Plenty of backing for UllrichClose
Jan Ullrich may be 55 seconds down on Lance Armstrong, but many think he has the form and ability toPICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE Jan Ullrich's hopes of winning the 2004 Tour have been boosted over the past 48 hours by votes of confidence from his arch-rival, an opposing team manager, and three leading figures in his entourage. After Lance Armstrong stressed on Monday that Jan Ullrich was "still the man to beat" despite his 55-second deficit from the American, yesterday it was the turn of Brioches La Boulangre manager Jean-Ren Bernaudeau to pour scorn on suggestions that Ullrich's yellow jersey bid is already doomed. According to Bernaudeau, Ullrich had looked "exceptional" in recent days. "All of my boys are talking about Ullrich. They're saying that Armstrong is his usual self, but that Ullrich is outstanding," Bernaudeau claimed. Ullrich's personal coach, Rudy Pevenage, appears similarly encouraged. At least he is by comparison with his former colleague and friend, T-Mobile manager Walter Godefroot. Three days ago the latter claimed that Ullrich had lost "too much time in the first week". The former, in contrast, said yesterday that "courage will be the decisive factor in this race, and Jan has the mental strength that he needs." Having tipped the scales at 75.5kg at the start of the Tour, it is believed that Ullrich is now zeroing in on his form weight of around 73kg. T-Mobile doctor Lothar Heinrich told procycling on Sunday that T-Mobile riders who witnessed Ullrich's winning performance at the Tour of Switzerland in June "had never seen him look so powerful in June." On Wednesday's stage to Saint Flour in the Massif Central this power was very much in evidence, with Ullrich a conspicuous and imposing presence on each of the nine classified climbs. Ullrich's personal physiotherapist, Birgit Krohme, finally, said on Tuesday that she is "certain that Ullrich will win the Tour". Krohme's motives, though, are as questionable as her impartiality. "He has to win," Krohme joked, "because I want my own yellow jersey."