Jan Ullrich was very upbeat about winning this Tour, but two days in the Pyrenees have left him look
PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE Looking back to the start of the Tour, Jan Ullrich’s prologue performance when he lost a comparatively large chunk of time to Lance Armstrong is beginning to seem like an omen of what was to come. The team time trial went badly for the team, and in two days in the Alps, the German has lost more than five minutes on Armstrong, who he was confident of beating this season. The first signs of resignation in the T-Mobile camp began Ullrich’s horror show at La Mongie yesterday. Shelled out 6km from the summit of La Mongie, he trailed in 2-30 behind Ivan Basso and Armstrong. “We didn’t see it coming,” admitted a shell-shocked T-Mobile manager, Walter Godefroot last night. “When we heard over the radio ‘Ullrich in trouble’ it was a terrible shock. Afterwards, he didn’t say anything to us, so I have no explanation to give. two-and-a-half minutes today, added to the 55 seconds we already lost in the team time trial and prologue, that makes more than three minutes. “Frankly, we have to be realistic,” Godefroot continued. “Jan was Armstrong’s biggest rival at the start of this Tour. The distance between the two is already significant, no?” Godefroot’s right-hand man, T-Mobile directeur sportif Mario Kummer, was even more mystified: “We were so optimistic yesterday night and even this morning,” Kummer told journalists at La Mongie. “It’s both a surprise and a mystery. It was a black day, but what I don’t understand is that there was no advance warning. On the descent of the Col d’Aspin, Jan even managed to drop Armstrong.” Kummer bemoaned the absence through injury of Alexandre Vinokourov. Without Vinokourov, he said, T-Mobile had “lost [their] attacking spirit”. “He was a key man in our line-up, but we will have to do without him. We saw today that it isn’t easy,” Kummer concluded. Italian domestique Giuseppe Guerini was instructed to stay with Ullrich as T-Mobile’s super-sub, Andreas Klden set off in pursuit of Armstrong. Guerini confided last night that, “Jan didn’t say a word to me on the last climb – in those circumstances one look is enough. We didn’t speak much in the car after the finish. Jan doesn’t really know what happened. He doesn’t understand. He just doesn’t want to give up the fight.” Ullrich did speak later in his daily diary on the T-Mobile website, writing: “There is no excuse for a day like today: I simply didn’t have the legs to attack. No one was more surprised about that than I was because I felt good enough before the stage today. But form is a strange beast: Only when it comes down to the crunch, as it did today, can you really know just how you feel. “The Pyrenees certainly lived up to their reputation for unpredictable weather conditions. We started in 32-degree heat only to be drenched by cold rain later on. The weather was, purely and simply, awful. Not that that is any excuse, we all had to race under the same weather conditions. Nevertheless, I do feel better on warmer days.” He got a warmer day today, but sixth place was far from scintillating. “It was another tough day for Jan. He did better than yesterday, but we hoped that it would go better for him today,” said Kummer.