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Last Updated: Friday, 25 June, 2004, 14:26 GMT 15:26 UK
Jan Ullrich
ULLRICH FACTFILE
Jan Ullrich
DOB: 2/12/1973
Nationality: German
Best Tour: Winner - 1997
For many, 2004 has been seen as the year when Jan Ullrich will end his lengthy wait for a second Tour win.

He had ridden a great race in 2003, finishing just a minute behind Lance Armstrong, with Team Bianchi.

And he has since switched to T-Mobile, a team far more capable of pushing him all the way to the top of the podium come Paris at the end of July.

But so far the signs have not always been that encouraging for even his staunchest supporters.

When he has gone head-to-head with Armstrong this season, he has generally come off second best - including when he was a minute off the pace of his rival in the Tour of Murcia time trial.

Five-time Tour de France winner Eddy Merckx went as far as suggesting Ullrich was a tad too portly to be competitive, claims which were rejected by the German.

"The thing about my weight is rubbish. I trained a lot in the winter and built up muscle mass," said Ullrich.

"This additional strength will help me to cope with the demands of the Tour and overcome them."

Despite all the mixed build-up, Armstrong clearly sees Ullrich as his closest challenger for a sixth consecutive Tour victory.

The German won the event in 1997 and has since been Armstrong's nearest contender.

It remains to be seen what physical and mental state Ullrich is in when it comes to the mountains.

There is no denying the German is an extremely talented cyclist. He was second to team-mate and team leader Bjarne Riis in 1996 before going one better in 1997.

He has since played the role of bridesmaid except for 2002 when he was banned after testing positive for amphetamines.

Ullrich has also suffered from a host of injuries and has tried to get himself back into shape to compete with Armstrong.

Signs indicate he is getting there Armstrong went as far as to say Ullrich "was looking stronger than ever" recently, even though this year's route may not suit his big-gear grinding style.

And a solid victory in the Tour of Switzerland suggest he is peaking at the right time.





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