By Stephen Farrand, Reuters News
Jan Ullrich thinks four-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong is in a weaker position at the halfway stage than in previous years and may be vulnerable to attack in the Pyrenees.
The German, winner of the Tour in 1997, said there was a chance he could win his first stage of cycling’s premier race in five years in the mountains of southwest France.
“If I’m on good form and I’m feeling good on the day, then it might be possible,” he told reporters at his team’s hotel in Lignan-sur-Orb during the first rest day of the Tour on Wednesday.
“The Pyrenees this year are tougher than the Alps and a lot can happen there.”
Ullrich said he was looking forward to Friday’s 47-km individual time-trial to improve his overall position before the Pyrenees.
“I hope I can gain time on some of the mountain specialists and get a morale boost for the stages the Pyrenees,” said the 29-year-old.
Ullrich, who was second behind Armstrong in 2000 and 2001, said the American had probably never been in a trickier position before the second half of the Tour.
“Lance had certainly expected to be in a better position at this stage,” he said. “In the last few years you never saw his main rivals just a few seconds behind him after the first mountain stages.”
The Texan leads Kazakh Alexander Vinokourov by 21 seconds overall, and Ullrich was full of praise for the Telekom rider – his closest teammate for many years.
“He’s the one who has impressed me the most and I have the impression that he will continue to be dangerous,” Ullrich said.
Ullrich, who is two minutes 10 seconds behind Armstrong in sixth place, said he had surprised himself a little and was especially pleased by the performance of his Bianchi team – formed at the last minute after his Coast team folded.
“Nobody expected that we would have such a strong team,” he said. “We are one of five teams with still everybody on board. So far I’ve had the support I needed.”