Zabel, who had claimed the third stage in Nogent-sur-Oise, beat Uzbek Djamolidine Abdoujaparov and Italian Andrea Ferrigato into second and third places to win the 208.5-km 10th stage from Turin.
The day's peaceful ride to Gap, where the peloton will enjoy a well-deserved rest day on Wednesday, brought no changes to the overall standings.
Dane Bjarne Riis came in with the pack to retain the race lead he took in Monday's stage, which was shortened to 46 kms because of snowfalls in the French Alps.
World number one Laurent Jalabert, weakened by gastroenteritis, pulled out of the race 69 kms into Tuesday's stage, just before the only major climb, the Montgenevre pass. ``I have no strength left, I can't feel my legs,'' said the Frenchman, regarded as one of the favourites when the race began last month in the Dutch city of Den Bosch.
As Jalabert got off his bike to get into a team car, three men -- Frenchman Richard Virenque, Latvian Piotr Ugrumov and German Jan Ullrich -- escaped to build a lead of over three minutes.
They were reined in 70 kms from the line and then, with 28 kms remaining, Dane Rolf Sorensen attempted a breakaway.
But the pack, with Riis working hard to allow team mate Zabel to sprint, caught him in the last hundred metres.
The stage win enabled Zabel to take the points classification leader's green jersey from Frenchman Frederic Moncassin. ``My main goal is to help Bjarne but when the race makes it possible, I can win. And that's what happened,'' the 26-year-old German said. ``It was just the perfect scenario.''
With tough stages in the Massif Central and the Pyrenees still to come before the race ends on July 21 in Paris, Riis has a 40-second lead over Russian Evgeny Berzin in the overall standings. Swiss rider Tony Rominger is third, a further 13 seconds back. ``Today everything went right,'' Riis said. ``I want to win the race but it is still long and many things can happen.''
At this stage in previous years, things already looked settled as Miguel Indurain was firmly in command.
But the Spaniard had a rare off-day on Saturday and his eighth place overall, four minutes and 38 seconds behind Riis, suggests he might find it difficult to win the race a record sixth time. ``Miguel has fully recovered and he certainly still stands a chance,'' one of his team directors, Eusebio Unsue, said.
Miserable weather with rain, violent winds and even snow have made the Tour particularly arduous this year. Of the 198 starters, 151 are still in the race.
Zabel's Telekom teammate Bjarne Riis of Denmark retained the overall leader's yellow jersey.
The 26-year-old German, fourth in the 1992 Olympics roadrace, won the two bonus sprints of the stage and then the mass sprint into Gap with former green jersey wearer Frederic Moncassin finishing more than 50 seconds behind along with team leader Britain's Chris Boardman, the World and Olympic pursuit champion.
Riis, the 32-year-old father of two, was ecstatic at the success of the team, who are also leading the overall teams standings.
"Our tactics were perfect and the whole performance was superb. This is quite an extraordinary Tour for me," Riis beamed.
Riis had set a great example by leading the team into the final straight to try and reel in the longtime lone escapee, compatriot Rolf Sorensen.
Sorensen, who was Tour de France leader for four days in 1991 until he broke his collarbone, had escaped with 27km to the finish -- leaving Saturday's stage winner Luc Leblanc of France and Swiss rider Laurent Dufaux, who had almost stolen the stage on Saturday, in his wake.
The courageous 31-year-old Dane, winner of the Montpellier stage in 1994, appeared to have done enough as he shook off challenges from Laurent Brochard and Bruno Cenghialta on the descent into Gap.
But the remorseless Telekom team would not let him have his day.
Earlier the quartet of Richard Virenque, chasing a third successive King of the Mountains title, Jan Ullrich, teammate of Riis, Piotr Ugromov, second overall in 1994, and Laurent Madouas, 12th in the Tour of Italy in 1995, had established a gap of over three minutes after climbing the first category Montgenevre.
However, Ullrich mindful of his responsibilities to Riis, was a virtual passenger and the trio, having dropped Madouas on the descent, were reeled in by the peloton -- provoking several attacks which were all fruitless until Sorensen's brave but ultimately fruitless effort.
