Auf Wiedersehen Jan
Jan Ullrich’s retirement signals the loss of one of the great riders of modern times, and illustrates the impact of doping allegations on a rider’s career, and ultimately the sport. Love him or hate him, Jan brought more competitive spirit to cycling than most, so it’s only fitting that we pay a PEZ-Style tribute to the man they called ‘Der Kaiser’ …
Jan’s last great ride: winning the 2006 Tour de Suisse on his TT machine.
I had hoped to see Ullrich climb once again onto the top step of the Tour de France podium this year, but I am sad to acknowledge the fact that that day will never come. If there’s one thing to really take away from Jan’s career, it was his grace. As a winner or as a loser, he was graceful. Even in the throes of agony whilst withstanding numerous beatings at the hands of Lance Armstrong, he held his poise, twisted face and all. When victorious, he was gleeful but always respectful. He was a great personality for cycling at the top levels, and his humility and grace will be something I will forever remember.
The sport is worse off for not having him on his bike anymore, but we should all be grateful he’s remained committed to staying involved in the sport, despite it’s scorn towards him of late.
– Dave Aldersebaes
The BIG MAN has gone, a shame , but not a surprise. My memories of him are the crash he had in the Tour when he won, he was in the yellow jersey and looked to be learning how to go round corners, he didn’t make it and went the wrong side of the barrier. Second would be his form at the Olympics in Sydney, those legs have to be the leanest ever, muscle definition like no legs I’ve ever seen. On a personal note, seeing the Coast team trying to find the start a the stage of the Tour of Valencia going in the opposite direction with BIG Jan sat in the back with a miserable face.
Good Bye BIG JAN.
– Alastair Hamilton
It seemed no amount of determination could help Jan overcome his greatest adversary.
My first memories of Jan Ullrich are of a young 19 year old shy kid wearing the stripes of the amateur World Champion jersey at the Commonwealth Bank Classic in Australia. At the time the race was the one of the toughest stage races in the world for the amateurs and yet Jan used to make it look easy. I will never forget him seemingly tearing the bike apart in a massive gear as he took on the mountains of the race.
One mountain in particular, springs to mind, Bumble Hill. This feared climb was only 2.5kms long, but it’s steep, really steep – 39×25 type stuff but not for our Jan! As other riders came by suffering out of the saddle, barely turning over their lowest gear there was but one rider seated, Jan Ullrich. Even as a 19 year old his legs were HUGE, pure muscle and he simply sat there exuding strength as his old Panasonic bike creaked and strained under the pressure that he was applying. Over the years I’ve now seen that same style and low cadence applied on much better bikes and on much bigger mountains, but one thing never changed, his pure strength. Not many people could ride like Jan, a true champion of our era.
– Chris Selden
Jan rides into form at the 2006 Giro.
I watched Der Kaiser race at both the Tour and the Giro. What amazed me most was how he would ride himself into shape over the course of those three-week events.
At last year’s Giro, Ullrich was admittedly heavy and not in top condition, and his early results revealed more than a few flaws in his form. But as the weeks wore on, he just got better and better. While other guys were cracking, Ullrich was pulling it all together. At the TTT, from Piacenza to Cremona, Ullrich lead the T-Mobile train for much of the day, but he was pretty much spent as they rolled into Cremona.
Just one week later, in the Pontadera TT, it was big Jan’s day to shine. He beat Basso for the stage win, and it showed that Ullrich was going to be a formidable force for the rest of the summer.
– Bob Cullinan
The 1998 Tour: Ullrich versus Pantani.
Forget the rumours and accusations … Ulrich is one of the most ‘human’ champions of recent times. Partying when he shouldn’t, lapses of judgement, relationship problems, injuries, frustrations and despair.
1998 was ‘that’ Tour – and it was a race Ulrich should have won. But he didn’t. A combination of circumstances cost him. It depends who you ask: too much partying after winning in 1997, too much pressure, not enough preparation (which some people may interpret differently from others!), a super-charged Pantani, the wrong weather.
For a while things looked rosy, but Ulrich punctured at precisely the wrong moment, just at the base of a climb on stage 11 to Plateau de Beille. Thinking the Tour win was disappearing, his response was a glorious mix of chaos and power.
It was like watching an out-of-control combine harvester gleefully scything through a field. Commentators were aghast, as he blasted up hill in hot pursuit of the leaders. Within seconds, his team was destroyed, only Riis and Totschnig anywhere near hanging on. Others looked nailed to the tarmac.
