By Andrew Hood
Five-time Tour de France runner-up Jan Ullrich admits it’s going to be tough to derail arch-rival Lance Armstrong as the Texan makes a run for a sixth straight Tour title.
The T-Mobile captain brushed aside concerns about early-season fitness problems with his victory at the Tour de Suisse earlier this month. The 30-year-old German said he’s more motivated than ever to win the Tour.
“Naturally, Lance is the man to beat,” Ullrich told AFP. “My win in Switzerland confirms my work since the beginning of the season. I had a good race thanks to the team, I showed a strength which I didn’t have in previous years.”
The 1997 Tour winner is Armstrong’s top rival as the Texan goes for the record sixth win, but Ullrich could have the dubious honor of being a six-time runner-up if he can’t get past Armstrong in this year’s Tour.
“Being runner-up last year was a good result, I could have won but I made mistakes,” he said. “But my aim is not to be second again, it’s to be first.”
T-Mobile unveils Tour team
Last year’s third-place finisher Alexandre Vinokourov and Aussie Cadel Evans are missing, but Jan Ullrich will have a strong, experienced team as he makes a run at toppling U.S. Postal’s Lance Armstrong.
T-Mobile unveiled its nine riders for the Tour during an official presentation Friday in Bonn. Ullrich will lead the team while sprinter Erik Zabel will have a free hand to chase stage wins. Otherwise, the team is largely aligned behind the 1997 Tour winner.
“We have prepared well and we have a good team, despite missing Vinokourov and (Tobias) Steinhauser,” said Ullrich at the presentation. “We’ll have a very strong team at the start and we’ll try our best.”
A key man for Ullrich in the mountains looks likely to be Giuseppe Guerini, who showed his climbing prowess during the Tour de Suisse.
“I think that we have a very strong team in the mountains,” said Guerini, who didn’t think the mountains would pose as much of a problem to Ullrich in 2004. “I think that Jan is stronger than in other years.”
T-Mobile for Tour: Jan Ullrich, Rolf Aldag, Matthias Kessler, Andreas Klöden and Erik Zabel (all Germany), Santiago Botero (Colombian), Giuseppe Guerini and Daniele Nardello (Italian) and Sergei Ivanov (Russian).
McEwen vows to get back sprinter’s crown
Aussie sprinter Robbie McEwen (Lotto-Domo) says he’s stronger than last year and vows to recapture the Tour’s green jersey, which he lost last year to compatriot Baden Cooke (FDJeux.com) in a final-day bout that ended on the Champs-Elysées.
“I’ll be looking to get one over on Baden, as I will all the top sprinters,” he told BBC Sport. “I’m confident I’m just as quick as any of them and am in better form than 12 months ago.”
McEwen won the green jersey in 2002, but said his immediate goal is to win a stage. The 32-year-old faces stiff competition as Cooke, Erik Zabel (T-Mobile), Mario Cipollini (Domina Vacanze), Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole), Stuart O’Grady (Cofidis) and the dominant Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) will fight it out in the sprints.
“I’m not going for the green jersey from the outset,” he said. “What I want is a stage win in the first nine days and we’ll see after that. There are some guys who go for every point available – all the intermediate sprints and that. But that’s just not me.”