Godefroot mystified by Jan’s form

T-Mobile's Walter Godefroot has one star rider who has failed to do justice to his responsibility, a

T-Mobile’s Walter Godefroot has one star rider who has failed to do justice to his responsibility, a

PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE It was refreshing to note that, as Jan Ullrich’s prospects became grimmer by the kilometre at the weekend, an irresistibly black humour had filled the void left by the optimism with which T-Mobile entered the Tour de France. Even a week ago, T-Mobile manager Walter Godefroot’s realism had bordered on pessimism: 50 seconds, said Godefroot was “too much” for Ullrich to have lost to Lance Armstrong in seven days. Today the transition seemed complete, as Godefroot decided that laughter was the only antidote to Ullrich’s desperate plight. “Jan is seven minutes behind, right?” Godefroot asked disingenuously. “What’s that? Seven times 60 seconds? That’s a lot, isn’t it?” Twenty-four hours after Ullrich’s latest flop at Plateau de Beille, Godefroot and the rest of the T-Mobile clan still seemed mystified at the German’s inability to perform in the mountains. “We are still all scratching our heads,” said the veteran Belgian boss in Carcassone this morning. “Jan is physically fine: even the team doctor says so. We said to ourselves in mid-June that, after the Tour of Switzerland and Dauphin Libr, Armstrong and Ullrich both had a 10 to 15% margin of improvement. Armstrong has lived up to our expectations, but not Jan. Even he doesn’t understand.” One theory, advanced by Ullrich’s personal coach Rudy Pevenage today, is that T-Mobile is simply too disorganised to channel the German’s undoubted talents. Ullrich, Pevenage suggested, would be better served riding for Bjarne Riis and his CSC team. Godefroot admitted today that Ullrich’s intricate web of support staff both in and on the fringes of T-Mobile make the 1997 Tour champion’s situation “complicated”. “He has a directeur sportif in Mario Kummer, his own physiotherapist, a coach, a trainer, team-mates who train with him in Switzerland and now even an acupuncturist. He has everything he needs to succeed. “Honestly, I have very little contact with Jan,” Godefroot admitted. “Where I will come in is in explaining his performance to the sponsors at the end of the Tour and deciding where we go next.” Caught between a rock and a hard place, Godefroot has one star rider who has failed to do justice to his responsibility, and another who seems allergic to it. Andreas Klden lies fourth on general classification, within two minutes of Lance Armstrong, but according to Godefroot “doesn’t want responsibility”. “There are some riders who thrive under pressure, others who collapse. If you make demands of Andreas he stops performing. For that reason Jan remains the team leader. “Yesterday (stage 13 to Plateau de Beille, where Klden finished fourth – Ed) was the first time I’ve seen Andreas absolutely worn out at the finish line,” Godefroot continued. “He has never given that much before. He’s a fragile boy, but he’s drawing mental strength and confidence from his perfect physical condition at the moment. At his best, Ullrich is almost as good as Armstrong, but not Klden. When he won the Tour of the Basque Country and Paris-Nice in 2001, people were comparing him to Jan. Not me: both of those races contained a mountain time trial, his speciality, and he only won them by a few seconds. If we keep the pressure off him, he could just about finish on the podium in Paris.” Finally, has Klden learned anything from Ullrich? To this question Godefroot responds with a wry smile: “Andreas learn something from Jan?. Hmmm.”