By Gregor Brown
Could German Jan Ullrich be riding in the colours of Acqua & Sapone for 2007? It is an idea that has been batted about between team manager Palmiro Masciarelli and the 1997 Tour de France champion, but Ullrich's legal woes and need for an entourage could hold him back from signing.
"It is true that Jan and I have talked, also in a manner very determined and positive, but the things to assess are still many," said the manager of the Italy-based team to tuttobiciweb.com.
"To begin with, it is not only signing Jan but another three riders that he would like to come along," he continued. Ullrich is likely to want Spaniard Oscar Sevilla, but both of the riders are considered damaged goods after being linked to Spanish investigation Operación Puerto. This last July the investigation started and ever since then Ullrich's time has been occupied with legal issues. Ulle's implication in the investigation seemingly prohibiting him from signing with a ProTour team, but not Acqua & Sapone, which is Professional Continental.
"I have to talk with the boys on the team, starting with Stefano Garzelli. In our team there has been created a great environment that I don't want to disturb in any way. Then there is the sponsor, we need to all sit down together at a table. We have informally done this already and the feedback was positive but it justified to do so again to study every detail."
The details could be about which races the team may or may not get invited to if they were to sign the 33 year-old German. Some organizers, like the Deutschland Tour, have made it clear that they don't want anything to do with teams that sign riders implicated in Operación Puerto or who are involved with Eufemiano Fuentes.
"I want to talk to the organizers ..." confirmed Masciarelli. "And, finally, we have to wait for the decision from the Swiss Federation. A few weeks ago the president [of the Swiss federation] announced that the case is heading towards being shelved, but at the moment there is not any kind of official decision.
"All in all, project of Ullrich is fascinating and ambitious, we are busy working but the road is still long and in this moment it is not possible to see where it will take us."
Cyclingnews' recent coverage of 'Operación Puerto'
April 2, 2009 - Valverde indignant over possible suspension
April 1, 2009 - Valverde: Italy requests two-year suspension
March 13, 2009 - Le Monde newspaper hit with fine over Puerto allegations
March 2, 2009 - WADA president Fahey asks for Puerto evidence
February 24, 2009 - Spanish federation seeks access to Puerto blood bags
February 20, 2009 - CONI considers Valverde case while UCI awaits verdict
February 19, 2009 - Valverde under criminal investigation
February 11, 2009 - Valverde summonsed for Operación Puerto in Italy
February 8, 2009 - Eight charged in Operación Puerto