Frenchman Laurent Jalabert, world cycling number one, abandoned -- closely followed by Johan Bruyneel and Pascal Lino.
Jalabert, who had been regarded as the favourite to become France's first Tour de France winner since Bernard Hinault in 1985, had been suffering from gastroenteritis since Saturday's stage to Les Arcs.
The 27-year-old, fourth last year, retired after 69km of Tuesday's 208.5km stage when he was left by the peloton on the climb to Montgenevre. "I thought I could recover with the sun on my back but I just had no energy left," Jalabert said. "I am very disappointed. It breaks one's heart to have to leave the Tour early," the French champion added.
Bruyneel, who wore the yellow jersey in the 1995 Tour, had appeared to have recovered fully from his spectacular crash on the descent from Cormet Roselend on Saturday -- falling 12 metres down a ravine.
The 31-year-old Belgian finished 13th on Monday's stage to lie 18th overall, but called it a day after 92km of the stage.
Lino, who was the Tour de France leader for 10 days in 1992, retired after 129km with tendinitis in a knee.
Italian sprinter Mario Traversoni, runner-up in the Italian championships to Mario Cipollini, was the fourth rider to abandon.
Their withdrawal reduced the field to 153 out of the original 198 riders.
Jalabert, who had been regarded as the favourite to become France's first Tour de France winner since Bernard Hinault in 1985, had been suffering with gastroenteritis since Saturday's stage to Les Arcs.
The 27-year-old, fourth last year, retired after 69km of Tuesday's 208.5km stage when he was left by the peloton on the climb to Montgenevre.
The German telephone company has relied in the past on out-and-out sprinters such as 1988 Olympic road race champion Olaf Ludwig and 1988 Team time trial gold medallist Uwe Ampler to conjure up some magic on the Tour -- without any discernible success.
The team still has cyclists with Olympic experience in smart sprinter Erik Zabel, winner of the third stage and two stages, and Mario Kummer, another member of the 1988 time trialling gold medallist team.
However, team boss Walter Godefroot decided at the end of last season that it would be a good idea to hire a genuine Tour de France contender -- Riis, disenchanted at the Gewiss team, was the obvious choice.
Riis, three times the Danish national champion, is quite open about his problems at Gewiss and in particular with Russian Yevgeny Berzin, whom he replaced in the yellow jersey on Monday.
"I respect Berzin but he is not my friend. I never really had problems with him but it is logical that one cannot have two leaders in one team," Riis said.
Riis may have appeared a little on the old side at 32, but he has one of the most consistent track records in the Tour, fifth in 1993, 14th in 1994 and third last year.
The man from Herning, ranked 19th in the world, is full of praise for his team, who have undoubtedly proved a dream team for a man enjoying his first ride as a team leader.
"Its been amazing as Brian Holm and Christian Henn protected me on the flat stages and then on Saturday I was overcome by the performances of Jan Ullrich and Udo Bolts on the climb to Les Arcs. It was astonishing and without their super human efforts I would not be wearing the yellow jersey," an exultant Riis said.
Ullrich, 22, is the German national time-trial champion and turned down a place on the Atlanta Olympic team to ride in the Tour while the 29-year-old Bolts showed his pedigree on the mountains last year finsihing third on Alpe d'Huez.
Riis is justifiably proud of representing his small country at the top of a high profile event such as the Tour -- equating it to Denmark's surprise triumph in the 1992 European Championship Finals.
"In all honesty there is the same atmosphere in Denmark at the moment as there was four years ago after the footballing heroics. They were so proud of me when I finished on the podium last year. Now people are leaving work early to come and watch the Tour on television," a delighted Riis said.
Riis, the man whom five-time winner Miguel Indurain has nominated as his greatest danger, is also pleased that he can give the hundreds of Danish fans who are following him around on the Tour, and who livened up Sestrieres on Monday with chanting of 'here we go.. here we go' as Riis took the stage, with some brave exploits.
"It gives me a lot of satisfaction that I can reward them with my performances so far. It means a lot to me," Riis said.
However, none of this will mean a thing if the big fearless Dane is not standing on top of the podium in Paris on July 21.
"I have been fifth, third and logic dictates that I Should win. I am only in this to win -- second does not bear thinking about," Riis said.