Slim Jan plays down his status

Jan Ullrich refutes his billing as the man most likely to bring down Lance Armstrong. And don't ment

Jan Ullrich refutes his billing as the man most likely to bring down Lance Armstrong. And don’t ment

As though hatched from a puff of magic slimming dust, it was a beaming, suddenly slender Jan Ullrich who reported five minutes late for his final pre-Tour press conference in Lige on Thursday evening. Earlier Ullrich had been more punctual. The German was the first rider to receive his obligatory medical under the surgical eye of Tour doctor Grard Porte on Thursday morning. Then, on what happened to be the first birthday of his daughter Sarah-Marie, the “Kaiser” headed out with his T-Mobile team-mates for his penultimate training session before the Tour, a three-hour sortie into the Ardennes hills. On Friday morning Ullrich finally test-rode the 6.1km prologue course where he will begin his Tour campaign at 7.07 pm on Saturday. Faced by the press last night, Ullrich was at pains to stress that he is not the favourite for overall victory. That honour, according to the German, falls to a little-known American by the name of Lance Armstrong. “The situation is the same as last year: Armstrong must win to write himself into the record books,” Ullrich affirmed. “I am here to win, obviously, but it is not absolutely obligatory. I am coming into this race at my ideal racing wait, just as I hoped. And since there are ten days of flat stages before we even get to the mountains, I should even be a little below my ideal weight by then.” Where exactly Ullrich’s weight is situated these days wasn’t specified. One of the (few) revelations to emerge from Armstrong’s least favourite book, “LA Confidential”, is that Ullrich weighed in at 77kg in last year’s pre-Tour medical checks. This is around three kilos more than his widely-quoted form-weight. What was clear yesterday, was that Ullrich was thin, very thin. Or at least a good deal more svelte than when he was last in this neck of the woods, at the Ardennes Classics in April. The “Kaiser” was also defiant: “I don’t agree that I lost the Tour in Nantes in 2003. Even if I hadn’t fallen, I wouldn’t have taken a minute back off Armstrong. The difference this time is that I’ve been to see all of the Alpine stages, the cobbled sections, the last time trial and the team time trial. I just regret that, according to the new rule, the climbers’ teams can only lose two and a half minutes; in the past our team has been at an advantage in that discipline.” Asked for the ritual run-down on his fellow contenders, Ullrich continued: “I am certain that Mayo and Zubeldia will have an important role to play in this Tour. They proved last year that they had the capacities. I don’t believe that it will be a private duel between Armstrong and Ullrich. My list of favourites is longer than that. “Despite Lance’s defeat at the Dauphin Libr, where members of his entourage said he wasn’t at 100% anyway, I am certain that Armstrong will do a great Tour. In the past he’s often been troubled in the last few days of the Tour. This year he seems to have timed his preparation so that he can be at his best in the final week.”