Some light hearted speculation by Susan Westemeyer
The avian flu is spreading across Europe, south Germany is being buried under unprecedented amounts of March snowfall, Germany is still enduring its coldest winter in years, its national soccer team is struggling only months before the World Cup is held in Germany - but how important are these things really? For German cycling fans there is only one topic of discussion: Jan Ullrich. Where is he? How is he training? How much does he weigh? Is he healthy? And when will he finally start his season?
"All top favorites racing except Ullrich" trumpets one headline. He's still merrily training away and will decide sometime this month when his first race will be, according to a report from DPA, which also quotes T-Mobile team manager Olaf Ludwig relaxedly saying he has "No problem!" with this indefinite planning. Ullrich is only his star and Tour de France contender, why should he worry?
But it is already known where he will first race! That same DPA article says it will be the Circuit de la Sarthe, starting April 4. No, no, no, the Italians know better! Not a French race, but an Italian one! He is absolutely going to start with the Settimana Internazionale di Coppi e Bartali!
And then there was the rumor that he was going to make his season debut in a two-day race on the Adria - but unfortunately no one has been able to track such a race down.
By the way, the Italians also know that Ullrich is going to ride the Giro. In fact, it has been officially announced and confirmed - at least according to a Spanish report of some unnamed Giro officials. But the fans quote Olaf Ludwig and say, "No Problem!" Of course Jan will ride the Giro!
Of course it will happen that way - just ask the fans! There is a definite lack of concrete information about Ullrich's present condition, so they have to speculate. And boy, do they speculate! There's no news because he's sick, it can only be the avian flu (nothing else is good enough for Der Kaiser!), he has gained lots of weight, he is at his perfect weight, he's home training (or home eating and not training), he is training in Tuscany with Andreas Klöden or was it Matthias Kessler? He's not in shape, or he's in better shape than ever and trying to hide it from everyone. Daily come the cries from the fans: is he in Tuscany? Who is he training with? And is there a recent picture of him?
Doesn't matter, the fans know what he is capable of. So we start the season winning Sarthe, just to get things off to a good start and everybody who's who. Then there's not much until he wins the Giro, (because what would be the point of riding it without going for the win?). Of course he'll win the German Championship so that he can take his long-awaited second Tour de France (who can possibly doubt it?) while wearing his national colors. The Deutschland Tour naturally follows - good grief, he can't let another American beat him twice! And then there's the World's, where the road title is waiting for him.
After which he will probably be totally exhausted and victoriously retire from the sport, leaving T-Mobile in the good hands of the man carefully chosen to take his place: which is either Andreas Klöden, Michael Rogers or Linus Gerdemann, depending on which report you read.
There's just one question that's left to be answered: Are T-Mobile and Ullrich aware of any of this "news"?