Team Milram and sponsor Nordmilch AG have decided to allow Erik Zabel to continue riding for the team, at least through this season, following his confession last week to having used EPO in 1996. "This offence was singular in his whole career," the team noted.
In fact, Zabel will start Wednesday for the team in the Bayern Rundfahrt.
In a statement released Tuesday evening, Zabel said, "I have confessed the only mistake of my past. The team management and the sponsor Milram decided positively about my future. I am very thankful for that. Further decisions by important boards (for example, the German federation) will follow. I will also accept these."
Team and sponsor representatives met with Zabel over the weekend for "an extensive and clarifying conversation," according to the team's press release. "As a result of this conversation, it was decided that Erik Zabel is allowed to fulfil his contract, subject to a definite legal examination, at least for the current year. Whether Zabel will fulfil his three years' contract with Team Milram completely until the end of 2008, will be decided at the end of the year."
The team noted that it based its decision "on a detailed examination of the individual cases and the respect for the extraordinary successful athletic career, but also on the reaction of official organizations, race organizers and especially of the public."
Gerry van Gerwen, the team's commercial manager, noted that they had contacted the UCI, IPCT and ASO. "All three supported us in the decision that Erik Zabel be allowed to continue riding for Team Milram. Zabel's openness is to be a role model for the peloton. Everybody who loves professional cycling wants clean performances."
Sponsor Nordmilch first gave the German sprinter a good scolding. "We talked to Erik Zabel very insistently and made it clear to him that we disapprove of his doping offence and the long time of his silence," said Martin Mischel, Director of Sales and Marketing.
He added that Zabel should still expect to face the consequences for his actions. "The incident will lead to sanctions for Erik Zabel, which we will communicate to him within the next weeks."
Zabel himself said, "I am thankful that the persons responsible appreciate my openness and that they have decided that I am allowed to continue riding for Team Milram. Since last year we established a huge passion for clean cycling with our young riders at Team Milram. I'm looking forward to being allowed to be a part of this team in the future."