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Sunday, 29 July, 2001, 18:05 GMT 19:05 UK
Zabel: The green man
Erik Zabel and son
Erik Zabel and son celebrate a sixth green jersey
Erik Zabel has proved himself to be cycling's Mr Consistency by winning his sixth consecutive green jersey.

The Tour de France's maillot vert - awarded to the most consistent finisher in all 21 stages - is one of cycling's most coveted prizes.

Winning it six years in a row confirms Germany's Erik Zabel as the most consistent Tour rider in a decade.

He is also one of cycling's nice guys, and his wins have made a perfect family album since each year he takes his son onto the Paris podium in his own green jersey.

  Tour record
1994 did not finish
1995 Two stage victories, finished 90th
1996 Green jersey, two stage wins, finished 82nd
1997 Green jersey, three stage wins, finished 66th
1998 Green jersey, finished 62nd
1999 Green jersey, finished 89th
2000 Green jersey, one stage victory, finished 61st
2001 Green jersey, one stage victory, finished 96th

During his reign he has stood on that podium alongside four different yellow jersey winners, with Lance Armstrong the only overall winner to retain his prize during this era.

And while Armstrong was heading for a third successive Tour victory with a leisurely ride into Paris, Zabel was involved in a titanic struggle with Australian Stuart O'Grady for the green jersey.

Not since 1984, when the Belgian Frank Hoste beat Irishman Sean Kelly by just four points, had there been such a close finish to the points race.

Zabel closed the gap to just two points by winning the penultimate stage and then edged past the Australian in a furious sprint to the line in Paris.

A sixth green jersey increases the 31-year-old's record tally achieved last year when he went past four-time green jersey winner Sean Kelly.

Erik Zabel and Lance Armstrong
Zabel is congratulated by Armstrong
Zabel is also the holder of the World Cup jersey - cycling's equivalent of the Formula One championship.

It is awarded to the best man in the 10 leading one-day events around Europe and Kelly - cycling's Mr Consistency during the 1980s - was the first winner of the prize in 1989.

Such versatility would have been unthinkable for the young Zabel who failed to finish his first Tour in 1994.

He took two stages a year later, a couple more along with the green jersey in 1996 and three plus the famous garment one further year on.

But when he started his run in green Zabel was a pure sprinter rather than a one-day classic rider.

The two disciplines are different. A Tour sprinter knows that the whole bunch is likely to stay together during most of the flat stages.

Erik Zabel
Erik Zabel wins the penultimate stage
Meanwhile Zabel has proved that he can also cope with the wind, the hills and the cobbled roads of the one-day scene.

Such an all-round improvement, however, came at a cost.

Kelly won five stages between 1978 and 1982 but he took no more in a Tour career which stretched into the 1990s.

Comparisons with the Irishman were all too obvious for Zabel, who came close to winning three jerseys without a stage win after 1997, just as Kelly did after 1982.

So it is little wonder the Zabel was so overjoyed to win the penultimate stage of last year's Tour to end his three-year drought.

Repeating the trick this year and claiming yet another green jersey merely confirmed his position as a Tour legend.

See also:

28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
30 Jun 00 | Tour de France
28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
22 Jul 00 | Tour de France
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