cycling utah June 2000

Think Dave Zabriskie looks shy and quiet? Look again

By Bryan Jew

As he made his way up to the podium on the final day of the Redlands Bicycle Classic, 7-Up-Colorado Cyclist rider David Zabriskie looked as comfortable as a seventh grader going to the front of the class to read a speech. His lips pressed tight together, eyes cast slightly downward and body language giving off nervous vibes, the 21-year-old made a seemingly unmistakable first impression: shy, young kid, a little overwhelmed by it all. But first impressions can be deceiving.

Zabriskie doesn't stand out in a crowd. Put him in the middle of a 180-man peloton, and you might lose him in his anonymity. Take him out of that pack, though, and put the young rider alone in cycling's individual test, the time trial, and he starts to shine. With apparent ease, Zabriskie can turn in times with the best of them. He's shown it in the past, winning the 1998 under-23 national time trial championship and placing 11th at the World's that same year.

After a year off due to injury, he's shown it again at the beginning of 2000, with strong performances at Valley of the Sun, Another Dam Race and Redlands.

In the time trial, one can get a real sense of just how good Zabriskie is as a racer. Similarly, once you place the Salt Lake City native in a more comfortable environment off the bike, say, holding court among his teammates, only then does the real Zabriskie begin to come out. And when he does, watch out, you might be surprised by what hits you.

Mercury's Scott Moninger found that out on the final day of Redlands. Trailing Chris Horner by fractions of a second at the start of the day, Zabriskie was just chillin' before the Sunset Road Race when Moninger approached him. The veteran rider told Zabriskie that Mercury was expecting a day full of attacks by the Saturn and U.S. Postal teams, and told him that he should consider forming an alliance with the Mercury team for the day.

Out of nowhere the shy Utah kid replied: "I ain't sayin' you ain't pretty, all I'm sayin's, I'm not ready. I'm in second place..."

Zabriskie just laughs when recalling the barbs from the Mercury team before Sunset. "I wasn't really that pissed off," he said. "They were just talkin' a lot."

And then, a look of calm descends on his face as he deadpans: "But deep down inside ... I'm filled with happiness."

Zabriskie has good reason to be happy. After his sixth-place overall at Another Dam Race and second at Redlands to open the season, he's all of a sudden a hot property.

It's quite a change from last season when most of the year was lost due to an Achilles' tendon injury. Zabriskie was riding with the national team in Europe at the time, when a combination of overuse, cold weather and long car transfers after races finally took it's toll.

"One day, I couldn't drop my heel," he recalls. "But the doctor said race through it, it's nothing."

Things got so bad that he had to return home to Salt Lake City, where he got treatment. Then he tried to come back too soon, he returned to Europe and did two more races, but that was it. His promising career had hit a snag.

Over the winter, the only offer he got came from the newly merged 7-Up/Colorado Cyclist team. "He's good enough to get a ride on a bigger team," rider-manager Jeff Corbett said at the Sea Otter Classic. "Maybe the injury scared some people off.

"We'll try to hold onto him for next year, but his stock just went up."

When Corbett first learned that Zabriskie was on board for 2000, he didn't quite know what to expect. "The first couple of times I talked to him on the phone, he said maybe three words. Now, he'll just go on and on. He's kind of a goof ball underneath it all."

But before he learned that the youngster was prone to busting out with crazy voices and imitations, and flexing in front of motel room mirrors to entertain his teammates, Corbett was a little worried about whether the kid would fit in.

"I made a point of having Clark (Sheehan) and other guys call him and get to know him, so he didn't get to camp knowing only me," explained Corbett.

All the worries, it turned out, were for nothing. "Once you get to know him, he's a fun guy ... He's hilarious."

Corbett's only concern now is whether he'll be able to keep Zabriskie in the future. Seven-Up may have a few things in its favor. "Dave's the kind of guy that likes familiar situations," he said. "I think he feels pretty comfortable on this team."

But it still might not be enough to keep Zabriskie in the fold. This year, he'll split his time between 7-Up in the U.S. and the national team in Europe.

Seven-Up may simply be unable to offer him the challenge, as Zabriskie will probably have his sights set on a Euro-pean pro contract. "That's all Chris Carmichael [Zabriskie's coach] talks about," Zabriskie said. "I hope that's what happens."

As he sat outside the team van at Sea Otter, Zabriskie hinted that he'd be keeping quiet for a while. Well, maybe at least for that night, when an agent was supposed to meet him at his hotel in Salinas. "I've got to be not so easily accessible," he said, breaking out another of his many voices. "I've got to stay in-cog-ni-to."

That may have been his plan for the night, but one thing's for certain: It won't last long.

Story courtesy of Velo News. Used by permission.

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