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With several weeks of training in South Africa already under his not overly expanded belt this winter, Jan Ullrich has admitted this is an important year for him as he seeks to win the Tour de France for the second time in his career. Now 32, the German said during his team's presentation in Majorca on Saturday: "I'm not getting any younger and I don't have a lot of chances left to win the Tour de France."
With Lance Armstrong, Ullrich's main obstacle to a second Tour win, now retired, the path seems open to the German to take that elusive second victory, and Ullrich declared: "If my training goes well and my form doesn't dip in the spring I'll be a lot more effective in the mountains than last year."
With Olaf Ludwig now in charge of T-Mobile's management side following Walter Godefroot's retirement, Ullrich said he felt T-Mobile's new signings had made the team "absolutely top class. Finally, after many years we have again assembled a team that's fully to my liking. We work well together and I feel that we've already made more progress than last year."
Ullrich also admitted his pleasure at long-term mentor Rudy Pevenage's return to the team's management structure after Pevenage's past disputes with Godefroot. "I've been advocating this for years. He's very important to me. The set-up couldn't be better. To me, Rudy is the best sporting manager," said 1997 Tour winner Ullrich.
The German, though, believes that winning the Tour without Armstrong may not be as easy as some say. "I think it will rather be more difficult. There's no team to control the bunch the way Armstrong's team did in the past few years. So things will be more hectic in the peloton. The pressure won't be any greater than it has been in the past. I've been living with it for years. I take it as it comes."
Ullrich confirmed that riding the Giro remains an option for him, but said he is refusing to think beyond the Tour in what is his final season contracted to T-Mobile. "Everything else is still a long way off. I will decide about my future only after the Tour," he asserted.
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