Ludwig optimistic for Ullrich

"Basso is the favourite" to win the Tour de France this year, T-Mobile's team Manager Olaf Ludwig...

"Basso is the favourite" to win the Tour de France this year, T-Mobile's team Manager Olaf Ludwig said on Friday. "Basso was second behind Armstrong last year, and Armstrong isn't there any more." But naturally Ludwig added that he was hopeful that it would be Ullrich, not Basso, who will take the 2006 Tour de France title. In stating this, Ludwig relied on "Jan's enormous potential. When he is in top form, he is the best time triallist and one who rarely loses time in the mountains, even against the climbers. He is mentally very strong and he knows the race. And contrary to public opinion, he knows how to suffer."

In an interview with German Netzeitung, Ludwig said that he did not have any doubts about Ullrich being in form for the Tour even though the German has to get back to form after a knee infection had caused him to delay his season's start. "I've been involved with cycling a long time, and I know Jan. I simply take the situation as it is. And so far I don't find it bad," the former professional cyclist said, adding that he was not worried that Ullrich might "crack" if he doesn't do well in the Giro. "Jan knows what awaits him in the race. He will be dropped, he will have to fight and he will suffer a lot. So we don't expect any miracles from him."

Ludwig refused to look into the future. When asked if Ullrich would ride the race again next year if he should once again fail to win it this year, he answered, "Nobody knows that. Even if you asked Jan Ullrich that, he wouldn't know either, I'm sure of that he will listen to what his heart tells him - but only after the Tour."

Meanwhile, as the Tour de Romandie unfolds, Ullrich is still riding inside the gruppetto in the mountainous stages, finishing more than 11 minutes behind the winner in Leysin, which came after a 15 km-climb up the 1318 metre-high mountain in stage three. "For me it was already a success to make it to the finish today," Ullrich said. "There's still a long road ahead of me, but my strength is slowly coming back."

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