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Back 5.20.2017

Zabel on Zabel

Photo by Wil Matthews

Young KATUSHA Alpecin talent son of legendary German sprinter.

Cycling fans are being introduced to a new Zabel. German Erik Zabel is one of cycling’s most famous sprinters. Now his son, Rick Zabel, is a promising young talent racing for Team KATUSHA Alpecin.

The father and son have been together this week at the Amgen Tour of California. Erik, who works for Canyon Bicycles, is regularly seen giving Rick a few words of encouragement and a hug around the team truck before stages. Rick, just 23, showed his potential with an impressive second place in Stage 3 into Morro Bay. Here in California, he’s a key lead out man for KATUSHA Alpecin star Alexander Kristoff. Rick, whose victories include the 2013 U23 Tour of Flanders, also is seen as a developing Classics rider.

We caught up with Erik outside the KATUSHA Alpecin team RV this week to talk with him about his son:

What was your reaction to Rick’s second place behind Peter Sagan in Stage 3?

I was following the race on television at the finish line. I saw a great effort from the KATUSHA Alpecin team in general, and then I saw a really good job from ‘my junior.’ A 30-second sprint-lead out was a great, great performance.

What type of rider do you see your son developing into? He has a good sprint but also ability in the Classics.

He’s able to do the Classics especially after this spring there is plenty of room to develop. Those kind of races. He has good coaches, sports directors and teachers at the team and, honestly, he learned a lot as well at his former team. But now he’s in a really nice group with young riders and experienced riders and Classics winners like Alexander Kristoff. It’s the best way to learn how to do this job.

Growing up did Rick have an early interest in cycling? 

Honestly, he has a big passion as a small kid for soccer. He played soccer for some years. Then he did in our hometown a kids’ race. From that moment on, he fell in love with cycling. It was not that mom or dad pushed him. It was that he starts (wanting) to become a cyclist. Right from the beginning, he was doing it on his own.

What do you think is the biggest way he is different from you as a rider? 

I would say he much more nicer than me. He’s still young, 23, I would say he is in terms of his strength he’s a much better time trialist than I was. He’s able to do the Classics he can do the medium hard races. Slowly it turns out that he can as well do a good sprint (laughs).

When you get a chance to ride together, do you ever sprint against each other?

No! No! I would say the last time that we sprinted against each other must be 10 years ago. I ride for fun now. What I do you can’t compare with real professional training. I just take my bike and go out and have fun, so I don’t need to hurt myself anymore. For Rick, every single day he’s doing so much intervals and efforts in the training, so it’s nearly impossible to ride together because it’s like a punishment for me then! That’s why we go together not that often. For example, when Rick has a rest day and he’s going out two days easy just rolling, then I like to join him. 

How has field sprinting changed since you were racing? 

I would say the biggest difference is not that you have now more sprinters or more classy sprinters. I would say in my time we had as well many good rivals. But nowadays you have many more trains. So the teams support their sprinters much better. For example, in my time Cipollini was the big man. He had his famous Saeco team. They’re leading out Cipollini, and all the other teams were focused on the Cipollini train and tried to stay behind them and take the best wheel. Nowadays, you at the Tour of California or the Tour de France there’s the big wide open roads you have three, four, fives trains riding next to each other protecting the sprinter. 

We thank Erik for his time and wish Rick all the best with his career. Follow @ZabelRick on Twitter.