Valuable pointer to Ullrich's form
By Shane Stokes in Baden
Strong in the time trial, but considerable improvement to be made in the mountains: that was the assessment of Jan Ullrich's Giro d'Italia. His prospects of taking a second Tour de France victory should become easier to assess when he heads into the high mountains of the Tour de Suisse.
Twelve months ago, Der Kaiser was third overall here behind a storming Aitor Gonzalez and the disappointed runner-up, Michael Rogers. Rogers came out of the race with high hopes for July but found that he had gone a bit too deep in scrapping for the win. This was an echo of Jan Ullrich's 2004 experience, the German winning in Switzerland but then showing some fragility in the mountains of that year's Tour.
The race finishes a week later than the Dauphiné Libéré and, for some, this means they have to be careful with their effort. Although Lance Armstrong won the race on his way to his most dominant Tour victory in 2001, you have to go right back to Eddy Merckx and 1974 to find the previous time a rider completed the Tour de Suisse/Tour de France double. Conclusion: those aiming for yellow in July may be advised to keep something in the tank for now.
Of course, that doesn't devalue the Tour de Suisse one bit. Regarded by many as the fourth biggest stage race in cycling, maillot jaune contenders will hope to show some of their increasing strength here while other strong riders will be very much scrapping it out to take a different yellow jersey to Bern on Sunday week. Stage victories are also very highly regarded and consequently some of the world's best sprinters will be at the start in Baden, flexing their muscles in anticipation of July. It's going to be a very competitive race.
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