German cyclist Jan Ullrich takes on his biggest challenge since coming back from a racing ban when he competes in this week's Deutschland Tour. It will mark his first participation in the event since 2000.
Bianchi has taken over sponsorship of Jan Ullrich's team.
Decked out in the mint-green jersey of his new team Bianchi, Germany’s former top cyclist on Monday appeared to have finally put his recent troubles behind him. Assembled with his teammates in Dresden’s historic quarter, Ullrich said he was fit and ready to race.
"I’ve never been in such good form at this point in the year in my entire career," said Ullrich according to the sports news agency SID.
The 29 year-old former Olympic champion and 1997 Tour de France winner has faced a rocky past couple of years amid reoccurring knee problems, a personal crisis and recreational drug use that led to a racing ban after testing positive for amphetamines. Then in a surprise turn, Ullrich ended his long association with Team Telekom.
In April the cyclist showed he was on his way back after a convincing win at a one-day race in Cologne, but then faced difficulties with his new team Coast, which teetered on the brink of insolvency and had trouble paying its riders. That led to the team’s license being pulled by racing officials.
"I couldn’t ride in a race for four weeks. On top of that, the situation ate up a lot of strength, physically and mentally," said Ullrich.
Bianchi in the saddle
Now with respected bicycle manufacturer Bianchi taking over sponsorship, Ullrich can concentrate on winning. This year’s Deutschland Tour will run from June 3 to June 9 and will cover 1,175 kilometers across six German states.
Joining Ullrich on the Bianchi roster will be top Spanish cyclist Angel Casero, who won Spain’s Vuelta tour in 2001. The Spaniard’s presence has made the team’s management fairly optimistic for this week’s race.
"We have a strong team and I’m hopeful that we can do well against strong competition," said Bianchi sport director Rudy Pevenage.
Ullrich said he hoped to use the German competition as an important step in preparation for this year’s Tour de France in July. But at the same time he played down expectations that he can unseat reigning champion American Lance Armstrong.
"I don’t think I can yet win the Tour this year," Ullrich told SID. "But that won’t keep me from riding a good Tour."
And Ullrich will have at least a little while longer to be a winner in Bianchi green, since he has signed a contract with the team for the next three years.
"At first I found it a bit fancy," said Ullrich, referring to the new color of his jersey. "But the more often I see it, the prettier I think it is."