When it’s straight and flat, there aren’t many better against the clock than Dave Zabriskie.
On a 4.1km out-and-back course Sunday in Annecy, the American picked up where he left off in last year’s Tour de France, beating George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) in the opening prologue of the Dauphiné Libéré by two seconds – the same margin he had over Lance Armstrong last July.
“Two is my magic number,” said Zabriskie, after his first win of the season. “I won the Tour’s opening time trial by two seconds last year, and now I’ve beaten George by two seconds as well.”
Zabriskie won in 4 minutes, 35.84 seconds, with an average speed of 53.509km/h on the mostly straight course, which featured one 180-degree turn and then shot straight back to the finish line. Hincapie stopped the clock at 4:37 while Zabriskie’s Team CSC teammate, Stuart O’Grady, took third with 4:41.
“I was a little bit surprised, because it’s been a while since I raced, but I was hungry to get back into racing,” he said, referring to the Tour de Georgia in April. “The tactics today were to go as fast as I could and not use too much of a gear. It was an ideal course for me.”
Zabriskie was fastest of the 168 starters to put the Dauphiné Libéré into gear. Most of the big Tour contenders lined up in Annecy (with the exception of Giro winner Basso and T-Mobile’s Jan Ullrich, who will race the Tour de Suisse later this month), but it was hard to read too much into Sunday’s appetizer.
ProTour leader Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne) was seventh at eight seconds back while Christophe Moreau (Ag2r) was the top Frenchman at 12th.
Alexandre Vinokourov, racing in a Team Würth jersey despite the news that a Kazakh consortium is poised to take over title sponsorship of the team, finished 15th at 10 seconds back.
“I am happy with whatever result as I am not as strong as last year, so today was fine with me,” Vinokourov said at the line. The blond Kazakh said in an interview with L’Equipe that he “believes Manolo Saiz” and vows to stick with the team for the Tour de France despite the team’s involvement in an alleged blood-doping scandal in Spain.
Hincapie was also satisfied with his performance in his first race back since crashing out of Paris-Roubaix in April. The New Yorker was just two seconds off the pace and has high hopes of proving his worth as a possible Tour contender when the Dauphiné turns into the Alps later this week.
Among the others of the North American contingent, Floyd Landis (Phonak) was ninth at eight seconds slower while Phonak teammate Ryder Hesjedal put down another strong performance after coming off fourth overall at the Volta a Catalunya last month with 16th at 10 seconds down. Michael Barry (Discovery Channel), back to racing after his crash at Tour of Flanders, was 27th at 12 seconds slower while Chris Horner (Davitamon-Lotto) was 40th at 15 seconds and Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) was 48th at 16 seconds back.
Zabriskie hasn’t won since last year’s huge win against Armstrong on the 19km course on Noirmoutier to open the 2005 Tour de France, but he’s been close this season. The Utah resident twice finished second in stages at the Tour of California and was third at the Tour de Georgia, but he doesn’t expect to be fighting for the overall at the Dauphiné.
“I have never ridden the Dauphiné before and I doubt I will be finishing in the same color I’m starting,” he said. “I’ve never climbed Mont Ventoux, and I am really looking foward to doing that.”
While many of the top names are here to hone their form and position themselves as Armstrong’s successor in next month’s Tour, Zabriskie has other goals looking ahead to July.
Zabriskie is likely to line up again for the 2006 Tour, but instead of riding for personal glory, he will be one of the eight bodyguards assigned to push Team CSC captain Ivan Basso toward an historic Giro-Tour double.
“There are 14 names for nine places, so nothing is sure yet,” Zabriskie said. “That’s really up to Bjarne Riis to decide. I still have to earn my spot, and my next objective is the time trial Wednesday at Bourg-de-Péage.”
Monday’s 207km stage 1 from Annecy to Bourgoin-Jallieu is the longest of the week’s offerings and presents an ideal chance for the sprinters to stretch their legs ahead of the climbs later in the race. The course pushes east out of the Savoie into Isere, hitting three Cat. 4 climbs in the final half of the course, with the final one about 20km from a downhill finish.
1. David Zabriskie (USA), Team CSC, 4:35.84
2. George Hincapie (USA), Discovery Channel, 4:37.72
3. Stuart O’Grady (Aus), Team CSC, 4:41.91
4. Sebastian Lang (G), Gerolsteiner, 4:42.75
5. Joost Posthuma (Ned), Rabobank, 4:43.19
6. Stijn Devolder (B), Discovery Channel, 4:43.24
7. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne-Illes Balears, 4:43.45
8. Vladimir Gusev (Rus), Discovery Channel, 4:43.54
9. Floyd Landis (USA), Phonak, 4:43.84
10. Andrey Kashechkin (Kaz), Würth, 4:44.03
1. David Zabriskie (USA), Team CSC, 4:35:00
2. George Hincapie (USA), Discovery Channel, at 0:02
3. Stuart O’Grady (Aus), Team CSC, at 0:06
4. Sebastian Lang (G), Gerolsteiner, at 0:07
5. Joost Posthuma (Ned), Rabobank, at 0:08
6. Stijn Devolder (B), Discovery Channel, same time
7. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne-Illes Balears, s.t.
8. Vladimir Gusev (Rus), Discovery Channel, s.t.
9. Floyd Landis (USA), Phonak, s.t.
10. Andrey Kashechkin (Kaz), Würth, at 0:09