Zabel and the Cat at Milan San Remo.

 

Zabel. MSR guru. Photo: Kristof Ramon

 

Erik Zabel, sprint coach, technical advisor, Milan San Remo guru, wandering Classics minstrel.

The masterful German rider won Milan San Remo five times minus a few centimeters, taking him back to four wins and leaving Oscar Freire a happy man. Sangria, not German beer.

Two years ago Zabel was the secret weapon for the young punk sprinter Mark Cavendish at Milan San Remo. Everybody knew the Manxman was the fastest sprinter in the race but at least half the experts claimed he’s never get over the Poggio in the front group. They still remembered the pudgy kid from his earlier days.

However, it was Zabel who put together the HTC-Columbia race plan for La Primavera. Being German, his preparation was meticulous and he schooled Cavendish on each and every part of the course. He scripted the race for the Brit, giving him the benefit of all his experience in the one day Monument.

We all know what happened next and Cavendish is back this year with high ambitions, a rainbow jersey and his new Sky team. Nobody questions his ability to get over the Poggio now.

However, the man from Sky will be missing Zabel this time around. Zabel has sold his wisdom to the highest bidder and that would be Katusha and –ironically enough — Oscar Freire, the man who beat him out of that fifth win.

You have to wonder at this point how much value Zabel brings to Freire, a veteran rider who has ridden Milan San Remo many times and is known to be tactically sharp. What secrets can Zabel really pass on to the Spaniard?

Still, he’ll be a calming force and an awesome second opinion on tactics from his place in the Katusha team car. Oscar is on form and given his age — 36 — he’s an amazing athlete. He jumped from longtime squad Rabobank for one last hurrah at Katusha and he hasn’t skipped a beat. Plus he isn’t sick or injured like half of super-team BMC — at least they have the budget for large doses of antibiotics.

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Canyon bikes has just put out a cool little vid where Zabel rides the Milan San Remo route and gives us his observations — and there are also a few quotes from Freire. The German reminds us that when the riders hit the Poggio they already have 288 kilometers in their legs. In other words, damn tired.

In that sate of exhaustion, Zabel says they’ll tackle 200 meters of elevation gain at around 500 watts. He says that and a smile creases his face — he still remembers the pain and is happy he won’t be on a race bike this weekend.

Zabel gets in only one joke but it’s a good one. He looks at the camera and reminds Oscar not to “celebrate too early.”

Somebody will be celebrating in San Remo on Saturday. Will it be Cavendish or Goss again, a resurgent Fabian Cancellara or Tom Boonen, a clever Philippe Gilbert, the powerful Nibali or Sagan or the aging but dangerous Freire?

Twisted Spoke says it’s up for grabs and we’re going with Sagan, profiting from a brutal attack on the Poggio by teammate Vincenzo Nibali. No cat this time.

 

 

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