Ten years ago today, Germany’s former cycling star Jan Ullrich was found guilty of doping. A look back:
It was finally here: Jan Ullrich’s “lucky day”. After years full of exhausting doping allegations and endless legal disputes, the 1997 Tour de France winner awaited the verdict of the International Court of Arbitration for Sports, CAS. But February 9th, 2012 went down in history as the final demise of the former cycling hero.
“Lucky day” – that’s what Ullrich himself called February 9, 2012. Finally a decision should be made against him in the doping process. Since 2006 there has been an urgent suspicion that Ullrich had been doping with the help of the Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes. Ullrich’s blood bag in the Spaniard’s house and the large sums of money he paid Fuentes spoke clearly against the 1997 Tour de France winner. “No matter what the outcome, I hope for a fair judgment,” he explained.
The problem of the judges: The cycling star never commented specifically on the allegations and his lawyer only pointed out alleged procedural errors. “Ullrich’s silence is as remarkable as it is surprising,” the court wrote in its verdict. Almost like a mantra, the Swiss-by-choice at the time had repeatedly announced that he had not cheated anyone.
Tour victory remains Ullrich
But he did, the judges found and ruled that “Ullrich was at least involved in blood doping” and that cooperation with Fuentes was proven by May 2005 at the latest. The result: a two-year ban and the deletion of all results since May 2005 – including third place in the 2005 Tour de France.
A bang in the German public? Not at all. For most fans, the former audience favorite was already considered guilty. What was missing was a confession from Ullrich. In addition, what was once Lance Armstrong’s greatest competitor retained his 1997 Tour victory. After all, he was never proven to have committed a doping offense at the time.
“It’s unfortunate that Jan Ullrich didn’t seize the opportunity beforehand to create clarity himself,” said the then DOSB President and current IOC boss Thomas Bach about the end of the process. “We hope, also in his own interest, that he is at least clear now and explains himself accordingly.”
Burnout as a result of the “difficult time”
But instead of confessing to his doping past at least after the verdict was pronounced, Ullrich kept silent. “I accept the award and will not challenge it,” he said. “Not because I agree with all the points in the verdict, but because I want to finally end the topic.” He only confirmed contact with Fuentes in a statement.
Despite the negative outcome for him, Ullrich was happy about the end of the process and the associated “difficult time” for him and his family. Although the 48-year-old had already officially ended his active career in 2007, the doping allegations accompanied him beyond that and, from his point of view, led to a burnout in 2010.
Ullrich’s confession comes too late
Ullrich never wanted to speak publicly about his doping affair again. But in 2013, a year after the verdict, he did. The doping offender spoke up with a long-overdue confession. “Yes, I have used Fuentes treatments,” he told Focus.
Even that wasn’t enough for Thomas Bach. “It’s too little and far too late. For a really credible confession, Jan Ullrich should have explained himself comprehensively a few years ago,” said the current IOC boss. “He missed that chance, and even now I feel like he’s still working with rhetorical tricks. That doesn’t help him or cycling.”
Ultimately, Ullrich also stuck to his view that he had not cheated anyone. “For me, cheating starts when I gain an advantage. That wasn’t the case. I wanted to level the playing field.” Even after his “lucky day” he was not interested in the fact that he betrayed millions of fans who believed in a clean sport.