Interview With Der Kaiser
Well it hasn’t been a great week for cycling. This morning you might have read that Jan Ullrich has been banned for two years and stripped of his third-place finish in the 2005 Tour de France. He is banned from cycling until Aug. 21, 2013, and all his results from May 1, 2005, until his retirement (Feb. 2007) will be erased.
Along with his loss of a podium finish in the 2005 TdF (Francisco Mancebo, also linked to Operación Puerto, moves up to 3rd), Ullrich will also be stripped of his win at the 2006 Tour de Suisse. CAS ruled that Ullrich was “fully engaged” in the doping program of Dr. Fuentes that was exposed in the Operación Puerto probe.
I’m absolutely gobsmacked at this complete farce that cycling has gotten itself into this past week. There are too many obvious reasons to even put into words.
Whatever happened, Jan Ullrich continues to be my all-time favorite cyclist. Yes, it might be hypocritical, but these things are emotional connections, not logical decisions. Lance would be up in the top of my list too if he would just tell the truth (Jan never failed a doping test either, so he can stop with that false logic).
Now that my rant is over I want to share with you another botch-up which is far, far worse than anything professional cycling could ever accomplish. A few months ago Ullrich came out of the woodwork and rode a cyclosportif in Italy under the psydonym “Max Kraft” (literally translated to “Max Power”). I got a hold of Jan as I knew he’d be promoting his bike brand at Eurobike and asked if we could do an interview. Why not? To my surprise he said yes and I figured that it was too good of an opportunity to simply do a phone interview so I asked my mate Cam to interview Jan in person since he’d be at Eurobike anyway.
Here’s how it went:
What??? An interviewer’s worst nightmare. We line up the interview of a lifetime with Der Kaiser and this one goes wrong? Cam will be doing an unfavourable review on the Dictamus iphone app very soon. I had numerous experts look at the 44MB audio file but unfortunately it’s unrecoverable.
I’ve tried and tried to get in touch with Der Jan again with no avail. I’ve told him that I have a completely different set of questions lined up so that the conversation didn’t seem like deja vu, which would be rather awkward. I’m guessing that Jan figured we were more incompetent that the UCI so he didn’t want to waste a moment more on us. Fair enough.
Over a packet of Tim Tams, here are the basics of what Cam can remember discussing with Jan in this hard hitting interview. Much of the conversation was in German and stilted English, so I hesitate to interpret it too much and put words into his mouth. You can read Cam’s whimsical recollections of the interview on his CyclingIQ blog.
How old were you when you knew, in your heart, your future as a professional cyclist was certain?
There was no particular moment that I can recall when I was certain that cycling would be my profession.
How did it feel to sign your first professional contract in 1995? How did you know the time was right?
I had been racing since I was ten years old ([Jan was born in 1973 and is now 38] and won the amateur World Championships in 1993. It was a natural progression to turn professional. It felt good to sign my first contract.
You first raced in Australia in 1993 at the Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic, which you won. Why did you travel such a long way to race your bike?
After the 1997 TdF win, you were asked what was your favourite country: you replied you loved Australia the most. Is this still true now? What is it you love about Australia?
The culture, the beaches and the people are all special. And of course, I have very fond memories of the Olympics. I hope to find a reason to go back there one day.
[At this point in the interview, a large pack of Tim Tams and small box of Weetbix are handed to Jan. He laughs and gives a heartfelt “thank you very much” in English]
You won a Gold and Silver medal at the Sydney Olympics, the Tour de France, National and World Championship titles and numerous other races. Is there a single race in which were you not victorious but remember feeling the same happiness?
I’ve only ever been happy when I’ve won.
Before you announced your retirement in Feb 2007, you had seven offers from pro teams. Did you ever get close to signing again? With what team?
No, the decision to retire had fully matured over several months. No offer could have changed my mind.
COMMENTARY ON CYCLING TODAY
What do you think of the way Cadel Evans won the TdF this year?
His win was very familiar to me. He was the strongest rider across all disciplines and really demonstrated panache. The Ullrich household was cheering for Evans throughout the Tour this year.
Has Europe lost it’s dominance in the sport of cycling?
Just because one American has won the Tour seven times, you can’t say that Europe has lost its dominance!
