A radiating Erik Zabel jumped on the podium in Sunday's Vattenfall Cyclassics in Hamburg, Germany. The Milram sprinter had just finished second behind Rabobank's Oscar Freire in the one-day ProTour classic, but the order of the top three had to be decided on using a photo finish: only centimetres separated the two men and Quickstep's Filippo Pozzato, who finished third.
"Oscar's done this to me already a few times...," he happily said on German television ARD. "But I don't put my hands in the air anymore, never! This morning, at the sign-in, we joked around saying that as McEwen and Boonen weren't here, if it came down to a sprint I would have good chances. But everybody forgot, as usual, Oscar Freire and he proved in the end that you have to take him into account!"
The 35 year-old thought that Freire had won immediately after passing the finish line, but the result was very tight. "We congratulated each other after the line and we all speculated that it was Oscar first, then me, then Pozzato," he continued. "I'm not disappointed at all, even if some people might not believe me. I can live with losing this way against Oscar. He's known to have that enormous speed towards the line."
Zabel was simply very satisfied to be at the same level than his colleagues. "Two years ago, when Stuey O'Grady won, I got seventh, and that drove me really mad," he said. "Because it was a sprint that suited me, and I didn't have the drive to really start sprinting then. This year, I chose to stay on Pozzato's wheel as long as possible, because I thought he'd have some guys left to lead out the sprint for him like Tosatto and Bettini. And I told myself, 'I'll just try; when we pass the 150 metre-mark, I'll go for it come what may.'"
An additional motivation for the German and his team was that the headquarters of their sponsor, dairy producer Milram, is nearby in Northern Germany. "Our main sponsor is located in Bremen, so that's not far away at all," Zabel explained. "Moreover now, everything in cycling is being questioned, so our boys couldn't be held back today. Our directeur sportif Jan Schaffrath told us this morning that this is our world championship... so that's why we all went flat out today."