News for May 13, 2001

Recent results and new features

Slow gains for Ullrich

Telekom spearhead Jan Ullrich is still lagging behind the pack when it comes to the hills, despite his better than usual pre-season programme. Although it is only May, Ullrich now has 8 weeks to get himself into significantly better shape for the Tour, if he is to be any threat to defending champion Lance Armstrong.

The latter's fitness has been solid all season, but Ullrich has been struggling harder than he may perhaps like. In today's toughest stage of the Tour de Romandie, Ullrich finished 60th, nearly 7 minutes behind stage winner and Giro favourite. Gilberto Simoni. This puts him at 56th on general classification at 13'45 down, approximately mid-way through the field.

But in yesterday's 25 kilometre time trial, Ullrich was closer to the mark, finishing less than a minute down on winner David Plaza Romero for 13th place on the stage. Ullrich's teammate Andreas Klöden also performed well in his specialty, placing fourth in the TT. This was a better showing from each of them compared to the prologue, where they lost 30 and 42 seconds respectively to Paolo Savoldelli.

"It is going further forwards," wrote Ullrich on his official website yesterday. "Today in the time trial of the Tour de Romandie I had good legs. That's called a good feeling on the bike. I did not have to use all my strength, and I rode a passable time."

He congratulated Klöden on his good ride. "I know what it's like, when you have to fight after a bad spring with many illnesses. After his viral infection, his fourth place behind winner David Plaza is simply classy! Congratulations Klödi!"

Ullrich also wasn't particularly concerned with today's mountain stage, and there is enough time for him to find his legs in the hills again. "The time when I must test my body has not yet come."

Tour selections: Indurain criticises

Controversy continues to surround Jean-Marie Leblanc and the Socičtč du Tour de France over their team selections for this year's race. The latest person to add his voice is Spanish five-time Tour winner Miguel Indurain, who believes that several well known riders should definitely be taking part.

"As a supporter, it makes me sad that men who do so much for cycling and who create the spectacle such as Pantani, Cipollini, Zülle or Escartin do not go to the Tour de France," said Indurain in Madrid today.

"The organisation complied with the rules by retaining the 10 best teams, and the invitations are its business," he added. "It is a private entity, and they acted according to their private interests.

Higher rating for Peace Race?

Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc was in attendance at the start of today's stage 2 of the Peace Race in Pabianice (Pol). The Frenchman, who could be described as influential in cycling, praised the race, which is in its 54th edition this year. "I am very moved by what I've seen here in Poland," he said.

Leblanc added that he would ask the UCI to keep the race at nine days, and perhaps increase its UCI class to 2.2 (it is currently 2.3). "Then, even better teams would go to the start," he said.

When asked to comment about the exclusion of the four riders before the start, due to high hematocrits, he replied that it was "a little normal, and a little abnormal." Normal because the World Anti-Doping Association are doing more drug testing; abnormal because it is three years since the biggest doping scandal in cycling, and 'medication' is still quite strong within the sport.

There were also the inevitable questions regarding his tour selections, which have aroused considerable debate and controversy in the cycling world. "59 teams applied, and we wanted to permit 20," he said. "As an organiser, we had to not only plan for this year's event, but also for the future of the Tour. Therefore, our decisions were made in favour of younger teams with hopes for the coming years."

A bunch sprint on l'Alpe d'Huez?

Has the 'Top Club' smothered racing?

Peter Post has given his thoughts about the conservative racing strategy in the early part of the season. He thinks it has everything to do with the 'Top Club' (the new division I) of 10 teams for 2002. Those 10 teams will automatically get a start in all the important races, including the Tour de France. Teams that do not belong to this Club could run into a lot of trouble, because the sponsors want to see something in return for their investments.

"Nobody takes risks because they are scared it will go wrong," said Post. "Firstly, it's the result of the radio communication between the team directors and the riders. There are not many teams who attack racing. For example, Giancarlo Ferretti (Fassa Bortolo) let his riders ride always. But in most of the teams, the big leaders have to come to the finale fresh. Therefore cycling becomes a little bit like chess. That's a pity in front of the fans. And it is much worse that money is more and more powerful."

He also commented about the Tour de France selection for 2001. "Sponsors bought older riders with a lot of UCI points, but they don't have successes until now. See what happened with the French and their best place in the World Cup: Christophe Mengin's 17th in Paris-Roubaix."

Patrick Lefčvere, manager of Domo-Farm Frites says the organisers of the big races are responsible. They make the races harder and harder, so they hope to get only big names in the results. But if the race is very tough, the favorites will wait until the finale. "That's where the organisers have to think about it," he said.

Ronellenfitsch signs for Coast

25 year old Dirk Ronellenfitsch has signed a contract for German division I Team Coast, effective immediately. The former Farm Frites rider failed in his bid to sign with Mercury-Viatel, and he was left without a team for 2001. His new contract will run until the end of this year.

"The contacts with Coast have existed for a while," said Ronellenfitsch to German website "They still needed another rider. I am enormously pleased that it happened. I am really motivated."

If Ronellenfitsch rides well this year, he will be able to extend his contract with the team for at least another year. His first race will be the Vuelta Asturias in Spain, starting May 15, where he will ride with Fernando Escartin, Alex Zuelle, Raphael Schweda and Torsten Rund. His last race prior to this was the Berlin Six Days.

"Since then, I have trained well, but no matter how well you train, you can't replace racing practice."

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