Freeman Cebu Sports

All over for Ullrich

ALLEZ - ALLEZ By Jose Vicente Araneta -
Had it not been for Michael Jordan, Karl Malone and Charles Barkley could have their championships rings before they retired. For Jan Ullrich, a cancer survivor from Austin, Texas, was his number 23.

While Ullrich could endure getting beat every year for 7 years, the cloud of suspicion over the doping scandal of Operation Puerto was too much handle. Since July of last year, after his name was supposedly in the documents recovered in OP, Ullrich has been in cycling limbo. He wasn't charged nor was he was he convicted, yet, because media, the UCI, some race organizers and TV stations made it appear that he smelled, no one team would come near him. So last week, Ullrich bid a bitter adieu to a sport that he was supposed to rule for a long time since turning pro in 1995.

I think that two important words describes Ullrich's character- gentleman and cool. Some might say that he was a loser for tried as he did, he could never beat Lance. But so did Malone and Barkley, and you all know how hard these two tried to beat his airness, but they're never considered losers.

In races against Lance where it was time to pack it in, Ullrich would forge on, saying that the race is never finish until the finish line in Paris. Some hated him for being like that but it was trait that made him endear to a lot of fans. Whatever Lance persona was, Ullrich was simply the opposite.

Lance always said that Ullrich was the most talented rider out there but Jan could never made it past him come July. Lance was very good at mind games and whether or not Ullrich was affected, the kid from Rostock, East Germany, never said so. Some say that those mind games played by Lance had an effect on Ullrich but it never affected his gentle manners in anyway- win or lose.

Ullrichs' palamares (race resume) is incredible if alone but if you placed it side by side with Lance's, it's one and seven Tour de France's. Unfortunately, people look at it that way. They fail to remember that Ullriich has won the Tour of Spain, 2 ITT World championships, Olympic gold, to name a few races that the Texan has never won.

Ullrich was part of the last batch of athletes that came out from the East German athletic program. Unlike his western counterparts, he grew up well taken cared of as the system made sure of that. He did nothing but train, eat and sleep for the motherland. But when the wall came tumbling down, he found himself in an environment that he couldn't probably handle. Fame, money and loss of privacy were things that the East German machine didn't prepare him for and now those things were in front him, ready for the taking.

But the biggest knock on Ullrich was that he could not keep himself from the table. As each new season started, he would find himself fighting the fat. He'd be overweight for as much as 20 lbs over winter and over the years, he'd find it hard to go back to his optimal racing weight of 160lbs for his 6'1" frame. To his critics, he would say, "I have seen many lean riders in the peloton, but very few Tour winners".

Last year was to be Ullrichs final chance of winning the Tour, with Armstrong out of the picture. There were rumors that if he had won, he would have ridden into the sunset. Unfortunately, he could not exit from the sport that he helped made in his own terms. In Germany, the popularity of cycling has skyrocket so much thanks to Ullrich but the cycling establishment today would never gave him credit.

Today, he leaves the sport he loves in tatters, with the UCI asking the the teams not ride the Paris-Nice race due to its conflict with the race organizers. The organizers, on the other hand, have told the teams that failure to accept the invitation to ride will mean that they can't ride the Tour, Giro and the Vuleta.

Ullrich burst into the scene after the great Miguel Indurain had left, after winning 5 consecutive tours (the same record that is held by Eddy Merckx). Ullrich was supposed to break that record and he didn't. Instead, the innuendoes and the rumors broke him into tiny little pieces.












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