Phil Zajicek is a quiet bike racer, but there’s an intensity about him when he’s working. Using this he’s gone about his job building an impressive resume. Yet, for some reason, Phil comes to mind as a racer that’s struck with a disproportionate amount of bad luck.
In 2006, with less than 123k left in the Tour of California, Phil was poised to be the top non Pro Tour rider (15th after stage 6). That was until an unfortunate crash ended his and many others hopes during the early laps at Redondo Beach. Then in 2008, following another rebuilding 2007 season that saw him 6th overall in the NRC rankings and a winner at the Cascade Cycling Classic , Phil’s season was hampered by Crohn’s disease.
So in 2009, after a rocky start but with the confidence of Fly V Australia team backing him and his stomach issues under control, we got word that confirmed what we always knew Phil was capable of. That word was of him out sprinting Lance A. (Astana) for a win at what is considered by many to be the hardest stage in the United States, the Tour of the Gila’s final stage, The Gila Monster. This winter Fairwheel Bikes was able to sit down with Phil, again racing for Fly V Australia, to give you some insight into a quietly intense man from Tucson, Arizona.
Fairwheel Bikes: So… The elephant in the room is Gila. What did it feel like coming back from the stomach issues of the year before to beating a field like that? Especially knowing that Levi and Chris wanted to give the stage to Lance and were working hard for that.
Phil Zajicek: ’08 was a rough year for me on the bike. Fortunately I was able to get my Crohn’s disease under control and really rally for 2009. I had some contract issues with Health Net/OUCH and was left looking for a team pretty late and luckily ended up with Fly V Australia. I was aiming to put in a big ride at ToC but got caught up in a crash on the third day and broke my wrist. After that my focus switched to building the form back up for Gila. Having Levi, Horner and Lance at the race was great; it really brought a lot of attention to the race and really put the spotlight of the cycling world on New Mexico. I couldn’t have asked for a better day on the bike, just perfect legs that day.
FW: Take us through that stage if you would?
PZ: I started the final day of Gila feeling pretty strong. The crit had been the day before, so I had been able to recover a bit. The first three hours of the race, I just focused on eating lots of food and keeping a high cadence. Once we started climbing out of the cliff dwellings, the race became super hard. Horner laid down a hard tempo on the climb and slowly our group got smaller. Surprisingly, Stetina and Baldwin then Swindlehurst cracked, seeing them get popped really reinforced to me that I was on a super day since I was still pedaling comfortably. Once we started the final climb to the finish I decided to be patient and just wait as long as possible before making my move. With 1km to go, Levi put in a big acceleration to the line, I was completely on the rivet, but it seemed as if Lance was just hanging on to Levi as well. I decided to just give it everything with 300m to go, I mean what is the worst that could happen? I blow and come third to two of the best cyclists in the world? So I gave it everything I had, and that proved to be just enough to come over the top of those two guys.
FW: What’s the vibe on the team with the Aussie / American mix?
PZ: The Aussies are great. The team really has a great mixture of personalities. I’m the sole American on the team this year, but there are no factions or groups within the team. Our goal at every race we line up at is to put our jersey across the line first.
FW: You’ve just returned from spending time down under riding and racing, what do you think of Australia?
PZ: I’ve been down to Australia six times now and really love it down there. I’ve been able to see some great cities over there and would love to be able to spend a full off season down under with my wife. The plan is to head down for Worlds this year then to stay on and drive the length of their east coast.
FW: How did the early season racing go for you, compared to years past?
PZ: This early season has been great, I’ve taken a much more relaxed approach to my racing and training. I’m working with Dirk Friel now, and we’ve mapped out a great plan to see me arrive at the Tour of California in peak form. Having ToC in May really changed our approach so I’ve been able to spend a lot of time on the bike focusing on volume and aerobic conditioning. I’m just starting now to focus on my high end form, Redlands will be my first objective of the year.
FW: Any riders standout to you as being someone to watch out for this year?
PZ: I think that a couple of our new recruits are going to shock people. Jay Thomson and Aaron Kemps are both huge talents who haven’t really raced in America yet. Those two are going to be winning a lot of bike races!
FW: Do you see any plans in Fly V’s future for you to get back to Europe?
PZ: That is the plan, we should do Tour of Ireland and Britain this year. 2011 we’ll be pro continental or even Pro Tour and will be doing a large program in Europe.
