(image credit: Cycling Shots)
Phil Zajicek, born in Eugene, Oregon on this day in 1979, had already claimed a National Criterium title and an Arizona State Road Cycling Championship when he turned professional with Mercury-Viatel in 2001 - results that suggested he might have the makings of a great rider, and he continued adding impressive results during his first years.
In 2004, now riding with the Navigators Insurance Team, he failed an anti-doping test after winning the Tour of Qinghai Lake. The test revealed traces of d-norpseudoephedrine, a psychoactive stimulant, for which his victory was disallowed and he was fined 666 Swiss francs - however, he maintained that he had not knowingly doped and suggested that the drug had metabolised in his body from chemicals contained in an over-the-counter cold remedy he had used either during or shortly before the race and, since it is known that certain legal dietary supplements can metabolise into d-norpseudoephedrine, the United States Anti-Doping Agency felt that the argument was feasible and did not suspend him from competition, later changing its rules regarding the presence of the drug in samples in an effort to prevent athletes being unfairly banned in the future.
During his first year riding for Fly V Australia at the 2009 Tour of Gila, Zajicek sensationally beat both Levi Leipheimer and Lance Armstrong to the finish line of Stage 5 - a route that has earned the name Gila Monster and which is said to be the most difficult road race stage in North America. The two superstar riders were at the event to prepare for the Tour de France later that year, which Armstrong would finish in third place, and on paper appeared to be far beyond Zacijek's level. Yet he matched them all the way through five hours of hard, aggressive racing, surviving repeated attempts to drop him and even attacking in response. Finally, he powered past them on a tough uphill sprint to the finish line - apparently one of the most impressive instances of giant-slaying in recent years.
Unfortunately, we'll never know if it truly was an impressive victory. In 2011, Zajicek signed up to the Pegasus Professional Cycling Team Project with what were rumoured to be lucrative terms. However, the team failed to be granted a UCI ProTour licence and folded shortly afterwards when it turned out that its finances were not quite as solid as had at first appeared and the rider was left without a team. Later in the year, he found himself accused of purchasing EPO and did not contest the charge, also pleading no contest to an accusation that he had tried to encourage witnesses to provide false testimony and provided false testimony himself to the American Arbitration Assocation during a civil dispute. The court found against him and he received a $5,000 fine and a lifetime suspension. Whether he was using EPO when he beat Armstrong is unknown - though of course, following the revelations concerning Armstrong's own doping history (which led to him being stripped of all of his seven Tour de France victories), there will be those who will say it doesn't matter.
(image credit: Euskal Bizikleta CC BY-SA 2.0)
Other cyclists born on this day: Luvsandagvyn Jargalsaikhan (Mongolia, 1959); Václav Tintěra (Bohemia, 1893); Johari Ramli (Malaysia, 1949); Manuel García (Guam, 1964); Jan Hijzelendoorn (Netherlands, 1929, died 2008); Henri Fin (France, 1950).