After a difficult spring plagued by injuries which culminated their star sprinter, Erik Zabel, confessing to EPO use in the 1996 Tour, the Milram team has something to smile about - back to back wins in the Giro d'Italia and Bayern Rundfahrt. Both wins came from bunch sprints, although Alessandro Petacchi's Giro stage 18 win was gained in more dangerous circumstances than Erik Zabel's win in stage two of Bayern Rundfahrt.
After being charged with the task of bringing back a break of seven, the diminished Milram had their work cut out for them. Milram lead-out man Christian Knees described the finale on the team's website, www.team-milram.com. "We were all at the front from the beginning and tried to make sure that no dangerous big group escaped...
Finally, only seven riders escaped, we could be quite satisfied with that. Martin, Cortinovis and me were to catch up with the group again. We got help from Liquigas, who wanted to defend Di Luca's overall lead, from Credit Agricole, who also has two good sprinters, and from Saunier Duval, who are leading the team classification.
"Some time before the finish the distance was at 2:30 minutes, so we had to give everything on the last 50 kilometres. Actually, we controlled the group, and I rode in front until five kilometres to go... Right before the finish there was a crash of two riders, but fortunately we got around it."
Petacchi described the sprint as the longest of the Giro d'Italia. "It was a very long and a very hard sprint. First I was jammed, but I freed myself. I was able to move up but it was hard. Another crash. I did not understand," said Petacchi. "Many thanks to my team mates again. They worked hard the whole day for me. This victory is very important for our team. It was a bloody long sprint," the 33 year-old continued.
In the Bavarian town of Eichstätt, Erik Zabel handed his team a somewhat unexpected win in stage two of the Bayern Rundfahrt, crossing the line just ahead of his younger team-mate Sebastian Siedler and Paris-Roubaix champion Stuart O'Grady. The win in Germany also Zabel in to the overall lead of the race.
After an emotional week following his admitted use of banned performance enhancing drugs in the '90's, Zabel admitted that he did not think "that I would ever win again."
"I am aware that my confession has elicited varied reactions, and that people are not per se happy seeing me on the bicycle. But my team and the public have accepted me well."
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