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By Rupert Guinness, Special to VeloNews
Jan Ullrich concedes that retirement is not too far away. But the T-Mobile star has discounted suggestions that it will come sooner than later by reaffirming his desire to race the Tour de France next year in Lance Armstrong’s absence.
In an interview Tuesday with the French sports daily L’Equipe, the 1997 Tour champion said he still wants to win, but doesn’t feel the same pressure he did eight years ago.
“This period of my life when the pressure is always there is in the past. I want to live out my life in cycling quietly and in peace,” he said.
“Him (Armstrong) leaving will not change my wish to win the Tour. In 1997 when I won Lance wasn’t there and no one doubted the quality of my win. Next year I will still be there to try and win the Tour without him.”
Ullrich reiterated his respect for Armstrong, but indicated he was still at a loss for a way to beat the the six-time Tour champion.
“If I knew, he would never have won the Tour de France six times. There is no miracle recipe. You just need to be stronger than him physically, to have better legs than him.
“I know he has come to this Tour with a much stronger motivation than in the last years. I know him perfectly well – he leaves nothing to chance.”
However, Ullrich denied suggestions that finishing second to Armstrong three times had caused him to fear the American.
“He is someone I respect a lot, but certainly not fear. And this year I find myself in the skin of someone who wants to fight like never before.”
Ullrich also reiterated that he and teammates Alexandre Vinokourov and Andreas Klöden were rock solid in their commitment to ride for whoever of the three proves best placed to win the yellow jersey.
“We have always said we will work for whoever is the best between us. It is clear because our objective is to win the yellow jersey for the team,” he said.
And afterward, on some future day when, like Armstrong, Ullrich decides it’s time to call it quits? Ullrich says he struggles to envision his life after cycling.
“This period isn’t very far away. But I find it difficult to contemplate this new life,” said Ullrich. “I am not the type of guy who sets long-term projects for the future. But one thing is for sure … I won’t be staying at home. I will need to travel.”
A quick interview with a quick rider: Aussie Allan Davis
VeloNews bumped into Australian sprinter Allan Davis (Liberty Seguros) in the mayhem that was the finishing area of the stage 4 team time trial at Blois.
In his second Tour, the Queenslander – who boasts three race wins this season – has been making some steady progress in the two bunch sprints so far, placing 10th and fifth in stages 2 and 3.
With the sprinters’ battles set to continue Wednesday in stage 5, it was a fitting moment to get a quick word from a quick rider who could be getting more attention come the Tour finish in Paris on July 24.
VeloNews: The wind was a key element today, as too the course. How did it go for you guys on Liberty-Seguros?
Allan Davis: It was a tail wind for three quarters of the course. Flat. Then a bit lumpy towards the end for the last quarter. We did everything it could. It hurts when you lose by the 15 seconds or whatever it was. But we tried everything we could.
VN: What were your instructions for today?
AD: Short and progressive efforts where you lift the pace in a progressive way. Then put it in. That’s what we did.
VN: Last year, in your first Tour, Manolo Saiz didn’t want you contesting the bunch sprints. He wanted you to be there, fresh, for the team time trial. This year you have carte blanche to go for the sprints and are showing improvement.
AD: I have come into the race a bit fresher than last year. So I think as the years go along I should get a bit better. Hopefully, I will keep progressing in the way it has been in the last couple of days.
Tip of the day
From Lance Armstrong on the odds of Belgian sprinter Tom Boonen (Quick Step) winning six or seven stages in this year’s Tour de France. It is a scenario that the Texan would love, for it would spare his team from having to do all the donkey work in the days to come: “He is clearly the fastest here on the Tour now. I can see him do that, winning six or seven stages. That would be great for us.”