Tour de France: Ullrich plots mountain ambush to regain title

Last year Lance Armstrong might have said that he did not see it coming when Jan Ullrich had him on the ropes during the Tour de France, but this year he has no excuse.

Last year Lance Armstrong might have said that he did not see it coming when Jan Ullrich had him on the ropes during the Tour de France, but this year he has no excuse.

Rather than deliver the usual excuses of poor form that most riders prefer as a means of keeping the pressure off, yesterday Ullrich used the press conference that revealed his T-Mobile squad's Tour line-up to deliver the message that he is "convinced" he can beat Armstrong. "I know his weaknesses and I plan to exploit them," the 30-year-old German said. "I will take time from him wherever I can."

His personal manager, Rudy Pevenage, added: "Jan is preparing to attack Lance in the mountains, on the hardest climbs." Stirring stuff, though perhaps foolhardy considering that Armstrong has won five Tours in a row, with Ullrich second three times behind him.

That said, last year the American's over-confidence and a couple of tactical errors - such as not drinking enough water before a time trial run in 40ºC-plus temperatures - allowed Ullrich to come within 61 seconds of defeating him, the closest margin ever for the Texan.

That 2003 Tour is perhaps the major reason why Ullrich has allowed himself to be the only contender in this year's Tour line-up to state categorically that he can beat Armstrong.

There are good reasons why Ullrich is so happy to bait Armstrong - particularly his first win in his last dress rehearsal race for the Tour this year, the Tour of Switzerland. It is ranked the fourth toughest stage race, and Ullrich believes his "victory there was exactly what my morale needed".

Fabian Jeker, the runner-up in Switzerland, said of Ullrich: "He's a total animal. He's been going up the climbs using the big ring [the gear usually used for flat stages by riders] and when that happens, there's nothing you can do."

Even more encouraging for Ullrich, at the same time he was winning in Switzerland, Armstrong was losing his final pre-Tour race, the Dauphiné Libéré. The American was more than two minutes off the pace in the key mountain stage up Mont Ventoux and finished fourth overall, far and away his worst performance in a June race since he started winning the Tour in 1999.

But it is the memories of 2003, together with Switzerland, that make Ullrich sound so convincing. That year the German somehow managed to put behind him factors that would have sunk a lesser rider. His first 2003 team, Coast, went bankrupt in May, six weeks before the Tour, and his race programme had to be crammed into two months because of a suspension for recreational amphetamine use, but Ullrich still gave Armstrong his toughest ride ever to Paris.

The American won, but whereas in previous years he always won the last time trial merely to rub in the point that he was the rightful wearer of the yellow jersey, last year, if he had not gone all out against the clock, he would have risked being overtaken by Ullrich.

The German is now the only Tour winner left in the peloton barring the Texan, and at 30 is two years younger than Armstrong - who admits, Ullrich is "the only rider I really fear". The loss of Alexandre Vinokourov, third in last year's Tour, because of a crash in Switzerland, is a severe blow to T-Mobile's Tour aspirations. But it also means the squad will be more willing to concentrate exclusively on Ullrich.

The armchair theorists point out that if Ullrich can get so close to beating Armstrong with his chaotic build-up to the Tour in 2003, then T-Mobile will radically improve his chances.

Given that he has received consistent financial and technical support this season, and that T-Mobile was the same team - then with Deutsche Telekom sponsorship - that took him to victory in 1997, he can only get better. Which can only mean one thing - yellow in Paris.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Project Manager - Birmingham - up to £40,000 - 12 month FTC

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...

SThree: Recruitment Consultant - IT

£25000 - £30000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Sthree are looking fo...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before