American has stage wins in three biggest races
NOIRMOUTIER, France -- David Zabriskie added his name to the long list of Lance Armstrong's potential successors when he beat his former boss to win the 19-km first stage of the Tour de France on Saturday.
Time trial specialist Zabriskie, 26, has now taken part in each of the three big cycling Tours and won a stage in each.
Last year, after leaving Armstrong's U.S. Postal team, he made his first impression by winning a stage in the Spanish Vuelta after a 100 km breakaway.
Last month, he won the major time trial in the Giro d'Italia in Firenze.
Now, in his first Tour de France, the rider from Salt Lake City is wearing the most sought after trophy in the sport, the leader's yellow jersey that made Armstrong a cycling great.
"It's an amazing accomplishment for me. I never ever thought this would happen. The feeling is amazing, unbelievable," he said.
Given the profile of the stages in the week ahead, Zabriskie, who joined Danish team CSC last year on the recommendation of compatriot Bobby Julich, could easily hold on to the yellow jersey for a long time.
Already a talented time trial specialist, he is convinced he can broaden his range and do well in other cycling specialties.
"I think I have other possibilities. Obviously, I'm doing very well in time trials. But it's possible to win different styles of races for me," he said.
As for the prospect of seizing the baton from Armstrong, Zabriskie remains very cautious.
"No, I don't feel expectations at all. I'm just Dave Zabriskie, I do what I do and that's all I can do," he said.
The fairly shy American, who said he spent four "developmental years" in Armstrong's U.S. Postal team, watched in nail-biting anticipation as his former leader took off for another impressive performance.
"It was very possible he could have beaten me. It was very stressful for me to watch that on TV. I'm happy it worked out."
Discovered and trained, like most American riders, by Chris Carmichael, Zabriskie joined the American national team at 17 before turning professional in 2000, winning the under-21 Grand Prix des Nations on the day Armstrong claimed the pro event.
Zabriskie still has screws in one of his knees from a crash in 2003 when he was hit by a sport utility vehicle in his hometown of Salt Lake City, breaking his leg and wrist.
''We just witnessed the birth of a real champion for the time trial event,'' said his teammate and fellow American Bobby Julich, who placed 11th. ''He just creamed everybody.''
For Zabriskie, who lives with best friend Floyd Landis in Gerona, Spain, the learning phase has now ended.
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