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Zabriskie ready for Tour of Utah month after crash

Updated: August 08, 2011, 15:32

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Mention the Tour de France, and David Zabriskie thinks not about yellow jerseys but bright yellow cycling shoes skidding across the pavement in front of him during a high-speed descent.

And rather than fragrant flowers for stage winners, he remembers the stench of cigarettes on the French doctor who treated him after he crashed July 10 through a guardrail then down a European hillside.

July's Tour de France obviously didn't go the way Zabriskie had envisioned - not when it ended with him shouting for whiskey in a local hospital instead of sipping champagne in Paris two weeks later with Garmin-Cervelo, which claimed the team prize.

But a month after the crash, the Salt Lake City native is literally back in the saddle, mostly healed from injuries suffered in the Stage 9 crash and ready to tackle what is billed as America's Toughest Stage Race.

"A couple of people have mentioned, `Is that healthy?' I guess I'll see if I die,'' Zabriskie said before leaving California on Sunday for the Tour of Utah. "But I think I'll be fine.''

The six-day, 409-mile road race, elevated this year to one of only three top stage races in North America, starts Tuesday in Park City and finishes Sunday at Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort.

While Zabriskie is not the only racer making his way to Utah after the Tour de France, he is the only one to have crashed out so severely and returned to action so quickly.

"When I first saw the (Stage 9 crash), my first thought was he's out,'' said Tour of Utah President Steve Miller. "It's amazing how resilient these guys are. The fact that he is coming is amazing.''

Whether he's a contender remains to be seen since he can't do a pushup because of a hand injury and still has restricted movement in his left knee. But his head is clear despite smacking a concrete post, and he's been pushing hard the past week and feels ready.

He wants to work in Utah's altitude, and use the experience to prepare for the world championships in Denmark in mid-September and ultimately qualify for the 2012 Olympics.

Utah also is where he learned to ride, and with plenty of friends watching this week, there is motivation to excel.

"When I go back and see Mount Olympus (and Emigration Canyon), it seems like that's the place that created me,'' Zabriskie said. "You get to the top of those canyons and want to take a moment and contemplate life.''

While the 11th-year pro has come a long way from his formative years in racing, so has the Tour of Utah itself.

"It's moved from a great national race to a top-level international event,'' said Steve Johnson, USA Cycling CEO.

George Hincapie, who set a record by helping a teammate capture a ninth Tour de France last month, headlines a BMC Racing Team fresh off the effort that helped Australian Cadel Evans claim the historic win.

Were it not for a three-day celebration Down Under this week, Evans would be riding in Utah for BMC, having just extended his contract through 2014.

Ninth-place Tour de France finisher Tom Danielson will race in Utah, as will defending Tour of Utah champ Levi Leipheimer and Spaniard Francisco Mancebo, the 2009 Tour of Utah winner.

Zabriskie said BMC's Jeff Louder could be a favorite, while Tejay Van Garderen tops a list of young Americans who have come through the national development program.

Hincapie certainly has motivation to do well, having crashed out of the race last year in Stage 2, leaving a gash in his right knee that required 18 stitches.

"I just hit some gravel on a corner, something that was hard to miss ... happens all the time in cycling,'' Hincapie said last week.

There's also incentive after signing a new contract with BMC through 2012, which he acknowledges will probably be his final season racing after 19 years as a pro.

"It's a long career, a lot longer than average,'' said Hincapie, who helped Lance Armstrong win all seven of his Tour de France titles and in 2007 did the same for Alberto Contador.

He said he wants to spend more time with his children, not travel as much, and perhaps even start his own team. "I think it would be a good time to stop,'' Hincapie said.

Like so many racers, Hincapie is worried about Utah's altitude, especially coming from the East Coast after an exhausting Tour de France.

The event actually has one less mountain stage this year so the sprinters have something to showcase. But Tuesday's prologue won't be easy. After a quick downhill, a killer 1.2-mile climb to the top of the Nordic ski jump at Utah Olympic Park awaits.

Miller expects the Park City-to-Snowbird finale Sunday to be the decisive stage. But Johnson is looking forward to Stage 4, which starts at the Utah State Capitol on Saturday and takes 11 circuits through the city and up through the San Francisco-steep streets of the historic Avenues.

"The race in the Avenues is going to be a spectacle,'' Johnson said. "Anything goes. I know the terrain and it's going to be challenging. It's the kind of race that could surprise folks and change the outcome with no real sustained climbing.''

Zabriskie hopes his legs respond despite some lingering swelling from the crash that occurred when a few riders in front of the peloton briefly lost control on a sharp left-hand turn and forced him to break suddenly - a move that locked his wheels and sent him careering at top speed toward a concrete post. The concrete shat tered his front wheel and sawed his left fork in half.

He was scared to look down at his legs when he finally stopped tumbling, fearing the worst, but looks back now feeling lucky to have escaped without breakin g bones as first reported.

Surprisingly, he said he felt better than normal getting back on his bike for the first time on July 24, the day the Tour de France ended.

Credit perhaps the boost he got from seeing Garmin-Cervelo teammates cart a life-sized cardboard cutout of him to the podium to accept the team prize.

"I was a little depressed not being there,'' he said. "But I was flattered they would think of me,'' he said.


AP writer Brian Skoloff contributed to this report.

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