Cycling: Ullrich rules out option to ride for Mallorca

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The Independent Online

Jan Ullrich yesterday ruled out riding for the Island of Mallorca next season, leaving him four options for a new team to challenge Lance Armstrong for the Tour de France.

Island officials said last week they wanted Ullrich to be their lead rider while investing in Team iBanesto, a move to help tourism and gain publicity.

Ullrich's manager, Wolfgang Strohband, said: "We've never directly negotiated with representatives of Mallorca. It's not a theme anymore."

The German has said repeatedly that he wants a strong team to beat Armstrong at the Tour de France, which is the reason he has refused thus far to sign again with the financially struggling Bianchi.

Strohband said the four options left involve two with Bianchi, joining Telekom or an unnamed team. Ullrich would have to sign for a new team by 31 October, the deadline set by world cycling authorities.

Staying with Bianchi means the team probably has to find a major sponsor who can inject enough cash to pay leading riders to support Ullrich.

Ullrich won the 1997 Tour de France with Telekom, a team with both the money and riders. Alexandre Vinokourov finished third at this year's tour behind Armstrong and Ullrich.

However, Telekom's sporting director, Walter Godefroot, has refused to allow Ullrich's mentor, Rudi Pevenage, to return to Telekom and the German rider has refused to sign without him. Godefroot is angry that his fellow Belgian followed Ullrich to Bianchi last year. A meeting between the two men last week failed to settle their differences.

The future of another former Tour winner, Marco Pantani, remained uncertain after the Italian was acquitted of charges of sports fraud stemming from a 1999 drugs test.

A spokeswoman said the 1998 Giro d'Italia and Tour de France winner reacted "calmly" to the decision of the court, but was tightlipped about his future. There have been recurrent rumours in the Italian media that the 33-year-old - one of the most popular athletes in Italy - may plan to retire.

The trial's prosecutor had been seeking a six-month prison sentence for Pantani, who was thrown out of the Giro d'Italia in 1999 after failing a random blood test. The court of Tione, near Trento, acquitted Pantani on Thursday because sports fraud became part of the Italian law after he was banned.

Pantani was leading the race when he was forced to abandon it before the next-to-last stage. He checked himself into a health clinic specialising in depression after finishing 14th in this year's Giro.