By Andrew Hood
For the first time of his career, Dave Zabriskie is making a serious stab at the overall classification of a grand tour.
Without putting too much pressure on himself, Zabriskie is hoping to be able to stay close to the Italian mountain goats for as long as possible and make a solid showing when the Giro ends June 3 in Milan.
“I know I can finish a three-week tour. I am going to try harder than I have in the mountains,” Zabriskie told VeloNews. “We’ll see how I can do in the GC. I want to see how I can do, but I don’t want too much pressure, either.”
Team CSC entered the 2007 Giro with a radically different plan than last year, when it won the overall with Ivan Basso. This year, the team is rallying its GC hopes behind Zabriskie and Andy Schleck, the younger brother of established star Frank Schleck.
So far, Zabriskie has been discreetly solid in the first week. The man who holds the distinction of being the only American to have won stages in all three grand tours, helped power Team CSC to third in the opening team time trial and then avoided falling in the tricky fourth stage before climbing to 10th on the first summit finish at Montevergine.
“Things went well on the climb. It got really hard in the final two kilometers, but Andy (Schleck) and I were able to stay with the lead group,” Zabriskie said. “You can’t say too much after one mountain stage. So far, so good.”
After Sunday’s 21-man break put some serious time on the field, Zabriskie slipped from seventh to 24th in the overall standings, but lost no time to the Giro favorites. The real test comes in Tuesday’s grueling three-climb 10th stage ending with the short but steep summit finish to Santuario Nostra Signora della Guardia above Genoa.
The 8.8km Nostra Signora climb comes at the end of the Giro’s second-longest stage on a lumpy course that’s constantly up and down along the spectacular Italian Riviera.
Zabriskie will be tested by the high-octane Italians in what’s sure to be an explosive finale on ramps as steep as 14 percent and an average grade of eight percent.
“You never know how Dave is going to go,” said Team CSC sport director Alain Gallopin. “He’s a smart rider and he’s skinnier than he’s ever been before. That will help him in the hard mountain stages in the final week of the Giro.”
A pro since 2001, he looks stronger than ever and is tipping the scales at a featherweight 140 pounds, the lightest he’s been since coming to Europe full-time in 2003.
Zabriskie’s grand tour credentials are already stellar. He holds the distinction as being the only American to win stages in all three grand tours (a stage in the 2004 Vuelta, stages in 2005 Giro and Tour) and beat Lance Armstrong in the opening time trial at the 2005 Tour de France to wear the yellow jersey for three stages.
Zabriskie has long been hailed as a possible grand tour contender. The next two weeks should take him closer toward fulfilling that destiny.