By Susan Westemeyer
"Cycling won't survive another year like this one," says German Erik Zabel. "Cycling doesn't have the best reputation at the moment. All the sponsors who now support teams will have to thoroughly think about whether they want to continue to use the sport as a platform. If the Festina scandal in 1998 was a warning shot, then 2006 was practically the opening of the war," he continued in an interview with www.spiegel.de.
The Milram sprinter calls the current situation of the riders who were suspended because of Operación Puerto "difficult", and adds "I love the sport, I absolutely want to ride my bike. If someone suspended me and prohibited me from riding my bike, I would do everything I could to prove my innocence."
The four-time winner of Milano-Sanremo notes that his two best friends, Rolf Aldag and Jan Schaffrath, have both just returned to T-Mobile in management positions. Wouldn't he be interested in joining them and working with the young riders there? "It would be interesting," he says. "But contracts have to be honoured, even in cycling with all its negative aspects." He adds that he feels "bound to Milram. They haven't invested only money in me, but also trust. There were enough people who said Zabel is too old, what do you want with him? It wouldn't be fair to make a quick decision."
Zabel says he notices that he is now the leading German cyclist in the absence of Jan Ullrich. "I notice that I have received a load of responsibility. I gladly give a piece of that to Jens Voigt. But the two of us already play a special role, even when classy young riders like Fabian Wegmann, Stefan Schumacher and Gerald Ciolek are coming along. But they must carry even more responsibility!"