By Jan Janssens
Lance Armstrong respects all of his
opponents, but there are only a few that he fears. And best-known of those lucky
few (?) is a T-Mobile rider: Der Jan, of course. Eternal antagonist of
the 5-times Tour winner, Ullrich has yet to place higher than the American in the
Tour, but his palmares throw a huge shade over the Mayos, Hamiltons and
Herases of this world, with 1 win and five 2nd places…
Jan Ullrich at the Tour du Suisse. Courtesy T-Mobile.
The T-Mobile team is not at full
strength, however. They had last year’s podium holder and secondary Tour leader Vinokourov crash out of the Tour team, for one. Nevertheless, the T-Mobile team
is one of the more solid teams in the Tour, and with the exception of good old
Erik Zabel, has been built specifically around Ullrich. For example, Godefroot
motivated Cadel Evans’ non-selection by saying that Guerini and Botero would be
of more help to Ullrich in the TTT. That says a lot about the idea behind this
line-up. The Germans have chosen more of a US Postal approach this year by
deciding not to assign any lead-out men to Zabel, and instead fill the team with
talented helpers for Ullrich.
Eric Zabel. Courtesy T-Mobile.
Jan Ullrich doesn’t need any
introduction. He’s looking to be in better shape than previous years and won the
Tour of Switzerland, en passant. Where he, granted, didn’t really face
grade-A competition, but it’s still a HC race. A possible advantage for this son
of the sun is that two of the tougher stages run through the Central Massif,
known for its scorching summer heat. But there also some disadvantages: attacks
and accelerations by the abundance of other contenders could cause him problems,
and the fact that there’s only one long flat ITT isn’t exactly a gift from above
His assistance is impressive: old
faithful Rolf Aldag never disappoints and has always been a certainty, for this
or any T-Mobile Tour team. Botero and Guerini seem to be getting on form just in
time. The former is (given good form) a formidable ally in the TTT, and the
latter an experienced guide in the mountains. They will very likely also want to
prove Godefroot right (or wrong, eh) for choosing them over Evans.
Kessler takes a spin in Liege. Courtesy T-Mobile.
Matthias Kessler has great potential, mostly as a climber. I expect him to be
one of the last men to stick with Ullrich in the mountains, after a splendid
classics season. Andreas Klöden is ready to take over what was supposed to be
Vino’s role: that of shadow leader. He could try and get into breaks and force
the other teams to chase while Ullrich sits it out. While he has not shown
Vino’s strength yet, he does possess more than enough talent to pose a serious
threat to anyone that allows him to take 5-10 minutes in a long break.
Andreas Kloden. Courtesy T-Mobile.
Ivanov and Nardello will do Jan’s bidding on the flat and lower mountain stages.
Both are fast men who can win a sprint in a small breakaway group and solid
tempo-riders. Last but certainly not least is Erik ‘Ete’ Zabel, 6 times green
jersey winner. Even virtually alone, Zabel poses a threat in sprinter stages, but
it remains to be seen if he can handle the likes of Petacchi. After all, he
‘only’ had 6 stage wins so far this season, and a good lead-out is a huge help
for the type of sprinter that Zabel is. But it’s very likely that Nardello and
Ivanov will lend a hand during sprint finishes, and maybe even Ullrich himself.
But chasing breaks in order to get a mass sprint seems unlikely. Also, Zabel
will be of good use to the T-Mobile team, being the excellent TTT’er that he is.
So, in short: a very strong all-round
team with very few weaknesses. T-Mobile has learned well from the Posties, and
if they manage to keep the egos in check they might even beat them at their own
game - a candidate for the TTT, for the overall team ranking even. In the end the
loss of Vino might even prove as a blessing to them, in a way. The hierarchy
within the team is crystal-clear now: Ullrich plus support, and Zabel. Let’s see
if the Redhead from Rostock can finally break his 2nd-place
Note: The T-Mobile team will be transmitting biometric information live
during the stages of the Tour de France. Visit the
T-Mobile website for more info.
Magenta in Mallorca. Courtesy T-Mobile.