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T-Mobile have named a 13-man squad for the Tour de France and the most surprising name is one that does not appear rather than those that do. After six points title victories at the Tour, 34-year-old Erik Zabel will not be in France this July, although the German team have said that they are talking about a more long-term role for the veteran sprinter.
"Of course, I'm disappointed," said Zabel, who had hoped to be the last rider to be nominated for a slot in what would have been his 12th Tour. "But I'm pro enough to accept the decision of the team management," he added.
"I was aware of this being an option. Each year, it had been somebody's turn. This time it's me." Zabel said. He will now look for other goals to achieve this season.
"We have not taken this decision lightly," said T-Mobile sporting director Mario Kummer. "You don't leave a world-class sprinter like Erik Zabel at home for no good reason."
"It is as tough a decision for us as it is for Erik. With six green jerseys and 12 Tour stage wins, he has left his mark on the Tour like hardly any other German rider," said future team manager Olaf Ludwig. "But with three riders in the team who have already stood on the podium in Paris (Klden, Ullrich, Vinokourov), we are clearly aiming for yellow." For departing team manager Walter Godefroot it is also "a new situation to compete at the Tour without Erik."
The contract negotiations between Zabel, Ludwig and T-Mobile are not affected by the decision. "Olaf made an offer that I appreciate very much," said Zabel, who agreed with Ludwig to have the talks finalised prior to the HEW Cyclassics on July 31. "This way, Olaf can fully focus on the Tour preparations, while I can use the break to plan my future." The 34 year old will be involved in the sponsorship activities of the Bonn-based mobile communications company.
The 13 riders who have made T-Mobile's Tour squad are: Rolf Aldag, Giuseppe Guerini, Sergei Ivanov, Matthias Kessler, Andreas Klden, Paco Lara, Daniele Nardello, Bram Schmitz, Stefan Schreck, Oscar Sevilla, Tobias Steinhauser, Jan Ullrich and Alexandre Vinokourov.
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