Tom Zirbel has moved closer to his dream of participating in a Grand Tour after signing a contract with American-based International Cycling Union (UCI) ProTour team Garmin-Slipstream. He will join a slew of world-class time trial specialists and is looking forward to soaking up their expertise during his debut in Europe next year.
“I’m looking forward to having all that knowledge base from a team like Garmin,” said Zirbel. “All those successful time trialists will hopefully give some knowledge and they will be looking to teach and mentor: that’s exciting. I know they offer such great support with the cutting edge of time trial technology, nutrition, a good service course in Girona and English speakers, which all make the transition to European racing easier for me.
“I think they’ll help me take a big step up next year to improve my game,” he said. “I hope I can help them in any way possible.”
Zirbel has displayed his ability with a triumph in nearly every domestic time trial over the last two seasons. He made a name for himself from top 10 finishes in the Tour of California time trials during the race’s 2008 and 2009 editions. He has proved competitive amongst riders like Levi Leipheimer (Astana), who he finished second to Tour of the Gila in April, followed by another second to David Zabriskie at the USPro time trial championships.
His move to Garmin-Slipstream will likely see him transition from domestic leader to an eager learner and a domestique. When asked if there were some specific improvements he hopes to make before departing overseas he responded: “Yeah, how long have you got,” Zirbel laughed. “I’m looking forward to the hard races. I think I do better in races that are of attrition. So, staying in position is going to be key for me, try to accelerate with those guys is going to be an interesting challenge.”
Zirbel began discussions with Garmin-Slipstream after February’s Tour of California and by April the ink on his contract had dried. Signing early alleviated some pressure of finding a team during the season, according to Zirbel.
“It was good to have that out of the way because job security is always an issue,” he said. “Once I had that settled I was able to focus on Bissell and our goals this year. I’m going to help the team as much as I can getting on the front for guys like [Christian] Vande Velde and [Bradley] Wiggins. All this year I was watching those guys in the big races and picturing myself working for them, I’ve had time to get used to the idea. It’s exciting.”
Potentially participating in a Grand Tour is something he looks forward to, but it might not happen in 2010. “I’d like to jump in a Grand Tour race,” he said. “I foresee getting a lot of race starts because I’m so green and so he [Jonathan Vaughters] will try to throw as much at me as he can. We haven’t talked about the race schedule but I’d like to push myself to that next level and see if I’m able to respond. There are a lot of races out there and I won’t be crushed if I don’t get a Grand Tour start.”
Zirbel will likely form a home base in the city of Girona, Spain - a popular location for American cyclist to live while abroad and the squad’s service course locale. Former Bissell team-mate Teddy King, now racing for the Cervelo Test Team, will act as some-what of an advisor on what to expect in the first season abroad.
“Teddy killed himself for three weeks to finish the Giro this year and I was so proud of him because it seemed like a physically and mentally challenging race,” he said. “We’ve been staying in touch and I’ll talk to him a bit more after the season and maybe at Missouri.
“I will be relying on people like him to make my transition easier. Anything they learned from their first year will help me out,” he said. “I’m looking to use all my resources for sure.”
The Tour of Missouri will mark Zirbel’s final race with his American-based team Bissell Pro Cycling. Zirbel could then contest the UCI World Road Championships in Mendrisio, Switzerland on September 24, having made the individual time trial championship long list.
The USA National Team will field two riders in the event, but Zirbel will only be awarded a spot if both of the two automatic qualifiers relinquish their slots. David Zabriskie automatically qualified for a slot with his USPro time trial championship win and a third place at the 2008 UCI World Road Championships while Levi Leipheimer claimed a top spot for his bronze medal performance at the Beijing Olympic Games.
Tom Danielson is third in line following his time trial victory in stage four of the ProTour’s Vuelta a Burgos.
“It’s still up in the air,” Zirbel said. “I hope I get to go but I have to wait, probably until midway through Tour of Missouri before I know if I will be going or not. I’m fourth in line.”