Zabel Talks With USCR

-by Mary Ruane

Mary Ruane from US Cycling Report had the opportunity to speak with Erik Zabel at the Berkshire Cycling Classic last weekend in Lenox, Massachusetts. Zabel’s legendary professional career as a rider speaks for itself. He was able to win more than 200 races. He won the Tour de France green points jersey for six consecutive years from 1996-2001. He won Milan-San Remo four times, Paris-Tours three times and he obtained the first position of the UCI World Ranking in 2002.

E Zabel
Erik Zabek

After retiring from racing in 2008, Zabel became a consultant and coach first for HTC-Highroad Pro Cycling Team and currently with Team Katusha.

The Berkshire Cycling Classic is part of the UCI World Cycling Tour (UWCT), a series of UCI-sanctioned Gran Fondo/ Cyclosportif events that are held around the globe. The top 25% in each age group of the qualifiers will automatically have the right to compete in the UWCT Final and race for a coveted UCI rainbow jersey. The Berkshire Cycling Classic will be the only UWCT event in the United States this year.

USCR: What attracted you to take part in this event in Lenox?

Zabel: I got a call from John Eustice, Sparta Cycling and to be honest I had no idea about Berkshire Cycling Classic. When I got some information it sounded really good to me. Now I am here and it’s really exciting.


What Erik had to say about the route:

USCR: Have you seen the area and the route?

Zabel: Yes, we came yesterday and today we had a social ride. We rode 60K in 2 hours. It’s a tough area for cyclist, all the way was up and down but with beautiful landscape.

USCR: Can you compare it to portions of the Tour de France?

Zabel: If you had a TdF stage here, some riders would hate it and some would love it because it’s really hard. It’s difficult to find a rhythm in the race with the ups and downs. It’s fantastic but it is hard for the cyclist. The climbing and going down can make you tired and I am sure I will suffer tomorrow.

What Erik had to say about his work consulting and coaching sprinters:

USCR: Can you tell us about your work with Katusha?

Zabel: I had 3 wonderful years with the Highroad Team.

USCR: How did you like working with Mark Cavendish?

Zabel: Right now with Katusha there is only one super sprinter, Oscar Freire. But we have a lot of young talent with about 4 or 5 sprinters. But it’s like starting from zero. And with the Highroad group it was Cavendish, Renshaw, Goss, Greipel. It was so easy to work with them. With Katusha now it is a little bit harder. Highroad was the kind of group where all the specialist work together. They had the most talented riders and that makes it easy to work.


USCR: Is it more challenging working with Katusha?

Zabel: It’s more challenging, but to be honest it’s better than expected.

What Erik had to say about his pre pro cycling years:

USCR: When you were growing up in East Germany, what was that like becoming an athlete? Were you an athlete at a very young age?

Zabel: I started as a cyclist at 10 years of age. The first 3 or 4 years was just for fun. Twice a week we went with our group for a ride and every other weekend we had a race. When I was 14 it became more serious. Everyday training and a good race program. For me it became more than a passion.

What Erik had to say about retirement:

USCR: What entered into your decision to retire in 2008?

Zabel: I had a good contract with Milram and when I changed teams from T-Mobile to Milram I signed for 3 years and I would say for the last 1½ years I was not on my best any more. I still liked riding the bike and going to the races. I was asked more and more to lead out the sprints for Petacchi. Finally I came to the solution that I am 38 years of age and it’s time to leave the sport.

USCR: There was one year where you placed second in the sprint finishes so many times. I can remember hearing an interview where you were joking about it. How much of a change was that for you?

Zabel: Yes, of course. In my best year I won 31 races. I can’t remember the year but I was 22 times second. It was not just bad luck, it was a sign. My head was good, I was always motivated when I came to race, but sometimes my legs were just not fast enough to beat the fastest. So, I came in second.

USCR: Now that you are retired are there any other sports you would consider participating in?

Zabel: No. I still like to ride my bike, but just for fun. For example, my last season as a pro in 2008 I did the Giro, the Tour, the Vuelta, and finished them all. I did all the classics in the spring except Leige. I did Tirreno-Adriatico. I did the Tour of Switzerland. I did all the Six-Day track races. When I retired in Berlin I could say I had had enough of racing. And I can say I’ve still had enough. It feels like a completely different life. It is no fun for me to put a start number on a jersey and go for a race. When I am coaching the sprinters in a training camp, I like to follow them with my bike. But they are professionals and I am a hobby cyclist.

Erik Zabel will always be much more than a hobby cyclist! US Cycling Report would like to thank him for talking to us and we hope to see him next year at the 2nd annual Berkshire Cycling Classic.

For more information about Berkshire Cycling Classic please visit