Ullrich pulls out of Sarthe with knee injury

The much anticipated return of T-Mobile's Jan Ullrich to racing has been delayed again, his team said today. Due to return at next week's Circuit de la Sarthe (April 4 to 7), Ullrich will not be travelling to France because of an irritation in his right knee, "which, on medical grounds, rules out racing," said team doctor Prof. Dr. Andreas Schmid following tests at Freiburg's Uni-Clinic on Tuesday.

The injury is "not uncommon among athletes," added Schmid, referring to the previous experiences of Andreas Klöden und Rolf Aldag. According to Schmid, however, Ullrich's current problems are not related to his injury and subsequent operation in 2002.

In early March Ullrich first felt "a small twinge in the knee", and the diagnosis was an irritation. A few days with a reduced training load followed, so Ullrich could train without experiencing pain. However, recent intensive training in preparation for his planned season start caused the injury to return. "I will be paying more attention to ensure the irritation heals fully, then I can start to progressively increase the training load," said Ullrich.

"Naturally I'm disappointed," he wrote on his website, janullrich.de. "I was really looking forward to my first race after so many months of training. But it wouldn't bring anything to try and continue with the program. It's still early in the season. If I don't make any mistakes now, then I won't have to worry about limitations at the Tour. And that's what really matters. The next few days I will do a little light training and work with my physiotherapist Birgit Krohme."

T-Mobile team manager Olaf Ludwig also considered it "a pity that Jan has to cancel Sarthe. I would like to have seen him in competition, especially as he's been training solidly in the last few months and had been spared from illnesses."

For Ludwig, it's another example of his team's bad run of luck so far this season, referring to the injuries suffered by Bram Schmitz (broken foot), Eric Baumann (broken tibia and fibula) and Andreas Klöden (dislocated shoulder) as well as the many riders who fell ill at the start of the season. The former sprinter knows from personal experience, however, that "it would be downright negligent for Jan to race in the coming weeks and risk aggregating the injury through some miscalculated enthusiasm."

To prevent this, the medical team in Freiburg have prescribed Ullrich a reduced training workload, building up to more intensive blocks. The former Tour champ will also undergo intensive physiotherapy to help the healing process. "There's no point complaining. I want to put this knee trouble behind me and get on with a structured build-up to the Tour," said Ullrich.

Ullrich's program now depends on how well his knee heals. The current plan is for him to continue training in the coming weeks (Switzerland, Tuscany) in preparation for a competitive start at Tour de Romandie (April 25 - 30).

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