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Godefroot: On the way out, another slap at Ullrich

Few people in cycling have been to the Tour de France as often as T-Mobile director Walter Godefroot. This year he will accompany the Tour for the 32nd and final time - Godefroot is resigning from team management at the end of this year, to be replaced by former sprinter Olaf Ludwig. In an interview with the Munich-based Sueddeutsche Zeitung yesterday, Godefroot was unusually candid about the dynamics within the team, renewing his criticism of T-Mobile star Jan Ullrich, discussing his strained relationship with team co-founder Rudy Pevenage, and outlining T-Mobile’s strategy to defeat Lance

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By Sebastian Moll, Special to VeloNews

Few people in cycling have been to the Tour de France as often as T-Mobile director Walter Godefroot. This year he will accompany the Tour for the 32nd and final time – Godefroot is resigning from team management at the end of this year, to be replaced by former sprinter Olaf Ludwig.

In an interview with the Munich-based Sueddeutsche Zeitung yesterday, Godefroot was unusually candid about the dynamics within the team, renewing his criticism of T-Mobile star Jan Ullrich, discussing his strained relationship with team co-founder Rudy Pevenage, and outlining T-Mobile’s strategy to defeat Lance Armstrong.

Godefroot says he has largely handed responsibility for the team to Mario Kummer and Ludwig, and that his role at this point is giving his opinion when asked for it – the decisions are up to his successors.

In that regard, Godefroot said it was not his preference to leave sprinter Erik Zabel off the team roster for the Tour. He said he personally felt bad for Zabel, whom he “greatly respects as an athlete and as a person.”

“But we have Ullrich, (Alexandre) Vinokourov and Zabel,” Godefroot added, interestingly omitting Andreas Klöden. “Each of them deserves to have a team built around them. We had to make a tough choice.”

As for Ullrich, Godefroot renewed his criticism of the team’s star, which led to a falling out between the two men at the end of last year’s Tour. Godefroot had said in the French newspaper L’Equipe that Ullrich lacked the drive to win, adding that the group surrounding him – Pevenage, coach Luigi Cecchini and Ullrich’s personal assistants – supported his relaxed attitude toward racing.

Speaking with Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Godefroot compared Ullrich to Raymond Poulidor or Felice Gimondi. “They were perpetually in second place like Ullrich,” he said. “I don’t think it was a problem for them – just as for Ullrich. They are just not like (Eddy) Merckx – they aren’t cannibals.”

Not even Armstrong has the drive that Merckx had, Godefroot continued. “In the Dauphiné Libéré, you saw Armstrong controlling the race and using it as training. You would have never seen Merckx do that. Merckx would have tried to win.”

About Pevenage, with whom Godefroot had been close friends since they raced together in the Ijsboerke team in the early Seventies, and with whom he co-founded the Telekom team, Godefroot said: “I used to have complete trust in Rudy. I was very disappointed when he suddenly left the team. And when someone leaves you from one day to the next, he can’t just come back the next day. When I see him now, I say, hello, no more. And what is happening with him and the team now and in the future, is no longer my concern.”

As to Ullrich’s chances of winning the Tour, Godefroot said: “ Only Pevenage and Cecchini know how good Jan’s form is. I think his morale has never been as positive as this year in the past five years. I believe he can beat Armstrong. But it all depends on how strong our team will be.”

Godefroot also spelled out T-Mobile’s strategy for unsettling Armstrong. “In all of his six victories, Armstrong never really attacked in the mountains, he won in the time trials. His team was always so strong that he could wait until the end of the last climb and then gain 30 seconds or half a minute in a very short amount of time.

“We have to keep him busy for the entire three weeks. And maybe attack early, maybe already on the next to last climb. Vinokourov would be the man who can do such a thing.”