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Interview with David Zabriskie

by Andrew Rogers

May 19, 2010 (Santa Cruz, CA) – Dave Zabriskie (USA) Garmin-Transitions scored an important win on Stage 3 from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, 113.3km over Michael Rogers (Aus) HTC-Columbia in second and Levi Leipheimer (USA) Radioshack in third. The victory re-affirmed Zabriskie’s top level talents and was “special” as it was his first yellow jersey at the ToC that was unexpected, yet well deserved.

It makes sense that David Zabriskie (USA) Garmin-Transition became one of the best at something so individual and explosively intense as the individual time trial, a race against time while gutting yourself to the point beyond pain, beyond thinking, to an altered state some call white pain or bliss. Ask “Zen”briskie and you may get both or neither as his reply – his mission has never been to give a safe answer.

I reminded him about the last interview we did together – it was at a training camp in central California. I was in the hotel parking lot when out of the blue a 4-door Ford van barreled into the lot, hitting the brakes hard while screeching through a 90 degree turn to slide perfectly into a parking space.

Popping out of the driver’s seat, Zabriskie sauntered out as if nothing had happened, and a moment later, his wife skipped out from the other side, non-plussed. Enter the world of this non-conformist, cycling cowboy, with a wild streak and an appetite for fun taking life’s unknowns to the edge without empowering its danger signs.

Zabriskie has seen many big victories and just as many hard times, from wearing the Maillot Jaune to bombing out with severe lacerations and broken bones. He’s been in and out of the spotlight over the past years while not making excuses for his sometimes less than stellar performances with “Yeah, I should try harder” or “He was just better today than me.”

It’s easy to pass Zabriskie off as a likeable rider who doesn’t seem to reflect too much on his goals and focus. He’s no Lance [Armstrong] and doesn’t seem watch his words whether you’re a journalist or a shopkeeper. That’s his attraction and persona to his fans – unpredictable, unattached to his ego, and under the radar – the un-Lance. When he wins, no big deal; when he falls flat, no big deal. But he has proven several times in a quiet way that he will be back and he’ll end up winning.

On Tuesday, in Santa Cruz on Stage 3 it was a vindication and affirmation that he belonged back in California, wearing gold by claiming the GC jersey for the first time. His surfer-sounding speech on the podium when he accepted his engraved surfboard as a prize, matched his trademark side-grin which this time stretched from Sacramento to Santa Cruz. After moving his family back to LA (where he lived before his return to his native Utah a few years ago) he remarked, “I’m never living there (Utah) again, I’m finished with that – California makes more sense to me.”

Z-biskit, as he’s comically called after the famous horse from Northern California, has captivated fans collective imagination around the world. Zabriskie’s not afraid to be himself, make big mistakes, break a bone or two or worse, brush it off and smile through the pain.

His disarming honesty and unexpected comments have gained him the spotlight and arguably cost him, yet he’s so comfortable in his own skin, it seems like there is no way to raise his ire. “I guess I just see things differently than a lot of others, or I don’t care as much – or I care more about things and people and ways,” says the talented rider.

Simple observations from Zenbriskie, a pro who rarely talks about his gear, his rivals, or his goals, come from a man who appears to have nothing to lose. Then he lets out a zinger that, on some lips, may sound bitter or haughty, but not on his: “It seems that people go through life with no thoughts at all.”

“No thoughts at all” are exactly what he explains is what happens in his head when he’s in his best state while hitting the pedals during an ITT. “The best TTs are when there is nothing in there (in your head), just when you’re breathing so hard there is no thought. But the best ones don’t happen many times,” he explains.

For all his injuries and traumas, I asked him about yoga, meditation and alternative ways to deal with pain and suffering. “I don’t have a space for them yet. I need a space to practice meditation and right now we’re in a small condo.”

When asked about his dramatic win in Santa Cruz on Stage 3 at the Tour of California, you could see Zabriskie was moved, not just his Cheshire cat-grinning smile rattling off a quick synopsis. Something larger than the win was on his mind as he spoke from the podium. “It was so beautiful coming into Santa Cruz today, the sun was shining, the ocean was fine, the scenery so beautiful.” It was like he was recounting a beach picnic with his wife and not hammering alongside Levi [Leipheimer] and Mick Rogers, both fiercely trying to beat him to the finish line.

Now and Zen: when asked what his future looks like he continued to wax philosophically: “Well, I can’t really say I have any idea. I’m good at the ITT occasionally, but can’t freak out about the future.”

And what about Stage 6 at Friday’s Big Bear Alpine mountain top finish? “One long hard ride of attrition, I gotta get up there somehow to make the TT the next day. Even the TT won’t be the end probably, the last day is going to be hard. It’s not necessarily in the bag whoever wins the TT.”

Best case scenario for this week? “I win by five or ten minutes before the TT.” (laughs).

Who has his back? “Ryder [Hesjedal] is super strong, Tommy D [Danielson] is good. Peterson won a stage here last year, Hunter and Wilson are both solid. I don’t have anyone on this team that I wish wasn’t here.”

When I mention too bad [Christian] Vande Velde isn’t here he quipped, “Yeah but he always wants to get the sh** kicked out of him at the Giro every year (laughing), but I doubt he’ll do it next year. The Giro is all right if you can get through it…”

On dealing with injuries Zabriskie mentioned, “I have to try harder than many in the peloton, since the left side of my body doesn’t work so well from the accidents I’ve had.”

When off the bike and not playing with his son his wish includes, “Bag pipes, violin and guitar. There are so many things you want to do like learn another language, but in the end you don’t do much. I’ve fooled around with music but the easiest thing to do is sing, just I belt it out and my family and roommates don’t seem to mind.”

Zabriskie takes a deep breath as if he’s going to sing…“I can morph my voice, I can do crazy things, but you either got to get to that level of comfort or not give a sh**.”

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