In an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel, the six-times winner of the Green jersey at the Tour de France, Erik Zabel, has been talking about the reasons behind his recent lack of victories. The T-Mobile sprinter, called by many "Mr Consistency" blamed both himself and his rivals for the fact that his last stage or race victory was on May 22, 2004 at the Bayern-Rundfahrt - 10 months ago.
"Has my capacity been declining? Or is a rider like Alessandro Petacchi just been getting so much better?" he asked himself. "It's probably a mixture of both. My rivals have certainly been getting better, but that's just one side of the story. The other is: I am still capable of pushing 1400 to 1500 Watts in a sprint - so I still possess the same strength at 34 years of age than at 25 or 26. But I don't have the same explosiveness anymore."
Zabel finished in 14th place last Saturday at Milano-Sanremo, a race he has won four times. Last year, he missed the victory by a hair, when Oscar Freire came up from behind as Zabel was raising his arms at the finish line. "This story has been getting much more media coverage than the whole of my four victories there," he said. "It went so far that some mathematicians calculated whether I would have won had I not raised my arms...I would have," he recalled. "This episode is a part of my life as a racer. But it will probably never leave me."
Nor will the discussions about his participation at the Tour de France this year. Tour runner-up Andreas Klöden has been saying that only a team composed of one leader and eight helpers could be victorious at the overall classification at the Grande Boucle. Asked if he thought Klöden was right, Zabel diplomatically countered, "I'd put it this way: Only the individually strongest rider wins the Tour de France." T-Mobile insiders have also been talking about the time-trialling skills of 'Ete' Zabel, saying that his performances were slowing down the team in one of the important events towards Tour de France victory: the team time trial.
"I don't think it's funny when I get the blame for the team's loss of 15 seconds at the team time trial," he continued. "I am not the best time triallist, but go beyond my pain threshold on that day, to be able to look into the eyes of my teammates in the evening." Zabel is currently listed in the provisional team selection for the Tour de France, which includes 15 riders. His participation in the race will probably not be known until only a few weeks before the event, when the team management decides on it.
Also see: Cyclingnews' interview with Erik Zabel at the team presentation of T-Mobile, in Bonn, Germany in January.