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T-Mobile for the Tour
By Staff
Date: 7/2/2004
T-Mobile for the Tour

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 either.

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.

25-yr old 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.

All-rounders 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 streak!

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.

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