By Andrew Hood
Dave Zabriskie was gobbling down French sweets at an alarming rate Friday afternoon as journalists gathered around the tall, slender Utahan to learn more about this American making his Tour de France debut.
“I feel stupendously happy. There’s a lot of free candy in the press room,” Zabriskie said with a wry smile. “Who doesn’t like free candy?”
The world’s press is about to get the “Zabriskie treatment,” a mixture of humor, sarcasm and insight that keeps the hacks in stitches.
How’s the motivation for the team?
“Super motivated – the Prozac is being passed around nightly.”
Are you nervous about your first Tour? Zabriskie holds out his hands, no shakes there.
“I think I’m all right.”
With strong headwinds predicted for Saturday’s time trial, do you like racing against the wind?
“Because of Bob Seger, I do.”
Do you think you’re a favorite to win Saturday?
“I hope I do well. I can deal with failure quite well. Like I say, you lose a lot, you win a few.”
Turning to the serious business of bike racing, Zabriskie said he took a short rest after finishing up the Giro d’Italia, where he won a stage while providing strong help for team captain Ivan Basso.
The plan is the same for the Tour: try to shine in the time trials and help Basso and teammate Carlos Sastre.“The legs feel okay, we’ll see how it goes,” he said. Wait, where’s the punch line?
Levi’s secret weapon
Levi Leipheimer will ride a new, lightweight carbon-fiber frame that weighs less than one kilogram during this year’s Tour de France, something he’s hopeful will give him a winning edge on the competition.
Leipheimer and Georg Totschnig will race on the new S-Works Tarmac SL frame and the all-carbon S-works fork. The frame weighs 895 grams while the fork is just 300 grams. To get under the kilo mark, designers used carbon dropouts and removed the primarily cosmetic, woven outer layer of carbon.
Leipheimer raced the bike in the final days of the Dauphiné Libéré, where he finished third overall.
“It’s pretty unbelievable to have a bike so light, yet so stiff and compliant,” Leipheimer said. “With the front end being stiffer with the new fork, I can really carve the turn and be more confident in the turns. That was the first thing I noticed.”
Leipheimer was anxious to try the bike under race conditions ahead of the Tour de France. After “riding it around the parking lot,” Leipheimer premiered the bike over the grueling climb up the Joux-Plane and the tricky descent to Morzine.
“That’s a very fast and dangerous descent. Lance was leading down going full-gas and I had no problem following him,” Leipheimer said. “It’s an awesome bike, it uphills better, downhills better. It’s light, but every bit as steep.”
Specialized’s development team spent more than a year preparing the new bikes for Leipheimer and Totschnig. The remainder of the team will race on the S-Works Tarmac and Roubaix models that they’ve ridden all season.
Bikes will be available to the general public this fall.
Boonen green with envy
Tom Boonen hasn’t been at the beach since pulling off the Flanders-Roubaix double this spring. After a short break, the Belgian bomber has his eyes firmly set on winning stages and making the green points jersey his.
According to the Quick Step sprinter, the road to the green jersey will be paved with a string of stage victories.
“I’ll be trying to win a stage as soon as possible, and only then will I be looking at trying to take the green jersey,” Boonen told a gaggle of eager Belgian journalists. “My main rival will be (Robbie) McEwen, who has a good sprinting technique, and is always up there. (Alejandro) Valverde will also be one to watch, as he goes okay in the mountains as well as in the rolling stages.”
Boonen is making his second Tour start, this time as a proven winner on cycling’s biggest stages. After the Tour, he’ll take another break and aim for the world championships in Madrid.
He said Saturday’s opening stage time trial will take many of the sprinters out of the hunt for the yellow jersey, thus changing the chemistry in the hunt for the time bonuses early on in the race.
“The bonus times on the following stages will not be so important, but nothing will change in terms of trying to win the sprint at the end of each stage,” said Boonen. “The Tour starts for me on Sunday – not on Saturday.”
Cuesta out, Bertogliati in
Swiss rider Rubens Bertogliati is a last-minute replacement for Spanish rider Iñigo Cuesta on the Saunier Duval team. Cuesta became ill overnight, and the team was allowed to replace the rider ahead of Saturday’s start.