On This Day: March 20, 2004 – Erik Zabel’s Milan-Sanremo Nightmare

Hyperbole is like a second language to me. In fact, of the languages I’m fluent in, hyperbole is the only one I dream in.


At the same time, I’m unusually sensitive to the misuse of particular words like “nonplussed”. Nonplussed is a word with a very narrow and specific meaning that one is sufficiently stunned so as to be rendered incapable of grasping the words required to describe their sensation. Except you sufficiently have your faculties about you to conjure the most esoteric word to precisely describe your experience.


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On the other hand, it is perfectly acceptable to use such a perfect word to describe someone else’s experience. For example, “Erik Zabel was nonplussed when he sat up too early at Milan Sanremo and watched Oscar Friere lunge past him to take the win.”


Read: On This Day: February 13, 2011 – Moncoutié’s Mont Faron Farewell

“Is this a horrible dream?” wonders Erik Zabel

I’m not a pro cyclist so I’m inherently unqualified to speculate on the disappointment of losing a Monument due to a premature celebration. But it wouldn’t surprise me if he still has dreams where he pushed on the pedals for one more revolution to just eke out the win, only to wake and realize it was all just a horrible dream designed to remind him of what a ding dong he was that day.


Read: On This Day: January 15, 1994 – Francesco Moser’s Final Hour


Scanning photos and result sheets from the early 2000s leaves one largely incapable of identifying anyone who has anything resembling total credibility when it comes to having been a clean rider.


The doping I can live with; the design of the prolific Shimano Dura Ace 7800 is another matter entirely. I’ve always preferred Campagnolo’s aesthetics to Shimano’s, but this generation of the latter was of particularly grotesque design.


The shifters were disproportionate and bulbous, with unsightly cables protruding from the shifter body in an unsightly arc down to the head tube. Sure, the shifting was impeccable, but what good is that when they make the bike look so ugly that you don’t want to ride it in the first place?



When Erik’s Telekom/T-Mobile team switched from Campag to Shimano, he apparently had his mechanics hide the loopy cables under the bar tape (Google ‘Erik Zabel Shimano under tape’.)


The helmets of that generation were another problem; Giro appears to be the only brand who has managed to produce consistently good looking helmets, while other brands like Limar and Catlike have struggled to get their program together.


Oh, Paolo Bettini, another Continental European (I’m looking at you, Laurent Fignon) whose impeccable style on the bike was thwarted by a helmet sponsor who didn’t know how to design helmets.

Laurent Fignon rocks up to Paris-Nice, 1991, apparently less than impressed with his new get up.

The classic black bibshort was also blinking out of existence, with our big loser Zabel the only rider in sight with the dignity to wear black shorts with his German National Champion’s jersey, proving once again that it’s better to lose and look good than to win and look shit.


I imagine that’s little consolation to our hero, who no doubt on this day in 2004 would have preferred to win and look good.



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