By VeloNews Interactive wire services
Germany’s Jan Ullrich has fired a warning shot to Lance Armstrong, saying that he intends to stake his claim for Tour de France glory over the next three years before he gets off the saddle for good.
“I know how many years I can still challenge for the Tour de France crown,” said Ullrich, who nearly derailed Armstrong’s victory bid this year while riding for Bianchi, and since has moved to T-Mobile. “I can do it for the next three years. I am convinced that is my time.”
Ullrich, 30, won the world’s biggest race in 1997 and has already come runner-up five times: in 1996, behind teammate Bjarne Riis; in 1998, behind Italian Marco Pantani; and in 2000, 2001 and 2003 behind Armstrong.
The German did not compete in the Tour in 1999, the year he won the Tour of Spain, or in 2002.
Armstrong, who recently lost influential U.S. Postal teammate Roberto Heras to the Liberty team, is the formidable barrier standing in Ullrich’s way. And Ullrich believes the American will be psyching himself up to bid for an unprecedented sixth straight victory in the July race.
“I think he will be very motivated,” said Ullrich, who finished only 1 minute and 1 second behind the American this year. “Just like in the Rocky films. He will be hanging pictures of his opponents on the walls every day and saying: ‘I can beat you’.”
Ullrich, meanwhile, will rely on a strong team that features Kazakh Alexander Vinokourov, who came third on this year’s Tour, time-trial specialist Santiago Botero of Colombia and former Giro winner Paolo Savoldelli of Italy.
“We have one of the strongest teams in the world on paper,” said Ullrich. “I decided to join T-Mobile because I knew that with them, I would have the best chances to win the Tour again.
“Inside of me I know that I can still do it. I feel that there’s enough power left in my body. It was very close this year. I know I’ll win the Tour again.”
–Reuters and AFP contributed to this report.