By Susan Westemeyer
David López García of Caisse d'Epargne and Gerrit Glomser of Team Volksbank broke away with seven kilometres to go in Thursday's Tour de Suisse stage and were joined by an unexpected fellow racer -- a horse that escaped from its stable and ran onto the road. Fortunately, it decided to ride in the wind and lead the duo, rather than follow it. The two cyclists kept a respectful distance from the unpredictable four-legger, who tired of the excitement after 300 metres and obediently followed a policeman's frantic waves to leave the course.
The whole episode brought back memories of another horse on a race course -- the 2000 Gent-Wevelgem. Telekom's Erik Zabel was in a following group some 25 km before the finish line, only 40 seconds behind an escape group of eight riders when suddenly he found himself in a ditch. A black pony had run out of its field and onto the road, seemingly with the specific goal of tackling Zabel. The horse rammed him from the side, sending him flying out of the saddle. Teammate Steffen Wesemann was able to brake at the last second and avoid a further collision.
"Erik was angry and cursing like a sailor, that's how I knew he wasn't seriously injured," said team manager Walter Godefroot at the time. Zabel climbed out of the ditch with a bruised thigh and a scraped elbow, but being the old pro he is, climbed back on his bike and finished the race.
"My first thought was to jump on the horse's back," he joked later. "But then he turned his back and rammed his behind into my bike."
That horse's name, by the way, was "Tin-Tin", which is, of course, also the nickname of Davide Rebellin. However, the Italian apparently did not ride Gent-Wevelgem that year, and so could be cleared of any suspicion.