Jan Ullrich spoke for the first time about years of doping in Team Telekom and justified the use of banned substances with a lack of equal opportunities. "Without help, that was the widespread perception at the time, it would be like going to a shooting armed only with a knife," the 49-year-old told Stern. After joining the then top German racing team in 1995, he "learned pretty quickly that doping was widespread". In 1997, Ullrich was the only German to win the Tour de France.
In 2006, however, he did not want to go public with the argument of equal opportunities, after he had been suspended by the team for connections to the Spanish doping doctor Eufemiano Fuentes. "I didn't want to be a traitor. I also didn't want to come out with half-truths and certainly not with the whole truth," said Ullrich, justifying it with legal constraints. "There were livelihoods attached to it, families, friends. The lawyers told me: Either you go out and tear everything down, or you don't say anything at all."
No chance without doping
In the past, he lacked the strength for the sentence "I have doped". It also does not pass his lips in the "Stern" interview. Ullrich talks about doping without an explicit confession. However, this could follow in the Amazon documentary "Jan Ullrich – The Hunted", which will be released on November 28. Doping was the norm in cycling, and the inhibition threshold was correspondingly low. "The general attitude was: If you don't do that, how are you going to survive in a race? Then you ride in the peloton and you know you're probably one of those who don't have anything in it, and that's why you have zero chances," said Ullrich.
In the meantime, Ullrich regrets not having spoken out in detail about doping earlier. "From today's perspective, I should have spoken. It would have been very hard for a short moment, but life would have been easier after that," said the Rostock native. However, there is no point in mourning this. "It's been a life of extremes. I was in heaven, and I was in hell. Now I'm back on earth, on my way to the center."
Criminal proceedings prevented confession
In 2007, riders such as Bert Dietz, Christian Henn, Udo Bölts, Rolf Aldag, Erik Zabel and Bjarne Riis publicly admitted to doping. Ullrich did not agree with his teammates: "There were still criminal proceedings against me at the time. My lawyers have advised me to remain silent. A piece of advice that I followed, but the consequences of which I suffered for a long time," said the Sydney Olympic champion. In 2012, Ullrich was banned for two years by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas), and he was stripped of various successes between 2005 and 2006.
Armstrong helped in the darkest hours
Between 2010 and 2020, Ullrich made many negative headlines in his private life. In 2015, he wanted to start a new life by moving to Mallorca. It was "first and foremost an escape from the gloomy German winter weather, but it didn't work for me. On the contrary. In the end, the crash followed – it couldn't get that deep, that deeper," said Ullrich. Due to his alcohol escapades, his wife Sara at the time went back to Germany with their three children. Then the "total crash" began.
Ullrich was bothered by loneliness when his family had abandoned him. The now 49-year-old began drinking. "Wine became whiskey. First one bottle a day, later up to two. It was a complete numbness," said the Rostock native. From then on, his finca developed into a "party place", "at some point someone brought cocaine with him" and that "turns you from a human being into a monster within a very short time", Ullrich admitted.
But when his wife Sara threatened that he would no longer be allowed to see his children, Ullrich relented. That was "the only reason" to "seek medical treatment," he said: "I knew I had to do something if I wanted to see her again." With the help of his former greatest rival Lance Armstrong, among others, Ullrich fought his way out of his long-term slump and found his way back to a regular everyday life. "I wasn't far away from death," said Ullrich, but also: "I'm hungry for life again."