the two-time champion in the nine-day event. Along with Zabriskie, the team boasts Tour de France contender Christian Vande Velde and climbing specialist Tom Danielson. "The boys just need to stay ahead of the game and put the others on the defensive. We've got real talent and if we get riders up the road then we can cause them problems," said Euser.