Ullrich Set To Defend Spain Title
MADRID, Spain (AP) _ Looking to make up for a disappointing second-place finish in the Tour de France, Germany’s Jan Ullrich is set to defend his Tour of Spain title when the revamped race begins Saturday.
In Ullrich’s favor _ though a blow to the 21-stage marathon race _ will be the absence of Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, who is skipping the race in favor of the Sydney Olympics.
Also missing will be Spaniard Joseba Beloki, who broke a rib during training this week, and French veteran Laurent Jalabert, who was scratched off the ONCE team list.
Jalabert has already announced he will be leaving ONCE.
Armstrong beat Ullrich by just over six minutes in this year’s Tour de France, while Beloki was 10:04 behind in third.
However, the absences don’t necessarily mean Ullrich and his Telekom team will have an easy time. The Tour features 180 riders from 20 teams including 1998 winner Abraham Olano of Spain and Alex Zulle of Switzerland, the winner of the two previous races.
Organizers of this year’s race have reduced the total distance and added on more grueling mountain climbs. The length was cut by nearly 620 miles to 1,800 miles, with most stages having far less than the 100-mille average of the Tour de France and Tour of Italy.
The race begins Saturday with an eight-mile time trial in the southern coastal city of Malaga, and snakes around the east of Spain, up to the Pyrenees, before crossing the northern top of the country and back down to Madrid on Sept. 17.
It’s most excruciating stages will be the 11th in Andorra and 16th in L’Angliru in northern Spain, both of which include two top-grade mountain passes and finish on a special category climb.
The Tour will have six climbing finishes in all.