By VeloNews Interactive wire services
Jan Ullrich did not travel with the T-Mobile team for their training camp beginning in Mallorca on Saturday after being struck down with a bout of flu.
The German rider, 30, will rest in bed while his teammates brace themselves for a two-week training program on the island.
“Perhaps it is good to get this illness out of the way so early in the season,” Ullrich said. “Hopefully I can prepare myself thoroughly in the next few weeks without any hiccups.”
Ullrich joined the T-Mobile team this year from Bianchi and has his sights set on deposing American nemesis Lance Armstrong in this year’s Tour after finishing runner-up once again last year.
Virenque wants seventh polka-dot jersey
Frenchman Richard Virenque has set his sights on becoming the Tour de France’s King of the Mountains for a record seventh time this year.
The 34-year-old is about to start his 14th year as a professional rider but his determination to retain the polka-dot jersey has not diminished.
“Last year I had a great Tour. I’m not getting any younger, but I want to have another successful season in 2004 and I’m not even thinking about retiring,” Virenque told reporters Friday at a presentation of his Quick Step team in Wevelgem, Belgium.
“My big objective is to win the Tour de France climber’s competition again. Spaniard Federico Bahamontes and Belgian Lucien Van Impe won it six times in the Sixties and Seventies, but I want to be the first rider to win it seven times.”
Virenque was involved in the Festina doping scandal in 1998 and was subsequently suspended from racing in 2001 but has bounced back and is still one of the most popular riders in cycling.
He is realistic that he is not a contender for overall victory in the Tour, but predicts that American Lance Armstrong will win the sport’s biggest race for a record sixth time.
“Jan Ullrich and Joseba Beloki will be giving it everything to beat Lance, but I’m convinced he will win. Hopefully it will be a record-breaking 2004 Tour de France for both of us,” Virenque added.
Virenque and his Quick Step teammates, including Paolo Bettini and Johan Museeuw, will travel to Tuscany on Monday for a weeklong training camp. His first race of the year will be the Trofeo Majorca.
O’Grady hopes for fresh start with new team
Australian Stuart O’Grady is hoping a new team and some fresh goals will help him get back on track after a disappointing 2003 that saw him narrowly miss winning a second Tour de France stage after a long and painful two-man breakaway.
The 30-year-old from Adelaide, best known for winning a stage and wearing the yellow jersey for nearly a week in the 2002 Tour de France, ended his nine-year spell with the Credit Agricole team recently to join the French team Cofidis, which presented a new star-studded line-up on Friday, including world champions David Millar (time trial), Spain’s Igor Astarloa (road race) and France’s Laurent Gane (track).
O’Grady told AFP he hopes Cofidis will give him the support a sprinter needs in those “critical moments” in races like the Tour of Flanders, where last year he scored an encouraging third place at the end of the World Cup season.
“We had a good team but sometimes we just lacked that bit of support at the end,” he said. “I’m not asking for an eight-man lead-out – it’s just those couple of guys at the vital moment where you really need a hand. Cofidis have the armory to do that, we’ll just see how it goes.”
O’Grady’s recent transfer means he will miss the Tour Down Under later this month, and the chance to defend his Australian championship title. But it’s the chance he has to take if he wants to win a classic like Flanders or Paris-Roubaix.
“The Tour Down Under for me is fantastic, but to win Paris-Roubaix you can’t be going that much into the red in January,” he said. “You can’t be national champion in January and still be firing on all four cylinders in April.”
White wants to work
Joining Stuart O’Grady at Cofidis is fellow Aussie Matthew White, who recently ended his spell with Lance Armstrong’s U.S. Postal outfit after failing to win selection for any of the team’s Tour-winning campaigns.
The 29-year-old from Sydney feels that his workmanlike qualities will give “Stuey,” David Millar and Igor Astarloa a boost when the time comes.
“Obviously I was disappointed not to get a ride on the U.S. Postal Tour team, but I’m well aware what I can do in big races and feel I can do a good job for Cofidis,” White said.
“I’ve rode the Vuelta (a España) three times, and I’m looking towards May as a period where I can be of best use to the team. Obviously the Tour de France is a main goal for me, so we’ll just see how it goes.” –AFP and Reuters contributed to this report.