Cycling: Ullrich suffers bruises and cuts in crash with team car

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The Independent Online

A spokesman for Ullrich's team T-Mobile said that the five-times Tour runner-up, one of Lance Armstrong's leading rivals for Tour victory, crashed into his team manager's car after he was forced to brake. Ullrich hit the rear windscreen, which smashed, and suffered cuts near the throat. He was treated by the team doctor, who said that the bruises and cuts were superficial.

It has been known since late April that this would be Armstrong's last Tour de France, but what could not be predicted is that the opposition would be present in such strength. For the first time since Armstrong began his run of six successive wins in 1999, all his potential rivals bar one, the Italian Damiano Cunego, will start in the 2005 race.

In a sport in which athletes are vulnerable to illness, such a strong line-up is unusual. Hence the satisfaction, for example, of Ullrich, who announced at his pre-race press conference that he "had not had a single cold since January".

Although his injuries yesterday were minor, in the past his preparations have been troubled by a positive drug test and subsequent ban, knee injuries and a lax attitude to training. So T-Mobile have gone for the "trident" approach. Two other key contenders - Alexandre Vinokourov of Kazakhstan, who finished third in 2003, and the German Andreas Klöden, runner-up last year - will act as Ullrich's lieutenants, but will be waiting in the wings should he crack.

A raft of other favourites includes the Italian Ivan Basso, third in 2004, the Americans Levi Leipheimer and Floyd Landis, and the Spanish climbers Roberto Heras and Iban Mayo.

The race begins with an individual time trial, starting in the Vendée coastal village of Fromentine and finishing - for the first time in the Tour's history - on an island, nearby Noirmoutier. Flat and exposed, the stage's 11.9 miles will be an ideal opportunity for the American to lay the foundations for a seventh victory. But this year he may have his work cut out.