Just like Lance Armstrong, U.S. Postal Service sport director Johan Bruyneel believes Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) is the most dangerous rival for the Texan going into next weekend’s start of the 2004 Tour de France.
“He’s still the most dangerous,” Bruyneel said in an interview in the Spanish daily MARCA. “Of the rest of the favorites, Mayo is at the top of the list. There’s Mayo, Hamilton, Heras and Basso and I would also add Menchov. I’m sure I left somebody off.”
Bruyneel said he believes Armstrong will be ready to win a record sixth Tour when the race begins July 3 in Liège, Belgium.
“We’re confident Lance will be at the same level as other years,” he said. “It’s always possible to lose, but I have confidence in Lance and the rest of the team and I don’t have any reason to think about that.”
Bruyneel said he wasn’t worried by the dominance of Mayo and Hamilton at the Dauphiné Libéré earlier this month.
“Mayo and Hamilton were very strong, stronger than Lance, and their teams were good as well. We were good, but not as strong as them, but that was expected because we didn’t go to the race with the intention of winning,” Bruyneel said. “I was surprised by the difference they took on us on Mont Ventoux. To tell the truth, I didn’t expect it to be so much.”
Bruyneel insisted Postal Service went into the Dauphiné not expecting “big things because the most the difficult stages in the Tour were still five weeks away, too long to maintain the form.” Asked if he was worried, he replied: “Not so much, but it’s obvious we have to get better. But if the others still have to improve, then we have a problem.”
Ullrich to release autobiography
Jan Ullrich’s autobiography, entitled “Ganz oder gar nicht” (“All or Nothing”) will be in German bookstores this weekend. According to excerpts printed in the latest issue of the German magazine Stern, Ullrich talks about a difficult childhood with an alcoholic father that “terrorized” the family before leaving. Ullrich hasn’t seen his father since.
Ullrich also talks about his doping suspension after testing positive for amphetamines in 2002, which he insists came after a wild night partying when he took a dose of the party drug ecstasy.
“I want to beat Armstrong this year,” Ullrich said in an interview with Stern. “I want to beat him man to man.”
Robbie, Axel lead Lotto-Domo
Robbie McEwen and Axel Merckx will lead Lotto-Domo in the Tour de France. The veteran Australian will be looking to win stages and recapture the green jersey he won in 2002 but lost to compatriot Baden Cooke (FDJeux.com) in the final stage.
Merckx and Rik Verbruggen will be in the hunt for stages, but Classics strongman Peter Van Petegem, no lover of longer stage races, won’t be taking part.
Lotto-Domo for Tour
Christophe Brandt (Bel)
Nick Gates (Aus)
Thierry Marichal (Aus)
Robbie McEwen (Aus)
Axel Merckx (Bel)
Koos Moerenhout (Bel)
Wim Vansevant (Bel)
Rik Verbrugghe (Bel)
Aart Vierhouten (Ned)
No ‘Herminator’ at prologue
Austrian ski star Hermann Maier announced he won’t be able to ride the Tour de France prologue like he did last year. The overall World Cup champion said he’s not fit enough to improve on his performance last year and complained of suffering from a cold.
Last year, the Olympic gold medalist covered the 6.5km course at 1:19 slower than winner Brad McGee (FDJeux.com). Stephan Eberharter, another champion Austrian skier, might take his place.
No Tour for Zberg
Swiss rider Markus Zberg (Gerolsteiner) won’t be able to start the Tour de France due to injuries he suffered in a crash last week in the Tour de Suisse, the team announced. Zberg crashed in the fourth stage of the Swiss tour and fractured his right thumb, which required surgery. Team officials said his replacement will be announced after this weekend’s national championships, but the German wires reported that Giro d’Italia KOM winner Fabian Wegmann will go in his place.