When do you think we will see the first Asian winner of the TdF?
(Laughs) Probably not for a long time – I think at least several years will pass before we see riders from Asia doing well in the Grand Tours.
We’re at Eurobike, the bicycle industry’s largest trade show. What’s the main reason you’re here?
I’m representing my bicycle company Jan Ullrich Bikes, to meet with dealers and also potential distributors.
How active are you in the daily operation of Jan Ullrich bikes?
I am very involved in the operations of Jan Ullrich bikes, taking decisions and holding meetings regularly.
Would you describe yourself as a bicycle tech enthusiast?
At first, I only appreciated the bicycle as a tool to help me win races. In recent years though, I have looked forward to learning about the technological improvements in the industry. Yes, I would say I am an enthusiast of bicycle equipment. Tim Tam?
PERSONAL and RIDING
When did you last ride your bike? Where did you go?
On the weekend I rode the Ötztaler Radmarathon in Austria. It is a mass participation event of 240km and almost 5km of combined altitude gain.
Do you prefer training alone or with people?
I enjoy both. I still go riding with Klödi (Andreas Klöden) quite often but I can also enjoy riding with only the sound of the countryside
Have you kept any of your old bikes? Which is your favourite?
Yes, I have kept all of the bikes from my professional days that were not crashed. It might be obvious that the Pinarello from 1997 is my favourite. Tim Tam?
What equipment exists today that you wish you had access to when you were still racing professionally?
Actually, all of the equipment I used when racing was the best at the time. Even with today’s lightweight wheels – and carbon frames, the UCI still has limitations on overall weight. I was most concerned with reliability.
What advice could you pass on to our readers to improve their enjoyment of the sport?
Don’t forget to have fun in your cycling. A lot of people, especially the media, were critical of me for having a life off the bike. It’s about balance and enjoying all things in life.
Do you plan to visit Australia again? Would you accept an invitation to ride an Australian Gran Fondo event if offered?
Sure! I’ll be doing more of these races in the future, so I don’t see why not.
What else in your life gives you as much joy and satisfaction as riding a bike?
What a poignant way to end the interview. How about we all squeeze into a lift and do a quick photo-shoot?
Here is Jan Ullrich’s statement from his personal website about his suspension (via Google Translate):
Scherzingen (Switzerland) – The Court of Arbitration has now blocked me for two years. This award brings disciplinary proceedings to an end, which has lasted almost three years. This sport legal tug of war was unsatisfactory for all concerned for myself as for the public. It is incomprehensible to me why we all had to wait so long for this judgment.I take out the award and will not challenge him. Not because I agree with all points in the court’s opinion, but because I want to finish the issue definitively. Personal consequences, I’ve pulled back in 2007 with the retirement from professional cycling. I confirm that I had contact with Fuentes. I know that that was a big mistake that I regret very much. For this behavior, I would like to sincerely apologize to everyone – I’m very sorry. Looking back, I would act in certain situations during my career differently. I wanted to get out again for the 2006 tour everything. After my tour victory in 1997 and five second places in the public, sponsors and also my own pressure was immense. Everyone wanted a second tour victory, especially after the retirement of Lance Armstrong shortly before the 2006 tour, it then makes a big impact: Suspension, headlines, ostracism, house searches, criminal complaints. I felt abandoned, fallen like a sieve. The whole world wanted to put me against the wall and then I went instinctively to cover, have retired for now. As I said, I will not complain that not everything was good reason. I was even then, shortly after my suspension, the mistake I made, to admit publicly, but my hands were tied. On the advice of my lawyers, and as is usual in such cases, I have been silent on the allegations. Ultimately, this issue has me for years so polluted that I was sick and I eventually broke down. I am glad that finally a decision was made. For me it is the capital of my active career in cycling finalized and it is very personal for me and my family for years to come the end of a difficult time. Today’s award is for me and my future plans to change anything. I never thought in any capacity to return to active professional cycling. This statement is from my side all is said on this subject and I would not like to make any further statements, statements or interviews in public. I hope you understand. I hereby draw a line. I owe much to the sport of cycling and will continue to further express my joy and passion for the sport to others. In the future I will therefore also in various functions and departments in everyman cycling to be active. I look back on my cycling career and accomplishments with pride and look forward to my new career.