After 13 seasons and 191 victories in the same colours, Erik Zabel has decided to leave T-Mobile, citing an inability to reach an agreement with the team where he began his career back in 1993.
Up until recently, the 35 year-old sprinter was expected to retire from cycling and pursue a career as a directeur-sportif on T-Mobile, a concept that the team publicly embraced. But in the past few months, a future vocation with the Bonn-based team appeared less likely, rumours that were no doubt circumvented following his exclusion from the 2005 Tour de France line-up. However, Zabel denies the latter event had anything to do with his decision, nor alludes to where his future may lie.
"It [the exclusion] was difficult for me, but I was eventually able to put that behind me," said Zabel in a team statement. "Both sides had their ideas, but we could not agree."
"I regret the exit of the negotiations," said team manager and former team-mate Olaf Ludwig. "Erik was also the subject of other offers, which offered a new sporting challenge."
Continued Zabel: "Nothing is unusual in the professional world [of cycling]. I leave with many beautiful memories and as a friend [of the team]. Olaf is the right man to smoothly oversee the transition within the team; in Michael Rogers and Patrik Sinekwitz, the team has signed up two young riders with enormous potential and will ensure a successful future for the T-Mobile brand."
T-Mobile's managing director of marketing in Germany, Martin Knauer, said "we would like to have committed ourselves further to Erik Zabel", thanking him for representing the company so well over the years and wished him success for the future. Meanwhile, Zabel will ride out the rest of the season in the magenta colours he has become so familiar with, and will disclose his future whereabouts at a later date.