Armstrong vs Ullrich era draws to a close
By Hedwig Kröner in Pau
The 2005 Tour de France continues until next Sunday, but realistic Tour-watchers know that once again, Jan Ullrich is extremely unlikely to beat Lance Armstrong - unless the American champion is involved in an accident or gets ill, which certainly nobody wishes for. The German is resigned to trying to improve his position on general classification and finish, once again, on the podium in Paris.
On Monday's rest day in Pau, the T-Mobile team gave the impression of being very satisfied with its performance at the Tour de France 2005, while at the same time knowing that other contenders were simply better, and accepting it. It was a very different attitude from Lance Armstrong's - the American's huge success seems to be the fruit of never even thinking about defeat. For the six-time Tour winner, there is no other option than victory, but for Ullrich, there is, and he is happy with it.
"If you don't win, you'll be criticised," Ullrich said about the media's coverage of his cycling career. "Even over a second placing. When you're the winner, the media makes you the world's greatest hero, and when it doesn't work out, they don't want to see the reasons for it but just put all the blame on you. But I'm over that completely - I don't care about it. I give everything every day, I've prepared for this race to perfection and my form is good," he explained, adding that the two crashes he suffered were not easy to deal with.
"I don't know what would have happened had I not crashed, but I know that the accidents were a handicap, that's for sure, " asid Ullrich. "On the day of the first stage, I was very tired as a result of that first crash. In the Alps, I couldn't even breathe properly because of my affected lung. My ribs still hurt now. Of course I don't know if I could have matched Armstrong without these accidents, but I know that I would have raced a little bit better."
For some, Ullrich's good spirits were certainly surprising, but the German had a different perspective. "I'm really not frustrated at all," he said. "I feel very happy just to still be here, and that I'm not placed 60th but fourth. I got over two very bad crashes, I could have ended up in hospital after each one of them or even worse. But I'm still riding the Tour, and my happiness over that fact is greater than everything else."
Since the big duel between the two champions is over, Ullrich also talked to his arch rival Armstrong yesterday. "He's looking forward to his retirement," the 31 year-old said. "He told me he wouldn't even look at his bike for one year, as it is some torture after all and he wants to do other things."
Asked what realistic goal Ullrich still had for this Tour de France, sitting at almost six minutes behind the Yellow jersey after losing another 1:24 because of a hunger flat on the last climb of stage 15, he replied, "I dream about the podium now, that's for sure. I don't know if that's realistic but I'm not that far away from it. There's still a hard last week to come and I hope that I can keep or even improve my form to get one placing higher."
The one rider that Ullrich has to overtake on the overall classification to hop on the podium is therefore polka dot jersey wearer Michael Rasmussen. "I try to improve my GC time every day, in every moment of the race. If there's something I can do I'll do it," Ullrich said. "I won't concentrate solely on the time trial because even Rasmussen, who's not usually a good time triallist, may be able to increase his performance with the view of the podium."
T-Mobile's management has also accepted the fact that the best riders of this Tour do not belong to the German squad, but they're equally satisfied with the performances of Vinokourov, Klöden and Ullrich. "Armstrong has shown once again that he is the non plus ultra, the one to beat," directeur sportif Mario Kummer said. "We have tried the maximum we could, attacking his team and succeeding in isolating Armstrong three times. Every team member has done his share to make that happen, and therefore we are very satisfied. Now, the fact that Jan couldn't beat Armstrong and Basso in the end is another story. Jan's form is good, and we just have to accept that there are two riders who were just better than him in the mountains."
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