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Tour de France News Extra for July 6, 2004

Edited by Chris Henry

Ullrich does it his way

Jan Ullrich has finished second behind Lance Armstrong in the Tour three times, but the German, who won the race in 1997 and has never finished lower than the second step of the podium, prefers to stick to his own habits rather than emulate the American. This year Ullrich once again lines up as the principal adversary to Armstrong, even if the field of contenders for the title is deeper than in recent editions of the Tour. Ullrich may not try to be like Armstrong, but he does pay attention to his rival and admits that he's learned a few things along the way.

"The 2003 Tour de France opened my eyes," Ullrich commented in a l'Equipe interview. "Up until that point, he could always do what he wanted with his rivals. Last year, he realized that the challenge had gone up a notch. Looking at his face we understood that he wasn't the same; he was thinking more, he'd become more calculating."

Ullrich has also maintained that Armstrong's fifth place atop Mont Ventoux in the stage 4 time trial of the Dauphiné Libéré was a bluff. Since being duped by Armstrong on l'Alpe d'Huez in 2001, when the US Postal leader feigned weakness on the early climbs only to destroy the field on the Alpe, Ullrich has come to expect more of the same.

"That day taught me a lot," Ullrich admitted. "I used to believe that people were spontaneous. I was wrong... It's hard to imagine that with his experience and at his level that he would be in difficulty on the Ventoux, one month before the Tour."

Ullrich is comfortable with his own mental approach to the Tour, a race which inspires him as much as it does Armstrong. He's been criticised in the past by his T-Mobile director Walter Godefroot for lacking the dedication to prepare thoroughly, but Ullrich offers no apologies.

"Of course we can always do better, but that's not something that obsesses me," he explained. "It's a question of mentality, which doesn't prevent me from being completely motivated for the start of the Tour de France. Only this race can put me in that mind set.

"If at the end of my career I could have won three Tours, I'll be the happiest man in the world," Ullrich said, comparing his expectations with Armstrong's. "I don't need more than that. I also have a private life, which is becoming more and more important."

Piil on form

Jakob Piil (Team CSC) has wasted no time in his search for a stage victory in this year's Tour de France. Winner of a stage last year in Marseille, Piil has featured in two breakaways in two days of racing. Success has eluded him but the Dane is ready to keep trying.

"I feel really good right now," he said after stage 2. "When we attacked I was thinking of the stage win, even if that sort of break doesn't usually have a chance. I also tried to get bonus seconds, thinking ahead to the team time trial. If we can get ahead of US Postal [in the team standings] we'll start last on Wednesday."

Team CSC has also sent Jens Voigt on the attack for the same reasons, as Voigt was the best-placed member of the team after the prologue time trial and is a contender for the yellow jersey in the opening week of the Tour.

Bruyneel talks to Popovych

US Postal Service directeur sportif Johan Bruyneel has confirmed that, at a minimum, he has been in contact with Yaroslav Popovych, currently with Landbouwkrediet-Colnago. The Ukrainian, a podium finisher in last year's Giro d'Italia and former U23 world champion, could present the Discovery Channel team (which will succeed US Postal Service) with a key rider now that the team will be compelled to race all three grand tours as part of the UCI's new Pro Tour.

"I've discussed it with him but it hasn't gone farther than that," Bruyneel said simply. For the moment only four riders are under contract with Bruyneel for next season. Team leader Armstrong is not one, however that is a mere formality and the American is sure to return in 2005 with the new team.

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