Merckx: Ullrich disappointing, Armstrong impressive

Eddy Merckx is very disappointed in Jan Ullrich. "Ullrich is not capable of behaving as he should....

Eddy Merckx is very disappointed in Jan Ullrich. "Ullrich is not capable of behaving as he should. Talent alone is not enough. If you don't work hard, you'll never make it to the top."

In an interview in the July 4 edition of the German Spiegel news magazine, Merckx predicted that Lance Armstrong will win the Tour again. "I think Armstrong is simply in better form. Plus, Lance is ending his career after the Tour and wants to go out as a winner."

When he first met Ullrich, Merckx said, he was sure that he was an immensely talented rider who could win the Tour more times than even the "the Cannibal" did. "I was sure of it, in light of his superiority...But he can't stand up to the pressure and most especially, he doesn't have the necessary motivation.

"Jan is a nice guy, but he doesn't have the overwhelming ambition of an Armstrong," he continued. "Jan started in cycling very young and from the beginning, the demands were very high. He had to win. But when you are confronted with the stress of competitive sports too early, you have to pay the price one day. Your psyche can't accept it any more, the hunger to win fades. Then either you stop or you make yourself comfortable. Like Jan. I can imagine that he said to himself, 'I'm a good enough cyclist, I may as well turn pro."' He doesn't have the passion for it - the sacrifices are too big for him."

Merckx started out impressed with Ullrich and now sees him more negatively, but his feelings for Armstrong have gone the opposite direction: "He was a young bull of a man, powerful, wild, too heavy for the big climbs, a typical rider for one-day races or flat stages. And he didn't live just for his sport. He liked to drink, and he didn't always eat right. There's nothing wrong with a beer or two, but he didn't always control himself. The cancer totally changed his whole life. Now everything he does is solely to contribute to his success."

He is sure that Armstrong will win the Tour again this year. The two made a short training ride together this spring, and Armstrong "repeatedly said, 'I'll give everything for the Tour one more time, then it's over.' It's perfectly clear for him that he will win. Since then, I am convinced that he will leave the stage as a champion."

Merckx rejects any comparisons between himself and Armstrong. "I was maybe the best in my time, as Lance is in his - nothing more."

Courtesy of Susan Westemeyer

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