Jan Ullrich's win in the 11th stage Giro time trial yesterday gave another boost to the German's morale. It's now clear that his form isn't as disastrous as his last three results against the clock have indicated: 90th/163 in the prologue of the Tour of Romandie, 69th/120 in that race's final stage time trial, and 80th/198 in the opening time trial of the Giro. Time trials are Ullrich's specialty, and yesterday's flat 50 km stage was tailor made for the powerful T-Mobile rider from Rostock. But even he was surprised at winning, as well as beating race leader Ivan Basso.
"To beat Basso gives me a lot of morale," Ullrich was quoted in Algemeen Dagblad after his win. AD also noted that Ullrich has never lost a long time trial to Basso in a grand tour. But there was no doubt that it was a big improvement, and it would be unwise for anyone to write off Ullrich for the Tour de France, which is still six weeks away from starting.
Still, it's in the mountains where Ullrich has always lost time in the Tour, and it's not yet known what his climbing form is like. In Romandie, he rode below his 'red zone' and finished 115th/120 on GC in the end. In the Giro's first real mountain stage last Sunday, he lost 16 minutes, also not choosing to push it. But with a feast of mountain stages to come in the final week of the Giro, he will test himself again in at least one of them.
"The most important thing is that he finishes the Giro," said Rudy Pevenage to De Volkskrant. Ullrich followed a similar program in 2001, where he rode the Giro and finished 52nd, including two third places in mountain stages. He then went onto finish second at the Tour de France, behind the now retired Lance Armstrong.