By Andrew Hood
It was a tale of two Erik’s in the HEW Cyclassics World Cup race Sunday.
Erik Zabel finally won the race that was missing on his extensive palmares while Erik Dekker finished third and took a decisive lead in the 2001 World Cup series with just three races to go.
Both Eriks were jubilant. Erik the First verified his status as German sports hero, while Erik the Second is en route to becoming the first Dutch rider to win the overall World Cup title.
The 251-km (155-mile) race burned with a slow fuse. The seventh stop of the 10-round World Cup series started sluggishly but ended loud like a pack of firecrackers.
Several riders went down hard in a crash early in the race, including Mercury’s Peter Van Petegem and Crédit Agricole’s Jens Voigt, who later abandoned.
Minor attacks were checked early in the race on the long, flat course. Other riders tried to escape the main bunch in the final hour until Dekker attacked hard on the only major obstacle, the 16-percent grade climb up the short, steep Waseberg climb with 15 kms to go.
Following him were Paolo Bettini (Mapei) and Davide Rebellin (Liquigas) to build up a 15-second gap on the chase group led by none other than Jan Ullrich (Telekom). Domo’s Fred Rodriguez was hard at work for leader Romans Vainsteins.
“I really attacked hard there and I was surprised how strong Rebellin was,” Dekker said. “First, we tried to get away, but when it was obvious we couldn’t, I stayed on Rebellin’s wheel until the finish.”
The Dekker break was checked in the closing 7 kms and Mapei’s Michele Bartoli and last year’s HEW winner Gabriele Missaglia (Lampre-Daiken) sprung off the front in vain. Rabobank’s Karsten Kroon attacked and was reeled in by the hard-chasing Telekom riders.
Mercury’s Leon Van Bon, a winner here in 1998, attacked with 3 kms to go and looked to have the race in his legs.
“It’s so hard to beat Zabel in the sprint, so I had to try to get away,” Van Bon said. “I was hoping for a slight hesitation from the chasers, but there wasn’t meant to be. It’s disappointing because I had good legs.”
Van Bon was reeled in just 500 meters from the finish thanks to the hard work by Ullrich and Andreas Kloden. Dekker came into the final meters in first position to chase as many points as possible. Zabel came around his wheel for the win and Vainsteins shot by to take second. Mercury’s Fabrizio Guidi finished fourth.
“I was thinking about not racing today and ending my season early. In the last few days I saw that I was strong and thought my chances were good to win,” Zabel, who’s never won in the first five editions of the HEW Cyclassics. Zabel won in 5 hours, 59 minutes, 2 seconds, with an average speed of 41.945 kph.
Zabel jumps to second overall in the World Cup standings, but said he likely won’t race in Zurich next weekend. Dekker is 86 points ahead of Vainsteins and more than 100 points ahead of Rebellin.
“Zurich is the key race. If I can finish in the top guys and get some points, the World Cup might be mine,” Dekker said.
Credit Agricole’s Bobby Julich was the top American, crossing the line in 31st with the lead group and Rodriguez crossed the line 36th at 5 seconds back.
There was some confusion over Rebellin’s finishing position. Official results had the Italian abandoning, but Rebellin was seen talking to journalists at the finish line. UCI officials were discussing the final classification and were expected to file an updated result.