Jan: Prologue fluff or bluff?

Neither Jan Ullrich, T-Mobile nor the Tour de France press corps could adequately explain the 'Kaise

Neither Jan Ullrich, T-Mobile nor the Tour de France press corps could adequately explain the ‘Kaise

The morning after Jan Ullrich helped to consolidate Lance Armstrong’s status as the favourite to land the 2004 Tour de France, opinions on the Tour varied as to whether the German had fluffed, bluffed or just not extended himself in Saturday’s 6.1km prologue in Lige. Ullrrich’s 16th-place finish in Lige on Saturday was comfortably his worst result in a Tour prologue since the German’s Tour dbut in 1996 (37th). Worse still, according to T-Mobile boss Walter Godefroot, the 6.1km urban circuit was in theory more congenial to Ullrich than to Armstrong: “On a course like this one, it was brute power that should have paid,” said Godefroot last night. “I can’t explain this result: Jan’s result certainly didn’t live up to our expectations.” If Godefroot initially seemed alarmed, Ullrich certainly wasn’t: “I’m not disappointed: there are 3,000km left in this race and all sorts of things can happen before we reach Paris,” he said. Asked to put the 15 seconds already conceded to Armstrong in context, Ullrich continued: “They were important seconds, but at least we’re not talking about minutes. Today I didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks: I didn’t want my Tour to begin and end in Lige.” While most agreed that a cautious approach may have accounted for part, if not all of Ullrich’s deficit, for many his display was an authentic disappointment. Although remaining upbeat, Ullrich’s T-Mobile team-mate Giuseppe Guerini tended to share the view that his captain had been short of his best. “This was only a prologue, but Jan may indeed have had an off-day,” Guerini told procycling in Lige this morning. “Jan is starting the Tour proper with a small handicap, but, as I said, it’s only the beginning of the Tour. One explanation could be that, since we arrived in Belgium three days ago the weather hasn’t been ideal and neither, therefore, has the training. Jan is well prepared and I think we’ll see the training that he’s done pay off in the high mountains. He’s very motivated and the true leader of this group. He’s a different man compared to the Jan I rode with at Telekom up to 2002. We believe that this could be our year.” “Ullrich didn’t look especially comfortable,” was the view of Quick Step-Davitamon boss Patrick Lefvre. “Having said that, the prologue was too short to make a real judgement. Might he have been bluffing? Not bluffing, as such, just riding conservatively. What did shine through was Lance’s desire to win.” Pre-prologue favourite Bradley McGee was in a better position than most to empathise with Ullrich after his own, below-par performance. Fourth, nine seconds adrift of winner Fabian Cancellara on Saturday night in Lige, McGee believed that Ullrich would be “happy to stay in the shadows a little longer. Perhaps Jan was nervous or worried about falling,” the Aussie told procycling. “The biggest surprise for me was how impressive Lance was.”