FW: Last year you seemed to be riding the EDGE 68 quite a bit, any reason for that versus climbing on something more shallow?
PZ: I love the way that deep section wheels feel, and with a wheel like the 68 there wasn’t a big weight penalty. You’ll see me on the Reynolds Super Deep V’s quite a bit this season. With the bikes being as light as they are there aren’t many times you really wouldn’t want to use the deep sections.
FW: What do you think of the shootout compared to years past?
PZ: The shootout has changed a bit since the retirement of Gord and Jimmy, I think that Tucson is still waiting to find its next ambassador for the shootout. I love to do it when I’m in town. I really think that it is the best and hardest group ride in the country. And it is the best way to build race form.
FW: What’s your big prediction for 2010?
PZ: Fly V Australia on the final podium of ToC and Lance on the top step at the TdF.
FW: Now that you’ve gotten a little time on the new DeRosa, tell me what you think about it?
PZ: I really love it. It is everything I’d want a race bike to be: light, stiff, responsive, agile, and predictable. I’m really impressed with my new training bike as well, the Merek. Seems as if it is really close to the level of the King 3 RS and could easily be a stand-in as a race bike. The biggest compliment I could pay my bike is that I really just forget about it. When it less becomes a bike and feels more like an extension of my legs then I’d say I’m a happy rider. Flying down the canyons without a second thought or standing up and punching it over a small climb, the bike really does feel like it is just a part of my legs.
FW: You’re pretty well known for doing some crazy rides here in town. We’ve heard of a Shootout – Madera – Pistol Hill – Lemmon ride with some motor pacing. Tell us about some of those.
PZ: Ha! Ya, I’ve put in some big days! Shootout, Madera, then motorpace around the caves and up to Molino on Lemmon [Ride Mape] was pretty huge. Racing in Superior then riding back to Tucson was a little bit too big, had my biggest bonk ever on my way down Oracle [Ride Mape]. My favourite big day has to be going up to Oracle then across to the backside of Lemmon and up to Summerhaven and back into town [Ride Mape]. Seeing Lemmon from that different perspective was very cool.
FW: You’re also known for thinking outside of the box on training what’s some of the crazier things you’ve tried.
PZ: Sometimes you do have to think outside the box a bit. I do do a lot of training in Boulder with supplemental oxygen if I am preparing for a sea level race and I want to focus on my high power efforts. This winter I’ve had to be a bit creative, I’ve been doing some big training days in the snow on my cross bike. Ride up in the mountains on the cross bike for a few hours and finish up at the ski town of Eldora and meet my wife with the xc skis and ski for a couple of hours, makes for a big day!
FW: I hear you’re a coffee nut owning your own roaster and a pretty nice cappuccino machine. Rumors of making your own roast have circulated as well. Any truth to this?
PZ: I’ve been pretty passionate about coffee for a while now, definitely a hobby of mine. I currently have an Expobar Brewtus and a Mazzer mini electronic. I’ve been roasting my own beans for five years now and would definitely like to explore a larger-scale operation of roasting. If I do that though, I’ll be doing the actual roasting unlike most guys who just put their name on a generic roast of beans. On the road I travel with an Aeropress, that is the best travel option I’ve found for getting a decent cup of coffee.
One last note: Phil is happy to have a group of sponsors with him this year that believe in him and what Fly V is capable of. So we’d like to give those sponsors some space here in our interview. You can, of course, see a small description of each company on the Fly V Australia website. Title sponsor is, Fly V Australia, and the teams equipment sponsors are De Rosa Bicycles, Sram, Reynolds, Santini, Rudy Project, Fi’zi:k, 2xu, Stella Azzurra, LAS, and Speedplay.
Phil Zajicek’s 2010 De Rosa Bike
Although he’s waiting on his Reynolds training wheels Phil brought in his bike for us to tweak it a little bit and to let us take some pictures. We were only able to grab a few in shop but we did notice a some things. First, the tires! Comparisons to tractors of course quickly come to mind but mainly we are just impressed with the frame clearance. We’re pretty sure with this tire set up Phil might be involving himself in a favorite Tucson past time of hunting down dirt roads for secret training. One of the goodies we got to throw on Phil’s bike is the new KCNC steer tube expander plug. Of course we’ll be leaking more information about Phil’s bike while we’ll more than likely take pleasure in giving it a second tweak before some of his bigger races. For now enjoy the images of a burly training setup.