Godefroot: Jan + Zabel = Merckx

T-Mobile boss Walter Godefroot wonders if he might have been better building his team around Kloeden

T-Mobile boss Walter Godefroot wonders if he might have been better building his team around Kloeden
PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE In an interview with French daily sports newspaper L'Equipe on Friday, Walter Godefroot, manager of Jan Ullrich's T-Mobile squad, makes it clear that his team leader has not impressed him much in this year's Tour. But last year, when out of Godefroot's hands for the first time in his professional career and riding instead with Rudy Pevenage at Bianchi, Ullrich came the closest he's ever come to beating Lance Armstrong at the Tour, finishing second for the fifth time in his career, just 61 seconds down. Back into the fold at T-Mobile this year, Ullrich - who won the Tour in 1997 - once again came out of the off-season 10 kilos heavier than his race weight, the problems of discipline that many thought had been ironed out through experience and maturity clearly still apparent. "That's something you'll have to ask Pevenage about," responded Godefroot, the whole interview in danger of being a non-event. "My responsibility is the team. It's Pevenage you have to speak to about Ullrich's training. "I'd be lying if I said I was satisfied with Ullrich's performance," Godefroot was willing to say. "He was expected to be Armstrong's main adversary, but he failed, and we haven't even won a stage." With Ullrich's team-mate Andreas Kloeden the highest-placed T-Mobile rider going into the penultimate stage - and having generally performed better in the mountains - Godefroot suggested that he might have preferred for the team to have ridden for Kloeden. "It was necessary to make a choice, and I had to make a 'commercial' one," Godefroot said. "At T-Mobile, the star is Jan Ullrich." Godefroot and Pevenage have never wanted to talk about the reasons that the two went their separate ways after working for many years together, with Pevenage as directeur sportif of the Telekom team, as it was known before becoming T-Mobile in 2004. With Ullrich still working with Pevenage as his personal coach this year after the collapse of the Bianchi team after just one season, Godefroot confirmed that it made things difficult. "Pevenage can go into Ullrich's hotel room whenever he wants to talk about strategies, and then they talk to Mario Kummer [T-Mobile directeur sportif]. We have a kind of management agreement," explained Godefroot. "Jan wanted Pevenage by his side, along with his own masseur, a physiotherapist, his brother as mechanic, and two riders of his choice on the team. For my part, I've had too many problems with Pevenage to have him back on my team. At 61, I've passed the age of compromise." But Godefroot seems clear about why Armstrong is so dominant, and Ullrich is not able to reach the same level. "At US Postal, it's Armstrong who calls the shots. The others just follow," Godefroot said. "If Ullrich doesn't want to train in January, we just have to go with it. Some champions, like Armstrong, or [Joop] Zoetemelk before, live for their job. Jan rides the bike to live. If he can't have the freedom to do what he wants to a certain extent in the winter, he wouldn't be able to cope with the stress of competition. It's a shame, because if you could put together Erik Zabel's professionalism with Ullrich's talent, we'd have Eddy Merckx."
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