Ullrich resigned to fall short to Armstrong again
PAU, France -- Five-time Tour de France runner-up Jan Ullrich is settling for another podium place after again being overshadowed by Lance Armstrong.
"Now my goal is to make it on the podium," said the 1997 Tour champion, who is fourth overall, 5 minutes, 58 seconds behind the American six-time champion.
Ullrich has only missed out on a podium finish once in his seven previous Tour participations. That was last year when he finished fourth behind T-Mobile teammate Andreas Kloeden and Italy's Ivan Basso.
This time, with Basso firmly installed in second place, Danish climber Michael Rasmussen stands between Ullrich and a medal position.
"I don't know whether it'll be possible to take back the two minutes and 49 seconds from Rasmussen in the last time trial in St Etienne," said Ullrich, a far better time-trial specialist on paper than the Dane.
Even for the double time-trial world champion, 2:49 over 55.5 km is a fair amount of time to make up.
"The time trial could not be enough which means I will have to attack beforehand to try and claim some time back," the German added.
Ullrich worked harder than ever this year in the hope of finally beating Armstrong, riding his final Tour, but serious crashes before and during the race have scuppered his chances.
The 31-year-old crashed into his team director Mario Kummer's car the day before the start and also fell in a descent a week ago.
"It might sound surprising but I'm glad to be in fourth place because with the crashes I could easily be 60th," Ullrich said.
He had to ask his personal physiotherapist to join the Tour crew to help his recovery but it made no difference even though the German tried to attack both in the Alps and Pyrenees before conceding defeat.
"I never felt as ready as I was this year. It's frustrating to end on another failure," the T-Mobile leader said.
"I'll try again and a win in the Tour de France will mean a lot, even without Armstrong," he insisted.
But the new generation is growing fast and with Basso, Rasmussen and others, Ullrich might well discover next year that he missed his chance.
T-Mobile, which will be managed by former Olympic road champion Olaf Ludwig next season, has already secured the signings of Kloeden and Oscar Sevilla, while recruiting Australian Michael Rogers, and German hopeful Patrick Sinkewitz to assist Ullrich in 2006.
Ludwig will hold discussion with Alexander Vinokourov after the Tour to decide whether the Kazakh stays with the team.