• Newlywed German happy to stay with “special team”

  • Team manager Carlström says: “He strengthens the lead-out train”

  • Sprinter says “it’s a big sign that a German rides for an Israeli team”

It’s a big time right now for Rick Zabel: he has extended his contract with Israel Start-Up Nation for two years, is ready for his second half of the season debut in the Vuelta a Burgos later this month, and – just got married. The happy couple is expecting their first child later this year.

He “is happy to be in the boat for a few more years with this special team”, which “has a special story – we are kind of peace ambassadors. I like the story of the team and also I like the spirit on the team.”

“We are kind of underdogs but we can achieve big things and we can do better than a lot of people would expect.”

Team Manager Kjell Carlström said: “Rick has only been with us a few months, but the way he conducts himself and how he strengthens especially the lead-out train is great. He has a great attitude and really helps the team towards success. It’s great that he chooses to continue with us.”

Zabel got in 15 days of racing in Australia and UAE before the season came to a sudden halt. Germany basically shut down in March and didn’t start opening up again until May. “Of course it is a crazy situation,” Rick says. “Of course I followed the rules, and everybody I was closely connected to, family and friends, was healthy and that is the most important thing in this crazy time.”

While Germany shut down many aspects of daily life, getting outside was not one of them. He was able to train on the road the whole time. “I trained pretty hard during the Corona time to be in good shape when this season restarts.”

But even more important things happened during those months, with the announcement of his engagement to his long-time partner, followed by the announcement that they were expecting a baby. “I’m looking forward to getting married and becoming a father. I have a feeling that I take things more seriously now, like I’m not doing it just for myself, I’m doing it now for a little family.”

A German in Israel

Rick was very impressed by the team training camp and presentation in Israel. “I didn’t know what to expect when we went there and when I flew home, to be honest, I think it was one of the best trips I had in my life. I enjoyed it a lot, to ride my bike in the Negev Desert, to see the cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.”

A highlight – a very emotional one – was a visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Center. “It was moving. I never saw it that close up before, and it was hard and especially for a German –  in the end, it’s the history of my country and I take it very seriously.”

“I think that it’s a big, big sign that a German rider can be a happy professional cyclist on an Israeli team.”

The re-started season and beyond

Looking ahead, Rick says he “trained pretty hard during the Corona time to be in a good shape when this season restarts. He is not only good at setting up sprints for his teammates, but “I think I showed in the UAE Tour that I’m always good for a result too so I’m looking out for some results for myself.” His goals? “Good racing and being a really good teammate and an important teammate in the key situations.”

“Long term goals – of course, I want to ride Grand Tours and I want to ride the Classics and of course I also want to win races.”

One of those Grand Tours should come this year, he hopes. Rick is on the long list for the Tour de France, but the Giro d’Italia is also a possibility. Meanwhile, he will start off at the Vuelta a Burgos, followed by Milan-San Remo.

Finally, did Rick Zabel – son of sprint star Erik Zabel – ever dream of becoming anything other than a pro cyclist? “When I was young I had just one goal, of becoming a pro cyclist and I’m happy to achieve this goal and live this dream right now.”

Text: Susan Westemeyer, photos: Bettini Photos