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T-Mobile happy with TTT effort

Considering the way things came out during the opening time trial of the Tour de France last Saturday, the stage 4 team time trial could could have been much worse for the T-Mobile squad on Tuesday. Not only had Jan Ullrich lost 68 seconds to Lance Armstrong in the Stage 1 time trial in Fromentine; no fewer than six of the nine T-Mobile riders, who had each started immediately before a Discovery man, had been reeled in by their pursuers over the course of the 19-kilometer Tour opener. It was, to say the least, a dismal prospect for an event, in which T-Mobile had hoped to set the stage for

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By Sebastian Moll, Special to VeloNews

T-Mobile happy with TTT effort

T-Mobile happy with TTT effort

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Considering the way things came out during the opening time trial of the Tour de France last Saturday, the stage 4 team time trial could could have been much worse for the T-Mobile squad on Tuesday.

Not only had Jan Ullrich lost 68 seconds to Lance Armstrong in the Stage 1 time trial in Fromentine; no fewer than six of the nine T-Mobile riders, who had each started immediately before a Discovery man, had been reeled in by their pursuers over the course of the 19-kilometer Tour opener. It was, to say the least, a dismal prospect for an event, in which T-Mobile had hoped to set the stage for an upset of the American six time tour champion. But somewhere between Fromentine and Blois, T-Mobile seems to have found its bearings again. T-Mobile finished with a solid third place behind Discovery and CSC, conceding only 30 seconds in the overall.

Team director Mario Kummer said the team’s confidence took a big hit in Stage 1.

“We underperformed as a team in the individual time trial,” Kummer said. “We sat down together and had a long talk and I think my riders came out of it with an attitude of wanting to prove that they can do better.”

The fact that they did so made Kummer very happy with Tuesday’s ride.

“Independent of time gaps and placements, this was a very important ride for us,” Kummer said in Blois. T-Mobile has bounced back to shake off the spell of a less than perfect start. Jan Ullrich was especially in a much better mood on Tuesday than during the previous days.

“We did a great job today and rode very evenly,” he said with a tone of relief evident in his voice.

Personally, Ullrich said he felt much better than during the first stage on Saturday. At first, on Saturday, Ullrich had denied that his crash one day prior to the Tour start had had any influence on his performance. In retrospect, however, and after talking with team doctor Lothar Heinrich, Ullrich thinks he may still have been in a mild state of shock on Saturday.

“I was wide awake right after the crash but on Saturday and Sunday I felt very tired all day,” he said. According to Heinrich, T-Mobile’s physician for ten years, there is no other explanation for Ullrich’s performance in Saturday’s prologue.

“According to the tests we conducted, Jan is in a great shape,” he said. “In theory he should be as strong or maybe even stronger than Armstrong.” Ullrich said he’s ready to fight it out as the Tour moves steadily toward the mountains next week.

“I’m 100 percent back in the game,” he said.

Of course the training mishap may have cost Ullrich the Tour victory anyway, because with a deficit of now more than one and a half minutes it will be very hard to challenge the Texan.

Meanwhile, Alexandre Vinokourov remains the strongest man in the team in seventh place overall, with a 15 second advantage over Ullrich who currently ranks 14th. The question of who will be the front man of T-Mobile remains unsettled. And according to Kummer it will remain unsettled for the next few days.

“We’re focusing on getting safely through the next two days,” Kummer said. “Then we will sit down and discuss strategy.” Some controversy arose in the T-Mobile squad on Tuesday, because Tobias Steinhauser was dropped at the 48km mark of the time trial. Steinhauser’s nomination to the T-mobile’s Tour squad had been questioned, with critics claiming he was only named to the roster because he is a close friend of Ullrich’s and because Ullrich is dating Steinhauser’s sister Sara.

In Blois, Ullrich was quick to defend Steinhauser’s performance in the team time trial.

“It was his role to ride right in front of me for 40 to 50 kilometers,” Ullrich said. “That is the hardest spot on the team and he did his job well.” The highest ranked German in the overall after Tuesday’s stage meanwhile, is not a T-Mobile rider, but Jens Voigt of CSC who is now sits in third place overall. In last year’s Tour, as in previous years, Voigt was one of the most combative riders in the peloton, participating in – often instigating – escapes on an almost-daily basis. Indeed, Voigt spent nearly half of the 2004 Tour riding in front of the peloton.

This year, however Voigt will have to control his combative nature.

“We are here to win the race with Ivan (Basso),” Voigt said.

“My ambitions don’t matter. And I have had my success this year,” Voigt said, referring to his early season performances at the Criterium International and at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. “It’s my turn to give back.” Loosing the yellow jersey on Tuesday, according to Voigt, was not a huge disappointment for CSC. However the way it was lost, with a crash only seconds from the finish, he said, was “very bitter.”

It seems like Lance Armstrong has cast a spell on this race – incapacitating Ullrich a day before the race and letting young Zabriskie go down with the finish line in sight. Indeed, it is almost uncanny, how bad luck strikes those who dare challenge Armstrong – starting with Alex Zülle on the Passage du Gois in 1999, continuing with Ullrich’s crash in the 2003 time trial or Iban Mayo’s crash in Belgium last year.

For now, Armstrong does not need to curse anyone else. Only three days into the race there is nobody left within serious reach of the man from Plano.