Road

Saturday’s Eurofile: Tyler ready for Liège; Ullrich isn’t; anti-waste group cheers USPS decision

Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) said he’s feeling strong and will be motivated to defend his title in Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège race in Belgium. Since joining Phonak, the popular New Englander has been quietly building his form for July’s Tour de France. He narrowly missed victory in the final time trial at the Tour of the Basque Country in early April and worked himself into an early attack in Wednesday’s Flèche Wallone. “You maybe didn't see it on Wednesday, but I consider myself to be in good shape, maybe slightly below that of a year ago but not by much,” Hamilton told Belgian newspaper La

By Staff and wire reports

Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) said he’s feeling strong and will be motivated to defend his title in Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège race in Belgium.

Since joining Phonak, the popular New Englander has been quietly building his form for July’s Tour de France. He narrowly missed victory in the final time trial at the Tour of the Basque Country in early April and worked himself into an early attack in Wednesday’s Flèche Wallone.

“You maybe didn’t see it on Wednesday, but I consider myself to be in good shape, maybe slightly below that of a year ago but not by much,” Hamilton told Belgian newspaper La Dernière Heure.

“At the Flèche, before my attack, I was involved in a lot of breaks which cost me a lot of energy, too much in any case to rival with [eventual winner Davide] Rebellin and [Danilo] Di Luca at the end. In any case, I don’t consider myself explosive enough to make the difference in an obstacle as steep as the Mur.”

On Sunday, he’ll line up with 2001 Liège winner Oscar Camenzind to give Phonak two options.

“We absolutely have the option of appointing either one of us as the leader,” Hamilton told his official website. “In that way, we can decide during the race based on the situation. We’re enough of pros that we recognize and support the ace with the better form as the leader. If Oscar Camenzind has the chance to win the race, I will put myself completely at his service.”

Ullrich struggles to find form
Jan Ullrich overcame personal and injury problems to turn himself into the model cycling professional on his way to second place in the Tour de France last year.

But with the fabled three weeks in July approaching, Ullrich, regarded as the rider most capable of stopping Lance Armstrong from winning a record sixth time, is struggling with his form again, Reuters reported.

The German has been battling his weight and worrying fans with poor early-season performances for years. And this year he has looked so rusty that he is taking a break from competition.

After pulling out 100km into the Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday because he could not keep up with the pace, the 30-year-old has withdrawn from Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège World Cup classic and another race in Frankfurt on May 1.

The 1997 Tour de France winner left his T-Mobile team and went back to his home in Switzerland, where he will continue to prepare for the Tour with his personal adviser, Rudy Pevenage.

“Jan is not at the moment in a form that would enable him to play a leading role in such a race,” T-Mobile spokesman Olaf Ludwig said to explain why Ullrich would not compete in Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Ullrich staged a remarkable comeback from a frustrating spell, that featured a career-threatening knee injury and a doping ban for ecstasy, to push Armstrong all the way in last year’s Tour.

The German, who has finished second on the Tour five times, looked set for a new start and said he could still win the world’s greatest race three times. The East German-born Ullrich has been criticized over the years for wasting his huge talent.

This time he started full training in November, earlier than usual, but his old problems soon resurfaced. Earlier this month Ullrich said he needed time to reach his best form and be a real threat to Armstrong in the Tour. Now, he will not be back in action before May 28 and a race in the German city of Erfurt. His Tour preparations will then start in earnest with the Tour of Germany from May 31 and the Tour of Switzerland from June 12.

While Ullrich struggles, Armstrong has displayed good form, finishing third in the Critérium International in March and winning two stages in the relatively low-key Tour of Georgia on Thursday to capture the overall lead.

Still, said Pevenage: “There’s no reason to panic. We might have a problem if he gets injured and falls ill and has to stop training for a few weeks but otherwise, we should be all right.”

Ullrich was not concerned either and is still convinced he can peak just at the right time.

“I’ve done it many times before and there’s no reason I can’t do it again,” he said.

Anti-waste group cheers Postal’s bailout
Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) today urged the United States Postal Service (USPS) to abstain from sports sponsorships following the agency’s announcement that it will end its relationship with the U.S. Pro Cycling Team at the end of this season.

The USPS has sponsored the team for eight years. When asked about the possibility of further sports sponsorships, spokesman Gerry McKiernan said “it’s possible.”

“The decision to disengage from the U.S. Pro Cycling Team is a sensible one, though largely symbolic,” CAGW Director of Special Projects Leslie Paige said in a press release. “Dropping the cycling team may only shift resources to more wasteful spending.”

USPS has been the team’s lead sponsor since 1996, renewing the current contract in 2000 for $25 million. With another $12 million in advertising expenses and the expense of sending postal employees on junkets to France for the annual event, the true cost is closer to $40 million.

The USPS renewed the team’s contract at a time when the postal service was showing signs of financial strain. During 2000 and 2001, the USPS hiked rates three times. The rationale for sponsoring the team was that having the postal-service logo on the team’s jerseys would boost postal employees’ morale and generate “brand awareness.”

Postal officials had hoped to capitalize on cycling’s popularity in Europe to increase international business. While a 1998 report showed that postal products and services were losing money in Europe, the USPS claimed that the sponsorship generated $18 million over four years. However, the USPS Office of the Inspector General was able to account for only $684,000 in revenue and documented widespread weaknesses and accounting lapses in all of the USPS’s sports sponsorship programs.

“Europeans may love Lance Armstrong, but that admiration did not translate into more revenue for the USPS,” Paige continued, adding: “Postal management’s decision to squander $40 million on the cycling team demonstrates that many of the USPS’s financial misfortunes are self-inflicted. The agency’s financial problems are correctible only with deep and dramatic reform, and ultimately privatization.”

Racing today
The Niedersachsen Rundfahrt (GER 2.3) continues with the 182km fourth stage from Einbeck to Melle, where Bert Roesems (Bel) Relax-Bodysol holds a large lead . . . The 44th Tour of the Rioja (SPA 2.3) continues with the 188km second stage from Lardero to the Valdezcaray ski area, where race leader Jan Kuyckx (Vlaanderen) remains tied with Josep Jufre (Relax-Bodysol) . . . The 7th GP MR Cortez-Mitsubishi (POR 2.3) continues with a 135km circuit course where Spanish sprinter Angel Edo (Milaneza) hopes to retain his overall lead.