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Saturday, 22 July, 2000, 16:48 GMT 17:48 UK
Zabel: The green man
Zabel wins in 1997
Zabel's last win before Saturday was back in 1997
Erik Zabel is cycling's Mr Consistency, and the German who has set a new Tour de France record by taking his fifth green jersey is set for further glory this year.

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 five years in a row singles out 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, finished ....
During his reign he has stood on the Paris podium alongside four different yellow jersey winners, with Lance Armstrong the only overall winner to retain his prize during this era.

The German turned 30 during this year's Tour and was finally able to celebrate with a stage win into Troyes on the final weekend, his first in the race since 1997.

Taking the record of four-time green jersey winner Sean Kelly is a great achievement, particularly if Zabel also confirms his status as the best one-day rider of the year later this season.

Zabel in 1995
A first stage win for the young sprinter in 1995
The World Cup jersey is cycling's equivalent of the Formula One championship race, and is awarded to the best man in the 10 leading one-day events around Europe.

Ireland's Kelly - cycling's Mr Consistency during the 1980s - was the first winner of the prize in 1989.

Midway through this season Zabel's lead is so dominant that he is set to emulate the Irishman's double as well as take his Tour record.

Such a feat would have been unthinkable for the young sprinter who failed to finish his first Tour in 1994.

  Zabel's career
1993: Turned professional, one win
1994: Eight wins including four in Tour de l┐Avenir
1995: Eight more wins including two in Tour de France
1996: Ten wins including two in Tour
1997: 19 wins, including Milan-San Remo and three Tour stages
1998: 15 wins, including Milan-San Remo
1999: 10 wins including Grand Prix of Frankfurt
2000: 15 wins before Tour including Milan-San Remo and Amstel Gold
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.

Meanwhile Zabel has proved that he can also cope with the wind, the hills and the cobbled roads of the one-day scene, and he has been wonderfully consistent this season.

Sean Kelly during the 1990 Tour
Sean Kelly: Zabel has now broken his record
After a third win in four years at the season's opening race Milan-San Remo, Zabel took third, fourth, 39th and first again in the next five races in northern Europe.

It raised suspicions that a fifth Tour green jersey was not as important to a man who has discovered his one-day legs.

But Zabel has proved the critics wrong and looks set to emulate Kelly's double with some ease.

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

Zabel and son
Paris podium: Only change is the height of his son each year
In his Tour career 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, and before the Troyes win, depressing too.

The German came close to winning three jerseys without a stage win, just as Kelly did after 1982.

The reason is clear enough: Better climbing and solo riding means that Zabel's speed is now not quite what it once was.

Riders like Mario Cipollini and Tom Steels have proved faster to the line but have never challenged over the three weeks.

Zabel puts on green in 2000
Suits you sir: The Tour organisers know Erik's size by now
The points runner-up in 1998 and 1999 was Australia's Stuart O'Grady and when he crashed out in the first week of this year's Tour, it made the German's life a lot easier this year.

But perhaps he deserved a more straightforward July after his hard work during the spring, which began with a victory in Australia last January.

And Zabel may be thankful for the easier ride if he is wearing the World Cup crown - and maybe an Olympic medal - after the Tour of Lombardy in October.

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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