Phil Zajicek of Health Net presented by Maxxis team is starting the Mt Hood Cycling Classic with winning on his mind. Finally, Zajicek can re-focus completely on racing and training, now that he has a name and more importantly a treatment on the illness he’s been fighting for almost all his career – Crohn’s disease, a chronic Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).
|Photo by Ken Conley|
With his previous team Navigators, Zajicek twice finished second overall in 2007 and 2006 at the Mt Hood Cycling Classic, and now wants to move up to the top step of the podium. Health Net-Maxxis is sending a strong squad to support him including Rory Sutherland, winner of the Joe Martin Stage Race.
“I’ve got Rory working for me, got the best rider in America working for me so how can I lose.” replied Zajicek when asked if he was the leader for Hood.
The last conversation with Zajicek was at the beginning of the Amgen Tour of California, where he was hopeful for a good result with his new team, Health Net-Maxxis squad, and gunning for the individual time trial. But the disease hit on Stage 5 in Solvang where lacking power, Zajicek was unable to finish the time trial within the time cut and was eliminated from the race.
Finally in March, after a battery of tests, a diagnosis was found, Crohn’s disease.
“It’s an inflammatory bowel disease, it affects the digestive system. It hinders absorption, it creates just a lot of gastric distress, there’s a lot of pain and bloating, discomfort associating with eating so I had to deal with that for quite a while. It’s been getting sort of worse over the course of the last few years, last summer is when it got intense.” said the 29-year old Zajicek.
He started treatment immediately, and “started feeling better right away”, and now Zajicek feels “totally normal.” There is no cure for this disease, and Zajicek will be under treatment for the rest of his life but can now manage the symptoms.
“I’m able to train 100%. for awhile I definitely was compromised. I’m training full steam right now.” said Zajicek about returning to form.
Zajicek was all set to return to racing at the Tour de Georgia but had to delay his return while waiting for the Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) from the Union Cycliste International (UCI). Ironically, the TUE came in during the Tour de Georgia, but too late for Zajicek.
“I find out right before I was getting on the plane basically for Georgia, that one of the drugs I was taking had quite a bit of steroids, and I didn’t have a TUE for that yet and that controls inflammation of the bowels, it’s a very effective drug but unfortunately some people abuse it by taking it intra-muscular I guess, I’m just taking pills that break up in the digestive system, no performance benefit to it.” said Zajicek about sitting out the Tour de Georgia.
The hilly and difficult Tour of the Gila was the first race back for Zajicek to test out his legs and treatment. With no pressure, and racing with only one teammate, Zajicek finished 4th in the overall classification.
“It was a bit of a shock that first day, but after I got through that I felt that I was getting stronger each day and really progressing and by the end of the Tour I was feeling really good. It went well, it was a good little test and now we can get the real racing into the legs.” said Zajicek about Gila.
To cap off his preparation, Zajicek raced and won the first stage in the Tour of Colorado, the .14-mile Excel Sports Sunshine Hill Climb up Sunshine Canyon delivering 3226 feet in elevation gain with a maximum grade of 23 percent.
The 2008 Mt Hood Cycling Classic starts on Tuesday May 13 with two new stages, a short prologue followed by a circuit race on the next day, both in Portland, Oregon. Zajicek doesn’t think that the new stages will change the strategy for the overall classification. “It’s going to come down to the time trial and the mountain top finish I think.”
Zajicek identified Bissell’s Ben Jacques-Maynes as his top competitor and the one to watch. “I think Jacques-Maynes is going the best out of everyone at the moment, so he’s definitely the main competition going into Hood.”
“It’s going to come down to the strongest team and I think that we have a very, very strong team, awesome support and it’s going to be a matter of getting rid of the time trialists on the mountain and I feel comfortable that I can do that.” said Zajicek confident about his team.
“I don’t know, it’s tough to say, we’ll find out next week. I feel great, I’m going to Hood to win it.” concluded Zajicek about his form.