Since turning professional in 2014 with BMC, Rick Zabel has strived to forge his own way in the sport without trading on his father's success. Slowly but surely, Zabel has been making his way in the sport and since moving to the Katusha-Alpecin team at the end of last year has carved out a role a key leadout man and rider for the Classics.
With the acquisition of Alpecin as a major sponsor from 2017, the Katusha squad has been building a strong German contingent that continues next year with the arrival of Marcel Kittel. For 23-year-old Zabel, the German influence at Katusha-Alpecin makes his job easier in the leadouts with all the riders speaking the same language.
For the first time in his career, Zabel rode the Canadian one-day WorldTour races, the GP de Montréal and GP de Québec, where Cyclingnews caught up the young German for his take on the season and how to beat Kittel in a hair competition.
Cyclingnews: How was the overall experience in Canada?
RZ: It was my first time here, and I really liked it. Especially the Quebec race, I finished in the first group, totally broken in the last kilometre but at least I was there, with the best guys and I think in the future I can come back and do a good result. Montreal is a little bit too hard for me I think, but looking forward to the world championships it's good preparation. Even if it's too hard, it is still very good training.
CN: What are your thoughts on Grand Tours and stage races versus the one-day race program (Hamburg, Plouay, Canada) to start to close out the season?
RZ: I was asked by the team if I wanted to do Canada or the Tour of Britain, but I had many race days already this year, 70 before coming to Canada, so I told the team after a few years already of doing Britain, it wasn't what I wanted to do, I preferred to come here to Canada. I like the one-day races. My last stage race was the BinckBank Tour, and after that, every weekend was a one-day race. So yes, I think you just prepare a little bit different than a stage race. You just have to be ready on that particular day, and I like the rhythm: Every Sunday I had a race and then between training, a big training day every Thursday. A little bit different than stage racing. I did a lot of stage races in the Spring and Summer, and I like to finish on the one-day races definitely.
CN: Looking forward to next year: what are your thoughts going forward? On Marcel Kittel joining the team?
RZ: I'm not sure when I'll start my season yet, probably not in Australia! I like the races there, and I like the country but for me, in my opinion, I would like to do as I did this season, starting in February and then lead up through the Classics, Paris-Nice or Tirreno Adriatico.
Of course, I would like to do the Tour de France again. I think now with Kittel coming, it's a very big boost to the team. We have a guy everyone believes in, he can win a lot of races in the year, and especially for me as a lead out guy, it gives me a lot of confidence to have a guy like Kittel behind you, in the last 300-200 metres and he will win if he is in normal shape. For sure, that's a really nice feeling for us, as the sprint train is now all speaking German, Nils Politt, Marco Haller, me. There are a lot of guys, it's a nice thing.
I know Kittel from the Sports Academy in Erfurt Germany, and we raced in the juniors together. Since I turned professional he has always been a friendly guy, and always has both feet on the ground, he's a super nice guy. Also, I think for me, I prefer harder sprints and one-day races, which was hard with Alexander Kristoff because he is a sprinter and a one-day racer. Now with Kittel, not just me but for the rest of the team, on the flat stages, flat one-day races we have a real captain, one that can win, but other races that are too hilly or hard, it opens good chances for others to step up, and I think that's a good combination for a lot of the young riders we have.
CN: And how do you feel about having some hot competition from Kittel for best hair on the team?
RZ: I'm not going just to wash it away. I have to think about this in winter, and maybe I'll come back next year with something really crazy. Or maybe in training camp, I'll be rooming with him, and will give him a haircut in his sleep.
CN: It's okay because the Alpecin will help it grow back?
RZ: Exactly. Whatever I've got to do to keep the best hair.