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T-Mobile press conference, July 11, 2005

Jan the cat falls on his feet

Banged around by a couple of crashes, Jan Ullrich has not shown as a real threat in this Tour de France - yet. Described by Lance Armstrong as the rider who motivates him to get up in the morning, Ullrich and his T-Mobile team spoke to the press on the Tour rest day about his injuries, his rivals and the coming mountain showdown on the road to Courchevel. Hedwig Kröner was there for Cyclingnews.

You been in a fight, mate?
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
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When T-Mobile hosted its pre-mountain Tour de France press conference this afternoon in Voreppe, just North of Lyon, the eagerly awaited Jan Ullrich appeared relaxed, but focused. Although the marks of his crash yesterday showed on his face (a bruise on his forehead, and another one just on the side of his right eye), Ullrich was in good spirits when the journalist's questions started, the first one obviously concerning his health. The team doctor Lothar Heinrich explained why he decided to take Ullrich to the hospital for some x-rays this morning.

"It has to be said that Jan's crash was bad yesterday," Heinrich said. "First, one couldn't see a lot of injuries, but once we removed his jersey the injuries were more serious than we expected. You can see the bruises on his head, and it's the same on his body, so we decided to got to a private clinic here in Grenoble this morning to see if he has any broken bones, especially ribs. But we could establish that there are no broken bones. What he does have are severe contusions to his ribs. This can be a handicap especially at maximal performance, when the breathing is very deep, and at night. Fortunately, Jan slept well last night and now, and we hope that his pain will be the least possible tomorrow. During training, he felt all right, and everything else we will see tomorrow."

Heinrich continued to explain about the medical therapies Ullrich was given to relieve the pain. "Birgit Krohme, his physiotherapist, applied a special massage to relax his back muscles and put on a specific bandage overnight, that helped a lot. Then, we have our acupuncturist who can also reduce the pain, and of course we have classical medicine," said Heinrich, to which a joking Ullrich added, "and once your legs start to hurt you don't feel your ribs anymore!"

The 'Kaiser' then took over himself, and said that he was recovering well. "I'm actually surprised that it was better this morning than last night, because it really hurt in the evening and I could hardly move. So I thought that it could only get worse overnight, but it was actually okay this morning. I could train normally and went out for three hours. I think that it'll be almost healed tomorrow," he said.

Armstrong's main challenger
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
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"These two crashes in one week were certainly spectacular", Ullrich laughed, "but that's part of cycling... I was unlucky twice already this year, and I hope that this was the last time. Other than that, I'm more than happy that I could continue racing yesterday, that I didn't lose any time and that nothing is broken. I'll be able to line up as usual at the start tomorrow."

The 31 year-old explained how the crash had happened. "It was a very fast curve to the left, which you could normally ride down without braking so we were at about 60 km/h. I just think that a gust of wind must have brought me to the side of the road, where I lacked about half a meter and fell into the ditch, somersaulting."

"But that won't interfere with my goal," he replied when asked if the crashes had a psychological impact on him. "I feel good, and the more I fight, the less pain I'll feel in the ribs. I'm still ready, still positive - I'm happier actually because I'm still here and nothing too severe happened. You can bear the pain, even more so in our profession!"

As for tomorrow's first mountain stage of this Tour de France from Grenoble to Courchevel, Ullrich did not think that race tactics would be a factor in it. "Tomorrow, all of us need to play our cards. There won't be any more tactics or games, only the legs count. I'm looking forward to it!

"We have to expect all sorts of different scenarios, but the only thing that does make sense is that it will come to a showdown on the last climb. Everybody will be looking at Lance - we will too, of course - and it makes no sense to attack on the first climb because the valley between this one and the last climb to Courchevel is just way too long."

Jan looks calm and composed
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
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"They rode well yesterday," he replied when asked about his impression of the Discovery Channel team. "But they rode a steady pace as there were no attacks. I don't know what would have happened if there had been any. I have to thank them for waiting for me when I crashed. I stood there quite a while and that's how Rasmussen gained three or four minutes. I know Lance could counter all he attacks easily before, and will be strong tomorrow. Of course, he needs a strong team but I think he has it. We need to try to make them tired, in order to attack Lance later."

Ullrich expects not only Armstrong on that showdown up to Courchevel tomorrow. "All the GC contenders will be there, and the climbers. I don't know how good Mayo is, but Heras for example spent the first week incognito, and he give a good impression. Valverde was strong at that first climb and we will see what he can do on the longer ones. Courchevel is a difficult climb, it's long and hard. You have to have good legs to finish in front there, that's for sure!"

A little worse for wear...
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
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The T-Mobile rider was laughing when he added, "I really look forward to it! I have a good feeling, and the Tour is only starting now for the GC riders. All of this boxing finally stops, the groups get smaller, and of course it will hurt more but that's why we're here, that's why we train the whole year!"

"I'm very satisfied with my team," he continued. "Klödi is in a good form - which wasn't clear before the Tour - but he feels good now; Vino has an incredible form, so it couldn't be better for our team." Ullrich also said that the question of who would be leader at T-Mobile did not bother him at all. "We don't have problems although some people have tried to imply that we do. Some people have asked us provocative questions to try to outplay each other, but nobody will achieve that. When Klödi and Vino attack, Lance has to follow both of them because both are strong. And that's a good constellation for us."

T-Mobile team director Mario Kummer, meanwhile, could not give any further information on T-Mobile's tactics for the first mountain stage. "Jan's injury doesn't change anything about our tactics," he said. "We'll have to see how he feels tomorrow and will adapt to that. One thing is for sure: the battle is not on only between Discovery Channel and T-Mobile; CSC also plays a major role in it, as well as Phonak, Illes Balears, Liquigas... there are several teams that are well-placed and that have riders who're very good in the mountains. We can look forward to some exciting racing!"

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