By Andrew Hood
Former Tour de France winner and five-time runner-up Jan Ullrich has hit out at the race’s organizers for reducing the number of time trials in the three-week epic race.
The 30-year-old T-Mobile rider, who won the Tour in 1997 and finished second five times, is a time trial specialist who in previous years would have looked to the discipline to put time on his rivals.
Next year, however, the Tour will feature one less time trial than usual when it begins with a 19km time trial instead of the usual short prologue.
After a team time trial on the fourth stage, the next opportunity for Ullrich to put any time on his rivals will not come until the penultimate stage, a 55km race against the clock around St Etienne.
Despite praising the organisers’ decision to run the race through his native Germany for two days, the former Olympic time trial champion in Sydney said reducing the time trial opportunities was not to his liking.
“Of course I appreciate that (the towns of) Karlsruhe and Pforzheim will feature on the race again. But I don’t like the fact there are less time trials,” he told Tuesday’s edition of Berlin-based Tageszeitung newspaper.
Ullrich has not won the Tour since record six-time winner Lance Armstrong made his comeback in 1999 after recovering from cancer, although when he rode for the Bianchi team in 2003 Ullrich finished a close second at only a minute behind the U.S. Postal rider.
Armstrong, who will spearhead the Discovery Channel team next season, is as yet not guaranteed to race next year’s Tour.
But for Ullrich, the American’s participation is a formality.
“It’s all the same, whether Armstrong comes or not,” Ullrich said. “It’s the same, if you want to win you have to ride faster than the rest.”
For T-Mobile manager Walter Godefroot, however, Armstrong will not be missing the chance to stretch his yellow jersey collection to seven.
“I’m not convinced that Lance Armstrong will miss the Tour in 2005,” said Godefroot. “He’s only saying things like that because right now he doesn’t want to heap any pressure on himself,” Godefroot said.
Ullrich had his worst ever Tour finish this year, taking fourth, nine minutes behind Armstrong.
With or without Armstrong, Discovery aims for good Tour
While Lance Armstrong’s participation in the 2005 Tour de France is still up in the air, his Discovery Channel team is already anticipating the season’s most important race with or without their star rider.
Armstrong said he’ll likely not decide until as late as February on whether he’ll go for a seventh straight Tour title. Team staff and riders, meanwhile, said they like what they saw at last month’s Tour presentation of the 2005 course.
“I think it’s a pretty normal Tour de France. The only surprise is the long prologue to start with, similar to 2000 when Millar won in front of Lance,” said team boss Johan Bruyneel in an interview on Paceline.com. “I think it doesn’t necessarily favor the team. For me, it’s a well balanced Tour and it’s still the riders who make the race, not the course.”
Bruyneel said the team would still be a force regardless if Armstrong decides to race or not.
“We have maintained almost all of our key guys, plus we have added two new great stage racers in Popovych and Savoldelli,” Bruyneel continued. “It all depends on in which form and spirits Lance will start, if he starts. If he is similar to this year, then I think we will have a very strong team to support him. If he doesn’t race the Tour, then we will have to change our plans, but it’s still too early to start thinking about that.”
Star rider George Hincapie, meanwhile, said the Tour is hard regardless of which direction the course takes.
“You know, I never really pay that much attention to the route announcement. The Tour is always hard, no matter where they decide to send us,” Hincapie said. “Our team next year is going to be very complete and no matter who does it, we should be one of the best teams in the race. … I really hope I can continue to improve my climbing next year. While I will continue to focus on the Classics, I would like to go uphill fast during July.”
Discovery Channel is expected to have its first team training camp next month when new riders will be introduced into the team.
Garzelli only wants one grand tour
Stefano Garzelli said he only wants to race one major tour this year and prepare for it well. According to a report on the Italian wire ANSA, the 2000 Giro d’Italia champion said he’s tired of spreading himself too thin.
“This year I was sixth in the Giro and 11th at the Vuelta, and those results weren’t satisfactory,” Garzelli said. “The only upbeat note was being able to wear the Italian jersey at the world’s, but overall it wasn’t a great season for me.”
The 31-year-old will join new Italian team Liquigas as one of the leaders for three-week tours, but said he has yet to finalize his 2005 racing schedule.
“I have still have to arrange my final racing program with the new team, but it is certain that I won’t ride the Tour and Giro,” Garzelli said.
Leblanc to visit TDU
Tour de France race director Jean-Marie Leblanc will be a guest of the 2005 Jacob’s Creek Tour Down Under next year, race organizers announced.
Tour Down Under race director Mike Turtur said, “Having confirmation that Jean-Marie Leblanc has accepted an invitation extended by the Minister for Tourism to attend our event and be a special guest is testament to the strong reputation our event has internationally. … The added bonus for cycling purists is his presence at the Legends Night Dinner, an opportunity to get up close and personal with a true cycling legend.” Illes Balears signs young talent
Illes Balears-Banesto continues its youth movement by signing 22-year-old José Luis Carrasco to a one-year contract to join the Spanish team in 2005. Surprisingly, he’s only the second new signing for the team for next season, with star rider Alejandro Valverde being the other addition.
Freire edges race horse
Reigning world champion Oscar Freire is also the fastest man on four feet, or so it would seem after he beat a horse-and-buggy team in a criterium race Sunday in Valencia.
The unlikely duo squared off in two-lap course held on asphalt that favored Freire, though the horse was donned with special plastic shoes that helped it gain traction on the smooth surface.
Freire was able to pass jockey Felipe Hernández on the final lap of an out and back course to take the unlikely honors. He also beat Ivan Basso in another publicity race to round out a raucous Spanish fiesta.
The good times for Freire didn’t stop there. He was also named honorary mayor of his hometown Torrelavega in northern Spain.