Rick Zabel aiming high in 2015

After whetting his appetite for top-level racing during his first season as a professional cyclist, Rick Zabel (BMC Racing) is targeting bigger and better things in year two. The young German will start his season riding in support of Philippe Gilbert at the Dubai Tour next week. However, he has his eyes set on riding the monuments and his first Grand Tour and the World Championships in 2015.

“This year, I would like to do the bigger classics like the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Another big thing for me would be if I could do my first Grand Tour,” Zabel told Cyclingnews. “For sure I will not do the Tour de France, I think that this is quite clear. There’s still the Giro and the Vuelta left. The Giro and the Vuelta are both hard but I don’t care too much about the parcours, I just want to go there to do my best and to finish a Grand Tour if it is possible.”

Zabel turned professional with BMC Racing last season, after a hugely promising 2013 that saw him win the junior Tour of Flanders and a stage of the Tour de Normandie. His performance at the Tour Down Under proved to be a solid debut with eighth in the youth classification. That carried through to Dubai and his favoured terrain of the Belgian cobbles, where he had a quick schooling in how to run with the big boys.

“I had to suffer a lot. For sure, to ride with the pros is really hard but I think it was also a good experience and I hope that next time I can do better and step by step become a better classics rider,” Zabel said. “If I can become a good classics rider, I don’t know. It’s a dream for me to get big results at races like Flanders or Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix.

“In our team we have a lot of experience… If you’re riding with such big riders in the team you look at what they are doing and I also have to say that they gave me a lot of advice. They were really friendly always and gave me good advice so it is of course special. If you get good advice from such a big rider you listen and you try to follow it.”

Conquering the Worlds

Living up to the Zabel name will always be a challenging one for the 21-year-old but after a strong debut season he is confident that there is more to come in the coming years. “I get the feeling that I can race with the big guys,” he explained.

“If I’m still there in the main group after 200 kilometres then I will only get stronger and get more experience for the future years. I just want to make a step up and get better. Last year, I had some top 10 placings and it was a good experience to win the team time trial in the Giro. But also to get my own results and get better than the top 10 results and to get on the podium.”

Zabel’s final big target of the season is making his debut in the elite category at the World Championships in Richmond. Zabel has ridden the event three times, twice as an under23 and once as a junior, where he finished fifth behind the Frenchman Pierre-Henry Lecuisinier. The classics-style course in Richmond with two cobbled climbs should favour the talents of the youngster. In recent years the German team has been one of the toughest to gain entry into the World Championships but Zabel hopes that the favourable parcours will play into his hands.

“In Richmond the course suits me quite well. For me I have it in my hands to be at the World Championships,” said Zabel. “Last year, I was at the Tour of Britain two weeks before the start of the World Championships and I was in great shape. I think I could have helped him (John Degenkolb) if I had been on the start, but maybe I was too young. This year it would be great after my second season to do the World Championships.”

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Born in Ireland to a cycling family and later moved to the Isle of Man, so there was no surprise when I got into the sport. Studied sports journalism at university before going on to do a Masters in sports broadcast. After university I spent three months interning at Eurosport, where I covered the Tour de France. In 2012 I started at Procycling Magazine, before becoming the deputy editor of Procycling Week. I then joined Cyclingnews, in December 2013.