By Andrew Hood
Rudy Pevenage, the Belgian sport director and trainer who’s worked with Jan Ullrich since his amateur days, says his German pupil is in his best form since he won the Tour de France eight years ago.
“He’s made great progress since January. He’s had his best preparation for the Tour de France since 1997,” Pevenage told the German wires. “We did a lot of quality work in Tuscany in February and March. Jan has got good base miles in his legs.”
Just a year ago, Ullrich was forced to not start Flèche Wallone after being behind in his training due to illness and being overweight.
This season has seen Ullrich stay healthy and enjoy better weather in his training camps in Tuscany, despite a round of blizzards in February. The 31-year-old’s confidence is flying high as a result.
“We had good weather in Tuscany in March. I even managed to get a bit of sun on my face and arms,” Ullrich said on the T-Mobile web page. “But what’s much more important is I am bang on schedule with my Tour preparations. The progress of my training can’t be compared with last year. I am feeling much better and am looking forward to this summer with confidence.”
Pevenage said there was nothing to worry about Ullrich’s rather pedestrian performance in Saturday’s 11.2km climbing time trial in the Vuelta a Aragon in Spain that saw him finish 19th at nearly two minutes off the winning time.
“After the first seven kilometers he was fourth, but the final climb had a section at 20 percent and that was a little too much. Plus, the weather was terrible and there was even some snow,” Pevenage said.
Ullrich plans to take a short break before his next race at the Volta a Cataluyna (May 16-22) in Spain. His race schedule after that is still undecided, though a return to defend his title at the Tour du Suisse seems likely.
For Ullrich, it’s all systems go for the Tour. With Lance Armstrong hinting he may retire after this year’s Tour, Ullrich wants nothing more than to beat the six-time Tour champion before he rides into the sunset.
With the Tour dipping into Germany this year, Ullrich feels this is just the year to do it. “The Tour de France pays a visit to Germany this year. That provides me with added motivation,” Ullrich said. “I am delighted that the fans at home can experience the racing action first-hand this time round. In any case, I will be digging deep into my reserves to try and win my second Tour de France.”
Sevilla anxious for return to form
It’s been a long time since Oscar Sevilla has been at his best and the Spanish rider known as “El Niño” is hoping he can return to the kind of form that propelled him to second in the Vuelta a España in 2001.
“I want the fans to know Oscar Sevilla is not dead,” the T-Mobile rider said last week. “I’ve had a crisis of confidence the last couple of seasons, but I see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Sevilla says he’s training normally without the pain or injuries that have hampered him since a terrible crash in the 2002 Dauphiné Libéré.
“I hope to make a strong Tour and do something special in one of the mountain stages. Later, I have the Vuelta to demonstrate what I still can do,” Sevilla said. “I did the Vuelta and Tour in 2001, so I don’t know why I can’t do it again in 2005.”
Indurain sees Armstrong as Tour favorite
Spanish legend Miguel Indurain says despite some early season hiccups for Lance Armstrong, he sees the six-time Tour de France champion as the “indisputable number one” to win yet another maillot jaune.
“Other years everything was clear for Lance, but this year there’s been doubts. He had some other ideas about what to do, but now that he’s decided to race the Tour, he does it to win,” Indurain said during a presentation of a new sporting goods store that he’s part owner. “He’s a big professional. If he’s going to race, he knows it’s very hard, and he’ll show up well-prepared, as always.”
Indurain, who fell short of winning a sixth Tour in 1996 after reeling off five straight, said he notes that Armstrong is starting to feel the advancement of years.
“Last year he wasn’t as explosive as the previous years, but he was very steady,” Indurain continued. “In every sense of the word, you could notice that he was one year older. Time passes the same for everyone.” Bouygues for Giro
Although ProTour teams are threatening to boycott the Giro d’Italia, teams are still revving up for the season’s first major grand tour. French team Bouygues Telecom will bring a young team led by a strong veteran in Didier Rous. Also starting the Giro will be Christophe Kern, Rony Martias, Giovanni Bernaudeau, Matthieu Claude, Olivier Bonnaire, Walter Bénéteau, Laurent Lefèvre and Franck Rénier. Baffi joins Phonak
Adriano Baffi, the Italian veteran who helped lend credibility to the upstart U.S. Postal Service team before the arrival of Lance Armstrong, will join Phonak next month as an assistant sport director.
Baffi will leave his position as sport director at Landbouwkrediet-Colnago to join the Swiss Phonak team, joining the staff led by team manager John Lelangue. Baffi will join current sport directors Juan Fernandez, Jacques Michaud and René Savary beginning May 1.