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For Ullrich it just never clicked this year

Jan Ullrich has got only himself to blame for sub-par performance on the Tour de France which left him with his lowest placing ever in his seven starts. Eclipsed by his friend and teammate Andreas Klöden and up-and-coming CSC star Ivan Basso, T-Mobile's team leader ended the race in fourth, a massive nine minutes behind six-time winner Lance Armstrong. Despite being heralded as the 32-year-old American's main rival after his close second place last year, Ullrich disappointed from day one - on the 6.1km prologue in Liege he lost 15 seconds to the U.S. Postal leader, and from then on he never

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Godefroot: He’s just too nice, and too easily influenced

By Justin Davis, Copyright Agence France Presse 2004

Ullrich's lone attack on stage 15 was eventually reeled in

Ullrich’s lone attack on stage 15 was eventually reeled in

Photo: Graham Watson

Jan Ullrich has got only himself to blame for sub-par performance on the Tour de France which left him with his lowest placing ever in his seven starts.

Eclipsed by his friend and teammate Andreas Klöden and up-and-coming CSC star Ivan Basso, T-Mobile’s team leader ended the race in fourth, a massive nine minutes behind six-time winner Lance Armstrong.

Despite being heralded as the 32-year-old American’s main rival after his close second place last year, Ullrich disappointed from day one – on the 6.1km prologue in Liege he lost 15 seconds to the U.S. Postal leader, and from then on he never recovered.

And his first ever finish further down than second place has raised questions about his future. T-Mobile team manger Walter Godefroot, who admits to being at loggerheads with Ullrich’s personal coach Rudy Pevenage, was pessimistic.

“I’d be lying to you if I said I was happy with Jan’s performance on the Tour,” Godefroot said. “He came into the race as Armstrong’s number one rival. We’ve failed, and we haven’t even won a stage.”

Godefroot said he was especially impressed by Armstrong’s motivation this year. “You can make a good living as a professional cyclist, as Jan does. But you can also go out and do the job with a determination to be the best, with an almost undeniable need to perform,” Godefroot remarked. “That’s the main difference between Ullrich and Armstrong. Lance is a killer. It’s like he needs to feed on prey. And Jan is not like that. He’s just too nice, and too easily influenced.”

Ullrich – missing the influential Kazakh Alexandre Vinokourov due to injury – succumbed to the U.S. Postal juggernaut in the Pyrénées, where Armstrong and Ivan Basso left Ullrich trailing on the way to both La Mongie and Plateau de Beille.

Already nearly seven minutes behind Armstrong by the Alpe d’Huez time trial on stage 16, Ullrich lost another minute to the American on the 15.5km climb as Armstrong’s pre-race time trialing preparation came to the fore to hand him his third stage win of the race.

Ullrich had a strong performance on l'Alpe d'Huez, but it was still only good enough for second.

Ullrich had a strong performance on l’Alpe d’Huez, but it was still only good enough for second.

Photo: Graham Watson

Laurent Fignon, the Tour de France winner in 1983 and 1984 who famously lost the 1989 edition by eight seconds to American Greg LeMond, said Ullrich should have known what to expect.

“That’s six years that Armstrong has been using the same tactics, six years he’s gone up mountains never using the same guys at the same time,” Fignon said. “You would think that Armstrong’s rivals might know what to expect.

“What surprises me is that a sponsor (T-Mobile) sticks by paying Ullrich for the Tour without even bothering to analyze what Armstrong’s strengths and weaknesses are,” said the man once known as “the professor” of the peloton. “When you’re talking about millions of euros, their approach seems a bit off the mark.”

Ullrich’s former teammate, 1996 winner Bjarne Riis, was more slightly more forgiving. “I think he did a good Tour without being excellent. But I think that’s his limit right now,” Riis told AFP. “To be able to win the Tour you have to be good for three weeks. And he hasn’t been up to it.”

French cycling legend Raymond Poulidor, who got used to coming second best during his Tour career, was disappointed not to see Ullrich putting up more of a fight. “After last year’s Tour when he pushed Armstrong all the way, I put him up there among my favorites – but as early as the prologue when he lost 15 seconds to Armstrong, I saw straight away that it wasn’t the Ullrich of last year,” Poulidor told AFP.

“That was confirmed on the team time trial, where I saw him struggling at times to keep pace with the rest of his team. Then in the Pyrénées he wasn’t too good, although he did manage to redeem himself slightly in the Alps.”

Five-time Tour de France winner Bernard Hinault was more severe, claiming that Ullrich is heading for oblivion due to the arrival of a whole new generation of riders like third-place finisher Ivan Basso. Hinault, who in 1997 optimistically hailed the dawn of the Ullrich ‘era’, now believes that a second victory could elude the German Olympic champion.

“When he won the Tour for the first time, he was streets ahead of everybody,” said Hinault. “The day that Armstrong stops, Ullrich will be over 30 years old and other, younger riders will be there.

“There are Basso and (Alejandro) Valverde and (Damiano) Cunego, who won the Giro with panache,” observed Hinault. “All three of them seem to have character, and they won’t be giving anything away for free. He (Ullrich) won’t ever find it easy.”

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