Zabel's <i>mea culpa</i> over Ghent crash

Veteran German says he caused mass pile-up

Experienced German sprinter Erik Zabel admitted being the author of the sudden move which prompted a spectacular crash during a bunch sprint on the Tour de France second stage.

The peloton was split in two, with 25 riders racing ahead after avoiding the carnage, after Zabel moved brusquely to the side, forcing a major pile-up in his wake as wheels touched and brakes screeched bikes to a halt.

However the Milram rider, a former winner of the race's green jersey for the points classification, said he had only moved to avoid hitting Belgian Tom Boonen, who went on to finish second behind teammate Gert Steegmans.

"I had to avoid Boonen, who was riding in front of me," said Zabel.

Among the wreckage, which spread over both sides of the road in Ghent was race leader Fabian Cancellara of CSC, American George Hincapie, and Gerolsteiner's Robert Forster.
Forster's bike was broken in three places, and he later said on his website: "All year long I didn't have any crashes, and now at the Tour I do. I hit the barriers with 65 km/h. An unpleasant experience."

Zabel, one of the most successful and most experienced sprinters still competing, has been left to spearhead Milram's bid for stage victories since Italian teammate Alessandro Petacchi was left out of the team.

Petacchi was suspended by Milram, and is facing a possible ban, after testing positive for abnormal levels of asthma drug salbutamol at the Giro d'Italia, where he won five stages.
Australian Robbie McEwen on Monday pulled level with Zabel's achievement of winning 12 stages on the Tour de France - the most of any active rider.

©AFP2007

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