T-Mobile's Jan Ullrich continues to improve in the Volta a Catalunya, where he finished 17th in the 237.7km queen stage from Perafort to the Pal ski station in Arinsal (Andorra), which was won by Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval). "It was a perfect training ride for me over the ideal distance. I wasn't riding at my limit on the climbs - but my form still has room for improvement," said a satisfied Ullrich post-stage on his team's website.
Piepoli crossed the line ahead of Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) and Aitor Osa (Illes Balears), with Popovych taking over the general classification. Ullrich came home 1'19 down on Piepoli and now lies 13th overall, 1'33 adrift of Popovych. For T-Mobile, Paco Lara also had a good day, placing 12th at 49 seconds and moving up to sixth on GC.
"They worked hard together for most of the climb. I am very happy with the outcome of today's stage," said T-Mobile Team sports director Mario Kummer of Ullrich and Lara.
Back at the team bus, Jan Ullrich also declared himself pleased with his climbing legs on the Pyrenean slopes: "I am currently in better shape than I have ever been at this time of the year."
The climbing continues on Friday with stage 5, a gruelling 17 km mountain time trial from Sornas to the Ordino ski station at Arcalís, rising from 1300m to 2220m. Ullrich has fond memories of this stretch of road, as it was on the climb to Arcalís at the 1997 Tour that he landed the famous yellow jersey for the first time in his career.
"It is of course always nice to come back here," said Ullrich, who nevertheless ruled himself out as a contender for the stage win.