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Just a few weeks ago, Jan Ullrich's preparations for the season were under significant fire as a knee injury delayed his 2006 racing debut and excess kilos still seemed to be hanging heavily on him. But after a promising time trial victory at the Giro d'Italia and an even more impressive victory at the Tour of Switzerland last week, Ullrich has confirmed his place as one of the two main favourites for the Tour de France alongside Giro winner Ivan Basso.
Most of the coverage Ullrich is getting now is favourable, and the German is clearly pleased with the way things are progressing for him. "I've got every reason to be happy," he said after a convincing win in the final time trial in Switzerland. "We've climbed 22,000 metres in this race, I've done a very good time trial, which was important for me, in spite of the difficult conditions."
Ominously for Ullrich's opponents in Switzerland and many of those he will face at the Tour in little more than two weeks, Ullrich said he was "only at 90%. The 10% I was missing I will be aiming to find before the Tour. After a bit of rest, I'll spend a week training behind a motorbike to improve my rhytym."
Ullrich's progress over the past two months has been rapid, which is to a large extent down to the intensity of his racing programme. Since debuting this year at the Tour of Romandy in late April, Ullrich has had 34 days of racing compared to the 26 he has tended to get before the Tour.
Reminded of his previous Switzerland victory in 2004, after which he finished in a career worst position of fourth at the Tour, Ullrich commented: "I'm not superstitious and in 2004 I was sick at the start of the Tour."
T-Mobile DS Rudy Pevenage was also in the same positive frame of mind after Switzerland, describing Ullrich as "the strongest he's been for years".
Ullrich concluded by saying he was pleased to have proved some of his doubters wrong, but pointed out that "it's on July 23, at the end of the Tour, that the real assessment can be made".
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