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Prior to Saturday's opening time trial, Liberty Seguros boss Manolo Saiz had predicted that the climbers would lose four seconds a kilometre to the TT specialists on the exposed 19km-long Noirmoutier course, and a bit more if the wind got up even a little bit. What no one expected was that Jan Ullrich, one of those specialists, would lose most of those 76 seconds and suffer the indignity of being passed well before the line.
T-Mobile tried to put a slightly positive spin on Ullrich being overtaken by Lance Armstrong by pointing out that the incident actually acted as a spur to the German. One team member suggested that Ullrich would have lost another 10 or 15 seconds if Armstrong hadn't come past him. However, that attempt at spin does not stand up to even cursory analysis as in that scenario those seconds would have been lost to stage-winner David Zabriskie, not to Armstrong, and the damage to Ullrich's Tour chances would not have been so severe.
Ullrich himself undermined his team's attempts to unearth something positive from Saturday's debacle by admitting he was "demoralised" by Saturday's events. Although regarded as a traditionally slow starter at the Tour, Ullrich and his team were convinced they could reach the Alps ahead of Lance Armstrong in the overall classification. "The time trial course favours me because it is one for powerful riders," he insisted before Saturday.
"What happened [on Saturday] took me a while to digest. Going into the first stage I felt in pretty good shape - that made me optimistic. But, as Lance passed me, I couldn't quite believe it. So, of course, Iïm still not particularly happy with the opener," said Ullrich.
Only T-Mobile team boss Walter Godefroot seemed to go into the stage with realistic expectations for his leader, feeling that Ullrich would do well to finish within 30 seconds of Armstrong.
On Sunday, things seemed to take a turn for the better as Ullrich initially appeared to have clawed back a handful of the 66 seconds he lost to Armstrong, when he finished in the first group over the line in Les Essarts. The main peloton, including every one of the German's rivals for the yellow jersey, came in five seconds later as the result of a late crash involving Ag2r's Samuel Dumoulin. But the race jury quickly decided that because the split had occurred in the last 3km and was due to a crash that there would be no time differences at all between the two leading groups. But at least it was a better sign for Ullrich.
"It is amazing what a difference a day makes, I'm looking ahead now," said the German after Tom Boonen's win in Les Essarts. "I believe, as I did before, that I am in good shape and that this Tour is still wide open. I had an off-day, but Lance could also have an off-day, so we must be ready for this. Whatever happens, I'm going to fight on and give it everything. Overall, I rode a much better race today than yesterday, when I suffered from fatigue."
Godefroot, though, still seemed unconvinced, as he revealed that the 'all-for-Jan' philosophy with which his team had started the Tour had lasted little more than 24 hours. "Now we've got two leaders," he said after Alexandre Vinokourov had lost considerably less than those 76 seconds predicted by Saiz in finishing third in Noirmoutier. "We will now be behind both of them as far as Courchevel, and then we will look at the situation again after the Alps."
Hardly the morale boost that Ullrich must have been looking for.
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