Jan Ullrich, German, 1973 -
Jan Ullrich is another of my favourite riders. I enjoyed his relaxed, intelligent, open-minded style - a contrast to the manic, stone-faced, obsession of Lance Armstrong. I was particularly struck by an interview he once gave where he hinted that he might never defeat Lance Armstrong - because, unlike Lance, his motivation was a love of cycling rather than a hatred of losing to his rivals. The implication was that, when push comes to shove, hatred just might turn the pedals faster than love.
You always got the feeling that Jan Ullrich was well aware that there were more important things in life than winning cycle races. Much to the disgust of the purists, these more important things seemed to include enjoying his food and the odd wild party. Who ate all the pies? Probably Jan.
in 1997, after his team leader, Bjarne Riis, started to fail, and with the permission of his Directeur Sportif, a stylish, confident, Jan Ullrich won the Tour at the age of 23. He could possibly even have won the previous (1996) Tour, in which he placed second, if he had not been working so hard for Bjarne Riis’ eventual victory. He looked set to take over from Miguel Indurain as the dominant Tour rider of his generation.
But these were the years of rampant EPO abuse, and Jan Ullrich, although most probably no stranger to the drug culture that ran through the peleton (and through his Telekom/T-mobile team) did not seem to be quite desperate enough to push his haematocrit levels to the limit. He came second to Marco Pantani in 1998, was injured in 1999 and came second to Lance Armstrong in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
In terms of derailleurs, Jan Ullrich won his Tour riding Campagnolo.
On this Team Telekom postcard from 2001 a tousled-haired Jan is looking pensive in some luuurvely knitwear, sporting a rather alluring earring - and is that a hint of lip-gloss?