Erik Zabel wouldn't want to trade places with Jan Ullrich, he said in an interview with German Zeit newspaper. "Sure it's nice to earn a six-figure salary instead of a five-figure salary," Zabel said, "but I wouldn't want to pay the price for it: If you drink one beer too many or have an accident, then there are too many people happy to see your problems."
The world-class sprinter reflected on Ullrich's great achievements, saying that the Tour de France winner could not match the public's expectancies after his 1997 victory. "There are those who can be as bad as they want to be, and they are still considered to be a success, and there are the others who finish second or third, or even first - and are still seen to be bad," Zabel said.
The winner of six Tour de France green jerseys said that he tried to work out his frustration at being left off T-Mobile's Tour de France team this year by riding his own personal Tour. The first Tour week he participated in the Tour of Austria, the second week he spent on Mallorca training and the third week he was in France, commenting the 'Grande Boucle' for German TV ARD. In France, he also had his bike with him, and rode on the parcours early each morning.
"The riders at the Tour, my colleagues, didn't know about that," Zabel continued. "It's like this: When you're an outsider at the Tour, you have no contact with the participants. It would probably have been better just to have looked at my bike for an hour each day and ignored it the rest of the time," he added with his own particular humour.
At 35 years old, Zabel said, "I don't feel at all old - just like my colleagues, I'm interested in DVDs, I-Pods, ring tones and such things. But when I look at the birth years of the riders and see that someone was born in 1985, I think to myself: 1985? He was still in diapers when I had my first motor scooter!"
Zabel said that he had taken his leave of Jan Ullrich, but didn't give him any advice. "If he would ask me for advice, I would give it to him, privately. But I don't believe he would ask me for it." The most difficult leavetaking for him was with team masseur Dieter "Eule" Rothenberg. "I'll see the riders again now and then, but not him. He was a man who didn't just give me a massage, but who I would also unload on emotionally. It was a tearful scene when we said goodbye. First he started to cry and then of course I did too," Zabel revealed.
Courtesy of Susan Westemeyer