Thursday, January 29, 2009


What can be said? It is the end of an era.

Erik Zabel's last pro bicycle race ended in triumph in Berlin on 27 January 2009. He and Robart Bartko went into the final night of the Berlin Six in the lead and stayed ahead of Bruno Risi and Franco Marvulli, the Swiss powerhouse defending champions. Was it by gentlemen's agreement? Very possibly, but who cares: a class act went out in style in his home town in front of 13 000 Berliners and other fans.

In the days of Eddie Merckx, it was common for stars to race everything, from the Spring Classics to the indoor winter Six Day track races, as they needed the money. Now that Zabel has finished up, no one will be. The last hard man has gone home. I wanted to be there, to see it happen but it was not to be.

For the record, the lovely photo (Velo News) is from this year's Bremen Six, also won by Zabel and Bartko earlier this month. Zabel was no tourist in the sixes, having won a dozen of them over the years. What were his feelings when he took that final lap of honour, I wonder?

Zabel is one of the last of a dying breed, those pro bike racers raised in the old communist East German sports system, selected as kids and primed to maximum ability (amongst others - Jens Voigt, Rolf Aldag, and one Jan Ullrich). People always associate that system with massive, organized doping for the Olympic Games, but that's not the point to me. Each of these racers brought something special to the sport. From being coerced into into it by the state, they went beyond that to become stars on their own with their own love of the sport, long after the GDR was absorbed into the West.

The trackies do this tribute thing for winners where they line up standing on either side of the straightaway, saluting with their bikes propped up on the back wheel as the victors roll past.
A fitting end for Zabel, so respected amongst the pro ranks.

Ete, werden Sie verfehlt.

(Ete, you will be missed.)

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