U.S. Racer Dave Zabriskie Discusses Bike Crashes, Road Safety

Turns out even the fastest cyclists in the world still have to contend with oblivious and dangerous drivers, at least when they're not racing on a closed course. David Zabriskie, current U.S. time trial champion and winner of three cycling grand tour stages, recently told a capacity crowd in Larkspur, California, that he has been whacked three times by cars while riding in the United States. 

The worst was a 2003 ride in Salt Lake City when an SUV made a left turn directly into him. He spent a week in the hospital and came home with pins in his wrist and leg.

“I’m still crooked on a bike,” Zabriskie said during his Larkspur talk, a fundraiser for the bike safety charity Yield to Life, which he founded. Yield to Life attempts to humanize cyclists in the eyes of motorists and encourage drivers to give riders space on the road. 

He joked that when crowded by cars during rides he often thinks about the use of Tazer guns, but instead insists he just gives drivers a friendly wave.  He says he still wonders whether the Salt Lake City driver was thinking of him “as life, as a living, breathing person, rather than an obstacle in her way.”  If she had waited a split second for him to pass he would not have spent months in a wheelchair nor needed to use a walker during rehabilitation.

Zabriskie also spoke about lighter issues, saying that he’s a Battlestar Galactica fan and watches it to unwind, that German cyclist Jens Voigt, racing with Team CSC, knows more about American pop culture than anyone and that Zabriskie is inspired by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1970s movie “Pumping Iron.”

Of Lance Armstrong, a former teammate from his US Postal days, Zabriskie said this year, with Armstrong’s return to racing, “He was like an uncle. He was the most relaxed I’ve seen him. He was the nicest I’ve seen and he talked to everyone.”

Zabriskie is the only American to win three stages of all three grand tour races consecutively: the Tour of Spain, Tour of Italy and Tour de France.  But says he still considers what he might have accomplished if he had not been struck.

As for the 2009 racing circuit, he described for the Larkspur crowd the lead up to a highly controversial Stage 14 in this year’s Tour de France. George Hincapie, a hugely popular American rider for Columbia-HTC, had a sufficient lead to take the yellow jersey for the stage, a first in the twilight of Hincapie’s career.  Zabriskie was among those in his Garmin team ordered to the front to pull back the break-away and with it, Hincapie.

Zabriskie said, “I saw a woman killed that day on the road, cut in half by a motorcycle. I was upset. At the end of the race I was told to go to the front and pull. I was not paying attention to George. We were not attacking his lead. I felt bad when I found out [Hincapie had lost his shot at the yellow jersey]. I cried. George had a few words for me, but we’re ok now.”

Zabriskie said that he plans to ride the Tour of California in May 2010, even though it conflicts with the Tour of Italy. His entire interview will be podcast by the event sponsors at Marincyclists.com.