News for July 26, 1997

Virenque angry about Zulle announcement

Festina boss Bruno Roussel faces a battle to hold on to mountain king Richard Virenque after the leaked announcement that Once rider Alex Zulle of Switzerland will be joining the team next year.

Virenque, second overall having won the Tour's King of the Mountains title, was clearly upset on Wednesday that he had not been informed in advance of the switch and Roussel later admitted he had not handled the situation well.

"There's been a communication problem. We signed Zulle just before the Tour but I didn't tell Richard because I didn't want to distract his preparations.

"It's true that he's annoyed, but that's natural. It's a human reaction. My role is now to reassure him that he has a future in the team," Roussel added.

Virenque had earlier looked stony-faced when confronted by reporters with the news. "I heard the same time as you," he snapped. "Maybe it's a good move for the team."

Zulle, the world time-trial champion has signed a three-year deal worth a reported seven million dollars.

The 28-year-old Swiss, who has been with Once since turning pro in 1991, was forced out of this year's Tour de France after aggravating a broken collarbone in a fall.

Zulle had taken a gamble starting the Tour just 13 days after having his collarbone screwed up after a fall in the Tour of Switzerland. He retired after four stages.

Ullrich fever hits Germany

An expensive ultra high-tech bike displayed in a shop window has become one of the most visited monuments in Bonn.

Every day, dozens of people stand outside the town's largest bicycle shop to admire the white and pink machine, identical to the one on which Jan Ullrich is expected to ride to victory on Sunday in the Tour de France.

Like every other place in Germany, the quiet seat of government has fallen in love with Ullrich, a star even before his more than likely triumph on the Champs-Elysees.

Not everyone can afford the bike which costs 6,380 marks ($3,500) compared to about 500 marks (about $275) for a normal bike.

Most people already have bikes anyway. There are an estimated 60 million bicycles in Germany, a remarkable figure for a country with a population of some 80 million.

Germans cycle to work or to go shopping. At weekends, they tour on cycle paths, some wearing the jersey of Ullrich's Deutsche Telekom team.

The Tour de France has always been a popular event here but this year interest is intense.

About 4.98 million people watched Tuesday's stage compared to 4.34 million viewers for a soccer match between Stuttgart and Karlsruhe.

The Germans had not seen one of their riders in the coveted yellow jersey since Klaus-Peter Thaler wore it for two days in 1978.

Dietrich Thurau, leader for 15 days in 1977, and Rudi Altig, who had his moments of glory in the 1960s, are two of few other Germans to have shone in cycling.

But the class Ullrich has shown in this year's Tour suggests he is something else. Popular newspaper Bild called him a giant when he seized the lead and has been inventing new superlatives ever since.

"Ullrich fever," one of the headlines in Wednesday's edition, drew 50,000 Germans to Colmar, France, near the German border, to watch Ullrich finish the 17th stage.

"If anyone can win the Tour as many times as I did, then it's him," sports weekly Kicker quoted five-times winner Miguel Indurain of Spain as saying.

"A phenomenon, that's the only word I can think of to describe him," said German rider Olaf Ludwig, Ullrich's former team mate.

Everyone in Germany knows everything about Ullrich's heart, his lungs and his incredibly long legs, not to mention his trademark gold earring, a present from his girlfriend, Gaby.

Ullrich learned his trade in the famed Dynamo Berlin sports school in the former East Germany. He was 14 when the Berlin Wall collapsed in 1989. Soon after, he moved to Hamburg and now lives in the Black Forest.

"The new idol of German sports," as weekly Sport Bild called him, looks as if he might stay at the top for awhile.

"I think we have witnessed the start of a new era," said Altig. "Ullrich will probably win a lot more in the next few years which is great news for German cycling."

Next to the bicycle in the Bonn shop window is Thurau's original yellow jersey. On Monday, it might be replaced by Ullrich's when he comes to town to attend a Deutsche Telekom party.

Unlike the bike, it will not be for sale.

Judy Flannery

Judy Flannery was training for a 3,000-mile bicycle race when an unlicensed teen-age driver hit and killed her on a winding Maryland road in April.

That race, the Race Across America, begins this weekend in Southern California. And Flannery's spirit will not be lost in the punishing ride through the Death Valley desert and the Rocky Mountains.

Organizers have dedicated the event to the 57-year-old triathlete from Chevy Chase who was so modest that some acquaintances didn't even know she held nine world triathlon titles and six U.S. triathlon championships.

Four of Flannery's friends will ride as a team in her memory to raise money for driver education programs to teach motorists about sharing the road with bicyclists and athletes.

"It's a responsibility and privilege to carry the spirit of Judy Flannery across the United States," said Lyn Brooks of Towson, a team member who has finished 17 Hawaiian Ironman triathlons, more than anyone in the world.

The race begins Sunday in Irvine, Calif. If all goes well, it will end for Flannery's friends about a week later in Savannah, Ga.

Team Flannery is the only all-women's team in the race. Brooks; Rita Simpson, Boulder, Colo.; Valerie Gattis, Louisville, Ky.; and Sally Edwards, Sacramento, Calif. -- all accomplished master triathletes -- will average 400 miles a day and hope to reach the finish line in 7 1/2 days.

They will be accompanied by a crew of 14, including a doctor, masseuse, cook and mechanic.

Flannery's husband, Dennis, is to meet them at the finish line. One of their daughters, Erin, will travel with the team to make a documentary on the race.

"I know Judy would be flattered on one level, but she would also think all the attention was inappropriate. That's just the kind of person she was," said Melissa Mearson, who served with Flannery on USA Triathlon, the sport's national governing body.

Flannery had been training for the 16th annual Race Across America for about seven months when an unlicensed 16-year-old boy hit her head-on during a 55-mile training ride on a clear morning.

The boy's father was riding in the passenger seat and had allegedly been drinking alcohol. Police said he apparently grabbed the steering wheel just before the crash.

The father, Ronald Rinehart, has pleaded innocent to charges of drunken driving and manslaughter. His trial begins Nov. 17. The son, Timothy Rinehart, will face charges in juvenile court.

Team Flannery hopes to raise thousands of dollars for driver education programs. Ultimately, they hope to set up a fund to construct safe places for athletes to train.

As the race approaches, the Flannery team members are trying not to think of the 200-mile desert ride or 11,000-foot mountain climb that awaits them. They muse about how Flannery would handle prerace jitters.

"This would have been a fun journey for her, a real adventure," Simpson said. "She didn't let races run her, she ran the races. She would have been a real riot to have along."