A cobbled future for Zabel, son of the sprint king

Rick Zabel does not dream of Champ-Elyseés sprints or perfect leadouts, but of rough cobbles, steep bergs, and the hardest one-day races

The long, green-tinted shadow of his father may forever tail him, but Rick Zabel does not dream of Champs-Elyseés sprints or perfect leadouts, but of rough cobbles, steep bergs, and the hardest one-day races. Zabel the younger fancies himself a classics man, and this year, his second in the professional ranks, he hopes to take on the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix for the first time.

Zabel has already proven his aptitude to the pavé. In 2013 he won the under-23 version of the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), besting a group that had been whittled down to 32 riders.

“I won in U23 Flanders, and now that is an objective, that I will be good in the classics in a few years,” Zabel said. “But I know that the U23 Flanders was much different from the pro Flanders, which is much harder. There are many more climbs. So it’s not sure if I will be a good classic rider in the upcoming years. For sure I will try for it, I would like to be one.”

Despite his pedigree, Zabel (BMC Racing) has no delusions of youthful triumph. Should he line up in Brugge and Compiegne this season, his duties will be strictly obedient. But two or three years down the line, following a few trial runs and plenty of tutelage from experienced teammates, the young German thinks he can mix it up at the front of the premier classics.

“We have a good team, a really good classics team, with Greg Van Avermaet and Marcus Burghardt, and [Manuel] Quinziato, really experienced guys who can help teach you,” Zabel told VeloNews prior to Thursday’s second stage of the Dubai Tour. “I’m still very young, but I want to start at the big classics like Flanders and Roubaix. I need to get the experience for the upcoming years, and I will do my job there.

“The plan is that I will start those races [this year] and I hope also that I can make those starts. I want to do my first grand tour, too, but it’s not sure whether I will do the Giro or the Vuelta.”

If the stars align, he may get a shot at riding for himself at one of the smaller Belgian races, too.

The team had enough faith in Zabel, still just 22, to work for him on Wednesday’s opening stage of the Dubai Tour. He finished 11th, just ahead of classics favorite John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin). BMC came to Dubai without a true leader, preferring to play an opportunistic card at the early-season tune-up race.

“We don’t really have a super sprinter, who we can say we go full for, so we try [something different] every day. Yesterday we tried for me, maybe today we try for someone else,” Zabel said.