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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 June, 2003, 10:12 GMT 11:12 UK
Erik Zabel
ZABEL FACTFILE
Erik Zabel
DOB: 7/7/1970
Nationality: German
Team:
Best Tour: Green jersey, 1996-2001
Erik Zabel proved for the first time in seven years that he is, after all, human.

The winner of the green jersey at the Tour from 1996 to 2001 did the unthinkable and relinquished his crown after being pipped on the final day at the Champs Elysee by Australian Robbie McEwen.

Team Telekom have since bolstered their team in a bid to give their leading sprinter all the help possible for a seventh green jersey.

McEwen's countryman, Stuart O'Grady, argues that Zabel may finally be past it.

But his Teutonic determination means he will do his utmost for at least one more massive push for the sprinters' ultimate prize.

Zabel has been one of the Tour's stars over the last decade and Lance Armstrong's gargantuan efforts often mean that the German's go unnoticed in cycling's most arduous race.

Before Zabel no rider had ever won more than five green jerseys and, even then, Ireland's Sean Kelly did not win them consecutively.

But every year, as sure as the Tour finishes in Paris, Zabel has been there in green, with his son celebrating on his shoulders and occasionally with dyed green hair.

That was not the case last year and, knowing his manner, it will have hurt sufficiently to inspire him to greater success in the future.

It remains to be seen whether father and son will make their annual Parisian walk up the podium steps at the end of July.

The signs had been there that Zabel's domination was slipping when he was pushed to the tightest of margins by O'Grady the previous year.

In 2003, the competition could be its closest ever, with Zabel, O'Grady and McEwen all going for it, not to mention Oscar Freire and Baden Cooke among others.

Mountain stamina

But cycling's Mr Consistency, who turns 33 in the early stages of the Tour, is still among the favourites for this year's green jersey.

Unlike some sprinters, he has the stamina to get over the high mountains, even if improvements in that area have slightly blunted his highest speed.

His Tour de France career started poorly when he abandoned the race on his first attempt in 1994.

But, unlike most sprinters who are happy just to get to Paris, Zabel has a best Tour finish of 61st back in 2000.

Zabel is also one of the nice guys of the circuit, and has his own personal museum at home - of all the bikes he has ridden to victory.





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