Winning an Olympic medal in cycling takes endurance, strength, determination and, of course, an ultralightweight full carbon-fiber bicycle that retails for about $8,000.
While many competitors seek out European-made bikes, Olympic contender David Zabriskie's bicycle was built and fine-tuned at Contender Bicycles, a shop in the 9th and 9th neighborhood of Salt Lake City.
Zabriskie, who was born in and currently lives in Salt Lake City, graduated from Olympus High. As the Olympic Games begin today in Beijing, Zabriskie is making his first Olympic appearance and is considered a medal hopeful for the United States, along with teammate and Montana native Levi Leipheimer.
While in Beijing, Zabriskie is scheduled to compete in a 148.5-mile (239 km) road race and a 30.2-mile (48.6 km) time trial, which is considered his specialty. An individual time trial is a road bicycle race in which cyclists race alone against the clock. Starting times are set at equal intervals, usually one or two minutes apart, with the rider clocking the fastest time declared the winner.
Ryan Littlefield, who co-owns Contender Bicycles with his wife, Alison, met Zabriskie in 1993 while on a club ride in Salt Lake City. The Littlefields over the years have become close friends, as well as business associates, of Zabriskie.
"We take a lot of pride in what he's accomplished," Alison Littlefield said. "We've seen a lot of the ups and downs he's gone through with injuries, and if he is able to get a medal, which we think he is capable of doing, then we're going to be really excited about it."
At his store, Ryan Littlefield displayed a bicycle similar to the one he helped build for Zabriskie for the time trial. The Olympic competitor's bike was modified for a custom fit and tuned to the exact standards set forth by the International Cycling Union, Littlefield said.
Since time trials are usually run on flat courses, more emphasis is placed on aerodynamics than weight and handling, Littlefield said. Reducing aerodynamic drag of the bicycle and rider is critical in time-trial races.
One main difference between a time-trial bicycle and a road bicycle is the use of aerobars that curve forward but don't curve downward like the typical handlebars on a road bike. This style of handlebar enables a low-tuck position that is aerodynamic and provides stability, he said.
The aerobar became popular in 1989 when American Greg Lemond made up 50 seconds in the final stage to win the Tour de France.
Alison Littlefield said Zabriskie is scheduled to compete in the time trial next Wednesday. He has fared well in previous competitions. In 2005, Zabriskie won a time trial in the Tour de France that was the fastest time trial ever ridden, with the fastest average speed, she said.
At the Olympic Games, Zabriskie also is slated to participate in the road-race team event on Saturday.
"Even though there is a team, only one rider wins the medal," Ryan Littlefield noted. He said the other riders compete in support of the designated lead rider, and some nations offer hefty cash incentives to the team for winning a medal.
The bicycles used in the road race are "totally different" from those used in time trials, Alison Littlefield said. She and her husband have worked on Zabriskie's road bikes for previous races, but not on the one he plans to ride in Beijing.As for Zabriskie's mental approach to his Olympic opportunity, Ryan Littlefield said the recent birth of Zabriskie's son Waylon has given the cyclist some added inspiration to do his best in China.