Erik Zabel bids farewell with six-days win

Erik ZabelBerlin - The national anthem sounded shortly before midnight Tuesday and Erik Zabel got a bunch of flowers from his parents as he stepped off his bicycle for good.

Victory with Robert Bartko in the Berlin six-days marked the end of a 16-year career which saw him win a record six Tour de France sprint titles and make a tearful doping confession.

"I went to school 400 metres from here, started cycling at the local club and today it is over," the 38-year-old told the fans in the Berlin velodrome.

"I was like in a trance today. For two years I planned to step off the bike at the 100th anniversary of the Berlin six-days. You should quit when things are going great."

The fans' ovations came at the end of roughly 500,000 kilometres Zabel pedalled as a pro.

Zabel won 212 races including a dozen stages at the Tour which earned him a record six green jerseys as sprint king at the famed French race.

He also won four editions of his favourite one day race Milan-San Remo but was denied gold medals at world championships and Olympics.

On the downside, he tearfully admitted to, by his account brief, doping with the blood booster EPO while riding for Team Telekom in the 1990s. The confession two years ago came at a time when other telekom riders also said they used the substance.

That was the only dent in a career in which his reliability often stood in contrast to the sometimes sloppy genius of former Tour winner, world and Olympic champion Jan Ullrich.

The doping issue gave cycling a credibility problem in Germany, but Zabel expressed his hope for a change to the better.

He said that some of the sinners of the past have retired and "that we will perhaps see a new German hero soon."

The sprint star may contribute his share in the future as he will work with the sprinters at US team Colombia which include hopeful Andre Greipel.

There is in fact no time for Zabel to reflect on his career as the transition is a swift one.

"I fly to the Tour of Qatar on Friday, that's when my new job starts," he said. (dpa)