Is Jan Ullrich's win in the Tour de Suissee a sign of what is to come in July, or will this represent the high point of his season, as it did back in 2004? Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes listened to what he had to say at the post-race press conference on Sunday.
Earlier this year, former team-mate Bjarne Riis blasted Jan Ullrich's early season preparation, saying that the German's form was ‘absolutely catastrophic'. At the time the CSC's boss was in Tuscany working with Ivan Basso in the lead up to the Giro d'Italia and, according to Danish newspaper BT, was dismissive about Ullrich's prospects for the Tour de France.
"It's clear that he doesn't like to ride a bike, which is why I can't understand why he wants to be a cyclist," Riis was quoted as saying. "It's a waste of talent. He has to wake up soon. I believe in him less and less."
Ullrich was reported to have trained hard in the winter but his racing debut this season was delayed considerably due to a knee injury. He finally pinned on a number in the Tour de Romandie, where he finished a distant 115th overall. He then went on to the Giro d'Italia and while he was relatively anonymous there, he did beat Basso to win the stage 11 time trial.
At the time he stressed that the Giro was simply a preparation race and his performances in the mountains there were no reflection of how he would do in the Tour de France. Following a withdrawal from the Giro two days from the end due to a slight back problem, Ullrich rested and recuperated from the Grand Tour, then started to build up again for the Tour de Suisse. His performances there showed that he has made great progress since competing in Italy.
Ullrich was clearly in great shape from the start of the Swiss ProTour race. His T-Mobile team rode strongly for him from the off, riding in front of the peloton when no other teams would undertake to do so, and generally doing all that was necessary to ensure he lost no time to the other big contenders. Although Ullrich said afterwards that he took things day by day and had gone into the race with no overall aspirations, it was clear from their pattern of racing that T-Mobile had at least some interest in the general classification.
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