When Jan Ullrich lays down and closes his eyes to go to sleep at night, there must be an enduring image that's burned into his retinas from the day's activities: Lance Armstrong's backside.
Ullrich is the rider in pink T-Mobile jersey that we see in the background of all those Armstrong on-the-road photos. Armstrong's the one in front looking cool and calm. Ullrich is the one with the grimace looking ahead at Armstrong, who he'll never catch.
Well, the Tour is coming to an end, at least for Jan. There's a flat stage on Friday, then the peloton enters the Pyrenees. Does Ullrich think he can beat Armstrong on those steep grades? The first big climb — Port de Pailheres — has an average gradient of 8%. Look for Ullrich to finish the day further back than his current 4 minutes and 2 seconds.
A couple of day's ago in his T-Mobile diary, Ullrich said he wouldn't surrender. He then complained about having some pain in his back when he was breathing deeply. It's understandable. He fell off that bike that morning and he smashed into the rear of a team car the day before the Tour (that's why he's wearing that bandage on his neck in the above photo).
If he's not up to winning, why doesn't T-Mobile have him put his support behind someone like Alexandre Vinokourov. Although he's in 12th place — Vino is further behind than Ullrich — but he showed a lot more heart when he came back from an embarrassing showing on Tuesday to win the stage on Wednesday. I think Vinokourov, or Andreas Kloden for that matter, could use Ullrich's help is trying to put away Armstrong. It's the only chance they have, even though the T-Mobile team manager Walter Godefroot described his team this week: “We are no good.”
Maybe it's because they don't work together.
So give up the trash talk Jan. You won the Tour de France in 1997, but problems with drugs, weight and partying made if difficult to regain your form. You have second place podium finishes in 2000, 2001, and 2003 (also winning a stage that year). Are you shooting for another second place finish, or should you go for the chance of helping to put a winner on top?
Afterall, there's always next year with no Lance.