Phil Zajicek (Fly V Australia) is well-prepared to improve on his third place overall from 2009 when the SRAM Tour of the Gila begins next Wednesday. The five-staged race will include six ProTour riders, including seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.
“I’m definitely going in with big expectations,” Zajicek told Cyclingnews. “I’ve been riding better than I ever have. I’m feeling really great and we have a super strong team going. It is not just myself; we have six other guys going and all of them are riding really well right now.”
Zajicek won Gila’s final stage, the Gila Monster Road Race, last year. Zajicek’s stage win was further highlighted because he out-paced ProTour riders like Armstrong and overall winner Levi Leipheimer.
“Last year I didn’t know what to expect going into it,” Zajicek said. “I wanted a result but I didn’t know what the expectations were. It ended up going amazingly well. This year I’m going into it the bar is set pretty high.
“I think to do the result I did last year would be great,” he added. “That being said, I’ve been training for the last six weeks with these next three weeks in mind for Tour of the Gila and then the Tour of California, those are my big focuses.”
Garmin-Transitions will send Dave Zabriskie, Tom Danielson and Danny Pate to Gila, with the trio riding under the name of Zabriskie’s company DZ Nuts. Likewise, Team RadioShack will field Armstrong, Leipheimer and Jason McCartney under the name of Armstrong’s Austin-based bike shop Mellow Johnny’s.
“I think it’s great to be able to race against those guys, they are some of the best in the world,” Zajicek said. “They are all going really well right now. It is a really good quality field. They bring the cycling world’s attention onto Gila again. I think that is great and great for us to come out and show that American racing has progressed.
“I think this year the first stage is important,” he added. “Last year Levi really destroyed us on the Mogollon mountain-top finish. There will be a few guys who can stay with him this year and it will be a tighter general classification and not just one guy walking away this year. Tactically, the American teams are coming into this race a lot stronger than they were in the past because the Tour of California is around the corner. We will see the American teams racing a lot more aggressively and force the ProTour teams, who only have three riders, to work a lot more.”
Building up at Bisbee
Fly V Australia will send a seven-man team to compete in the Arizona’s La Vuelta de Bisbee this week, a race held one weekend prior to the SRAM Tour of the Gila and used by many teams as a preparation tool. Zajicek’s teammates for the two events will include the National Racing Calendar (NRC) individual leader Ben Day, Jai Crawford, Charles Dionne, Darren Lill, Darren Rolfe and David Tanner.
Other teams participating in La Vuelta de Bisbee include Bahati Foundation, UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis, Jelly Belly-Kenda, Kenda-Geargrinder and Adageo Energy.
“I’m doing a mini training camp before going to Bisbee,” Zajicek said. “We have a big team coming in. It’s a really good race. Its low pressure, hot weather, high altitude and dry so it is a good way to race before the Tour of the Gila.”
Zajicek has completed nearly 25 race days already this year. With less pressure to perform early in the season this year, he has used much of the racing as training to prepare for his main target at the Tour of California, May 16-23. He is currently training in Arizona with his father Mark Zajicek to fine tune his fitness before the racing begins.
“I train with my dad a lot,” Zajicek said. “We will go out for a couple of hours together and then he will come home, get the scooter and meet me back out and motor pace me. He’s been motorpacing me for 10 years. He used to be a marathon runner and once I got into cycling, he got into cycling too and now he rides to work and rides a tonne. He is super fit for being 60 years old.”
The Tour of California was previously held in February but has been moved to May this year. Zaijcek was pleased to have a later focus, adding that many of the invited North American-based Continental teams will be better prepared to contest the ProTour outfits. In fact, many North American teams and riders are using the Tour of the Gila to fine tune their top-end form ahead of California.
“They are different styles of races but I think it is going to be a really good indication in how well prepared you are for the Tour of California,” Zajicek said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if the winner of Tour of the Gila will be the winner of the Tour of California.”