German sprinter and fourth time Milan-San Remo winner Eric Zabel (T-Mobile) will never forget the darkest day of his career. Last year, he lost Milan-San Remo to Oscar Freire by making the mistake of raising his arms in a victory salute too early.
"Last year, I was that focused on Petacchi that I lost sight on all others," Zabel explained to VUM reporter Paul De Keyser in Milan (also see: Cyclingnews interview with Erik Zabel). "It was presumed that Alessandro was unbeatable. When I did so, I forgot all the rest. And on top of that, I had the earphone in on the side that Freire came past, that's why I didn't hear him, didn't feel him coming. And that while Oscar is one of the best finishers in the peloton."
Zabel is a little behind in his condition after doing a 'Jalabert' late last year. "I wasn't able to work on my power enough this winter, because I broke my heel after falling off a small ladder last autumn. I really feel I'm lacking that power now.
"I'm rating Petacchi and Freire to be very strong, I give them five stars. Boonen and Valverde get four. All the others, they need luck, including myself. If the sprinters' teams drag the whole peloton over the Poggio, then I'll be with them. But if guys like Dekker and co. attack at the foot of the climb, then it's going to be hard for everybody. But then, who's going to beat Petacchi? Zabel? He has to be a bit better! I will be better too, because I can't get worse than I am now!"