In his own words: Dave Zabriskie

This article is taken from the November issue of Pro Cycling. To subscribe, click here (opens in new tab).

Is he enigmatic, eccentric, crazy or just better than most at self-promotion? In his own words, Dave Zabriskie defines himself, his world and his larger-than-life persona.

Jesus Christ, he’s fast
“Most riders start off competing in a different sport and then turn to cycling by chance or luck. I started off rollerblading. Not quite the typical path into professional cycling, I know, but it worked for me. I didn’t blade competitively though. Instead, when I was
a kid I’d make a mix tape and head down to local church parking lots. That’s how I’d spend my time growing up in the US. The mix tapes were mainly based around musicals – again not your typical pastime at that age but I really enjoyed listening to Fiddler On The Roof, Camelot and Jesus Christ Superstar, which was great because of the location I was blading in. In fact, rollerblading was when I bought my first pair of tights. But one year I broke my arm and started riding my bike soon after. There were other factors that led me into cycling but the first bike I owned was a mountain bike. Then I turned to the road. The rest, as they say, is history.”

Me, myself and I
“I kept myself to myself as a child. I had a few close friends, only a couple, but I’d say the rest of my childhood was pretty normal. Maybe I just liked doing different things. Riding was perfect because I had a lot of energy but I needed to let it out in a positive way that would calm me down. Life at home was fairly standard. I didn’t belong to the church, despite my time in their car parks, and at times I was my own best friend. I just wanted to get through the whole period of growing up as quickly as possible. I didn’t enjoy school that much. I had a couple of good teachers but the rest of the experience wasn’t always great. Bike riding gave me the alone time I needed.”

Hero with a thousand faces
“Movies have had a huge impact on my life. The film Breaking Away had a big effect on me getting into cycling but, growing up, I watched all the superhero movies and a lot of violent films. I saw all the Stallone movies at too early an age but I think I turned out okay. I wanted to be a hero. Unfortunately, there was no crime where I lived. The film Kick-Ass has nothing on me. I was dressing up and looking for criminals to fight long before that movie came out. I had my blue tights, a red turtleneck and some kind of face mask. But back to the importance of Breaking Away. I saw that and had to have a road bike, so I hung up my rollerblades and bought a purple Bianchi. It had the gears on the downtube so then I had to save up and buy STI for no other reason than having to have them. I quote movies all the time. I don’t think it drives anyone mad but I’m constantly doing it.”

Captain America
“Another part of my childhood that’s followed me into the present day is my affection for comics. There were a few local comic shops where I lived and I’d spend time hanging out there. In some ways my passion for comics was an extension of my love for movies. Comics come out more often though. I like the chance to relax and enjoy them, and they are pure escapism. Batman was my favourite growing up. I liked his whole vengeance theme – the constant aim to avenge his family was something that struck a chord. Not that my family were murdered, but you just relate to it as a kid. I still have a big box of comics in my attic back at home in the US. Now i’m the national champion in the time trial and ‘Captain America’ is a nickname I’m sometimes handed.”

A vegan in a dog eat hot dog world
“I started watching a few documentaries and in conjunction with that I took a food sensitivity test. I had some allergies so the first thing I did was cut meat out of my diet. Then it was dairy and the last thing was the eggs. This year I become the first pro to ride the Tour de France totally vegan. It was a change that was important to me for an environmental reason as well. There are a lot of benefits to it. Of course it was tough at times. I’d see team-mates wolfing down hamburgers but I’m over the craving part of it. Then I turned it into an animal rights issue, a cruelty issue, and I began reading up about that too. That helped to reinforce my faith in the diet. I don’t preach to my team or anyone else. It’s just a choice I made. There are some hardcore versions of veganism that say you can’t have leather products but i’m not going to start tearing the seats out of my car. But perhaps I’ll be more conscious of things I’ll buy in the future.”

The balls to go into business
“I always wanted to set up DZ Nuts, a company that makes chamois cream for bike riders. Originally it was just a joke, albeit a popular one. But it actually turned into a pretty fun business and people like it. It’s something different to do and have fun with and it’s growing.
We go through all the major distributors now in the US and there’s a full-time staff of five or six people. We launched DZ Nuts in 2008 and then DZ bliss – the equivalent for women – was put on the market in 2010. The HTC women’s team were using it last year and it’s been really popular.”

Mr Serious
“Maybe I’m seen as relaxed, and that’s a true trait of my personality, but I take my responsibilities as a pro rider seriously. Even when I was a busboy I’d want to say I was the best busboy the restaurant ever had. I’ve had loads of jobs but I’ve taken them all seriously. It’s the same with bike racing. Yes it’s a job but it’s also a passion. It’s a very hard profession and you can’t do it well if you don’t treat it with the utmost respect for your team-mates, family and, of course, yourself. At the same time, I try to make everything a circle. I balance my life and make sure I keep everything, my racing included, in perspective.”

Appetite for self destruction
“It’s a spur-of-the-moment thing when I sing at races. I don’t like to be asked to do things so it has to be spontaneous and it has to be my idea, but if you want to see me sing you can probably find clips on YouTube. The only time I gave it a whole plan and commitment was at the Giro d’Italia in 2009, when I did Sweet Child O’ Mine by Guns n’ Roses at the start of a stage. I can’t remember which day it was but the crowd and riders seemed to appreciate it. My adrenaline was really high. In fact, it was higher then than during any part of the entire three-week race. I’m not sure what that says.”
“I didn’t set that up but it came to me one day that something needed to be done to try and raise awareness of road safety. I was in Utah for a while and people were getting hit left, right and centre and being dragged all over the place. We have a few local chapters around the country but I don’t have a load of time to put into it at the moment. But it’s in place and sometime I’ll be able to devote more attention to it. When I have time I like to visit schools and tell them about it. Standing in front of a hall full of children is a challenging experience. You’ve got to keep them interested, which is hard.”

This article is taken from the November issue of Pro Cycling. To subscribe, click here (opens in new tab).

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