After a solid return to racing at the Circuit de la Sarthe, where Jan Ullrich finished a promising 10th overall, the 1997 Tour de France champion has declared he wants to beat the man that has stood in his way on more occasions than he cares to remember: Lance Armstrong.
"Whoever beats him is the hero. And I want to beat him," said Ullrich about his American arch-rival on T-Mobile's website, www.t-mobile-team.com. "To do that, I just have to ride faster than he can. But I have a strong team behind me and with a promising opening race in the legs, I can look forward to the next race with confidence."
'Der Kaiser' finished his first race back in France on a high, outsprinting a small group of 11 riders to place sixth on a difficult 180 kilometre final stage that finished in Le Mans, 1'50 behind stage winner and overall race victor Sylvain Chavanel of Cofidis. "It was my first race of the season and I am very satisfied with how it went. Skipping the Tour of Murcia was the right decision," Ullrich said shortly after the stage finished.
Speaking about starting the 2004 season too early, where, for the very first time, the 31 year-old finished outside the Tour podium in fourth place, the quietly-spoken German had only one thing to say: "That mistake is not going to be made again."
Naturally, T-Mobile directeur-sportif Mario Kummer was delighted with the T-Mobile Team leader's performance: "That was an incredibly hard race, with the foul weather doing its best to mess things up. There was even hail out on the route and it never got warmer than about four [degrees] Celsius," he said.
Ullrich's performances have not gone unnoticed outside of the T-Mobile team camp, either, with his former lieutenant-turned Gerolsteiner team manager Udo Bölts believes Ullrich is riding stronger than before. "He is looking better than he did last year," said Bölts. "That goes for the time trial, as well as the opening 197 kilometre stage, where he was able to ride comfortably in the peloton despite the high tempo and the severe crosswinds."
"I am getting a lot of pleasure out of cycling right now. I feel wonderful and the form and condition is good. I am still setting myself targets and as long as I can still win races, then I want to continue in the sport," Ullrich said.