By Andrew Hood
T-Mobile is confident Jan Ullrich can deliver another Tour de France victory in 2006. With longtime nemesis Lance Armstrong securely in the retirement home, Ullrich is the hand’s down favorite to win another Tour.
T-Mobile team manager Olaf Ludwig is quietly confident Ullrich can win his second Tour and enters the upcoming season with newfound optimism. In an interview published on the team’s web page, Ludwig said the top rival will be Team CSC’s Ivan Basso.
“Ivan Basso will be the man to beat. However, he has to handle being the Tour favorite fort he first time. That’s a huge pressure not everyone can cope with,” Ludwig said. “Jan knows that position and can handle it. That’s his advantage.”
Ludwig, who formally takes over the reins of the team from retired manager Walter Godefroot, sees no shortage of podium contenders.
“There are six or seven riders who could finish on the podium,” he said. “And whoever has this ability might as well win. Apart from Basso and Jan, I’m thinking of Alejandro Valverde, Alexander Vinokourov, Floyd Landis, Damiano Cunego and Yaroslav Popovych.”
Ludwig shot down the notion that this year’s Tour course – long on time trials and with a tough final week – will favor Ullrich’s style. As the saying goes, the Tour is always hard and Ludwig said that will determine who wins.
“It doesn’t hurt, of course, that there will be two time trials on the menu. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Ullrich will win the Tour win,” Ludwig said. “The course will always suit the strongest one. In the past seven years, it has been a Lance Armstrong course. The Tour de France is tough, the final week in particular. In the past years the all-rounders were the ones to claim the podium spots in the end, the riders who were not only strong in the mountains.”
Bruyneel: ‘Armstrong had another Tour in legs’
Johan Bruyneel – the sport director who helped steer Lance Armstrong to a record seven Tour de France crowns believes the Texan could have won even more.
Speaking with the Spanish daily Marca after returning from the team’s mid-December training camp in Austin, Bruyneel said Armstrong could have more Tours if he wanted to keep living the life as a professional cyclist.
“Physically, I could see another Tour, including two,” Bruyneel said. “He quit because he wanted to, but I am convinced that he had at least one more Tour in his legs.”
Bruyneel said Armstrong will be at this year’s Tour, obviously as a spectator, but perhaps not as visible as he might have been. Allegations of doping charges and the controversial snub by Tour de France officials at October’s 2006 Tour presentation have left a sour taste for the seven-time champion.
“(He’ll be there), but maybe not where they want to see him, at the starts and finishes,” Bruyneel said. “He will be with the important sponsors, and because he misses the ambiance of the team, a lot of time in the hotel with us. His ultimate goal is to see another rider from the team to win the Tour, not this year, but certainly in the future.”
Bruyneel – who will enter his first season as a sport director without Armstrong on his roster – insisted it’s the time not to be sad, but celebrate the legacy that Armstrong leaves behind in cycling.
“The worse thing to do is try to look for a replacement, because that’s impossible,” he said. “When Lance announced his retirement, I wasn’t sad, but rather content and grateful to have experienced his career and wins from so close and to have contributed just a little to that success. I would be lying to say I am not proud of what we did.”
Liberty finalizes lineup
Liberty Seguros-Wurth will ride with 28 riders for the upcoming season after promoting Carlos Abellán from its under-23 team to the elite squad. The team announced he will be the final rider added to the roster for the looming season.
He’ll be the fourth rider to make the jump from the development squad to the ProTour team for 2006. Others on the way up include José Antonio Redondo, José Joaquín Rojas and Eladio Sánchez.
Liberty Seguros-Wurth for 2006
Carlos Abellán (Sp)
Dariusz Baranowski (POL)
Giampaolo Caruso (ITA)
Allan Davis (AUS)
Koen de Kort (HOL)
Jörg Jaksche (GER)
Andrei Kashechkin (KAZ)
Aaron Kemps (AUS)
Sergio Paulinho (POR)
Javier R. Abeja
José Antonio Redondo
José Joaquín Rojas
Luis León Sánchez
Michele Scarponi (ITA)
Alexander Vinokourov (KAZ)
Sergei Yakolev (KAZ)