It was a stunning display, born of panic, inexperience and brute strength. Pantani won the stage taking nearly 2 minutes off Ulrich that day, and went on to win the Tour. Story of Ulrich’s career, really – tons of power with a helping of disappointment.
– Gordon Cameron
I never met Jan but after the ‘96 Tour I sent a letter to Telekom and the entire team, including Riis, Jan, and Zabel signed a jersey and sent
it to me.
– Dave Berson
Herr Ullrich will be missed for many reasons – weight concerns, late start to the season concerns, and with a palmares that includes a Tdf win: great under achievement concerns. Yes I think this guy could have done so much more with his career and it always seemed in the cards that he just might achieve full potential. But now sadly we’ll never be sure. Maybe he was the modern equivalant of Pou Pou Poulidor destined to ride against probably the greatest rider of all time and therefore this consistant second should be excused… but somehow I think he could have balanced things out in his favour if only he could have used the same mind games and preperation as Lance. Instead he relied on his huge raw strength that sadly at this level is not quite enough.
Having said that he will leave a huge mark on the sport and I’m sure be remebered as one of the Greats.
My abiding memory of him was the only time I met him ‘briefly’ (at last year’s Giro) was having ridden the stage into Domodosolla which included the climbs of both the St. Bernard and Simplon passes. The peloton was in pieces with some very sorry looking riders crawling in – however – the sign of a true champion – The Kaiser cruised over the line unruffled looking like he’d just ridden 20km not 200km. Thats the point: this guy had so much natural talent… as they say in Bavaria he had a bigger “engine” than a 7 series BMW…. and yet somehow we didn’t get to see enough of him firing on all cylinders.
– Nick O’Brien
That guy in red haunted Jan more than most.
Jan Ulrich, in one adjective?
Gifted – for sure; strong – as a bear; relaxed – a very human champion.
But if I had to choose just one, it would be, “infuriating.” Why couldn’t we have seen him grind it out over the Poggio, where only the very strongest could have lived with him? And wasn’t he made to fly over the cobbles into Roubaix? The hour record – he was born to it, somewhere hot so those big thighs could do their work properly.
Instead we had the annual frustration of Le Tour. At Xmas, when Lance had the pasta on the electronic scales, Jan was eating those cookies like there was no tomorrow. Into the third week of the Tour, the man from Rostock would be getting stronger every day – too late. Then he’d pull a World time trial champs or an Olympic road race or even a Vuelta out of the hat to keep his contract as fat as him and infuriate us even more – at what he could, and should have done.
But Ulrich at his best in a time trial – a joy to behold; I’ll miss you, Jan.
– Edmond Hood
Sydney 2000: Jan was the class of the Olympic road race.
Right from the early 1990’s when I first saw Ullrich compete as an amateur in Australia’s Commonwealth Bank Cycling Classic, he has always stood out as a rider with class. Standing on the roadside and watching Ullrich’s tactical and physical domination of the Men’s Road Race at the 2000 Sydney Olympics is still one of the best days I have ever spent watching a bike race.
It was a day when everything looked so simple for the super lean Tour de France runner up. Along with fellow German Andreas Kloden and Kazak Alexandre Vinokourov, three riders with identical T-Mobile bikes and helmets, made the race their own, with Ullrich going solo in the final kilometres to take the Olympic gold medal.
– Matt Conn
Jan and Levi go head to head to win the 2005 DeutschTour.
A standout memory for me is from the 2005 Tour of Germany, where Jan battled Levi for the top spot. Even though Levi was stepping up to win his most important race to date, the German fans barely noticed – they were so in love with Ullrich.
The German fans’ love for Jan was incredible – the finish line roar started when he took the starthouse, and seemed to build as the fans watched his progress on the jumbotrons. The last 500 meters of the course was absolute pandemonium as Jan rocketed to the stage win.
With so may fans stampeding to get a look at Jan on the podium, there was no way I could get close to him, so I put away my camera. Then minutes after, as I walked through the VIP area, I noticed a jostle of activity ahead as several tough looking guys in dark glasses strode toward me in unison – it was Jan’s bodyguards and there he was tucked into their draft, rushing by in a blur. Alas – I missed the shot but the image is burned into my memory.
I was struck by how much smaller Jan appeared in person – sure he’s bigger than the average pro, but of much slighter build than I expected. He looked stressed too – no doubt from being the focus of so much media attention in his home country.
To see him leave the sport now, under a cloud of as yet unfounded suspicion is tragic. I always looked forward to his presence in the Tour and could count on Jan adding a high level of drama to the race. I expected he’d win it again one day.
Good bye Jan and thanks for the excitement you brought to pro cycling.
– Richard Pestes
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