'A great race has been stolen'
Ullrich bitter about doping scandal, raids, riders' revolts
Posted: Thursday September 24, 1998 11:24 AM
BERLIN (CNN/SI) -- Last year's winner of the Tour de France Jan Ullrich finally gave vent to his feelings regarding the drugs scandal, police raids and riders' revolts that has brought cycling's premier event into disrepute.
"What I'm feeling I can't really describe," Ullrich wrote in a column for the German daily newspaper Bild. "I'm both unbelievably angry and deeply disappointed. A great race has been stolen from all of us."
The young German was critical of the Festina team, which was expelled from the tour after team officials and riders were implicated in a systematic doping program.
Ullrich was also was angry at riders like ONCE's Laurent Jalabert and Polti's Luc Leblanc who quit the tour to protest the investigation by French judicial authorities.
"Inside, I'm deeply angry," said Ullrich. "At Festina, at the justice, and also at pros like Jalabert and Luc Lebanc. They failed at the Tour and now they're stirring up trouble prematurely."
On Wednesday, the tour riders twice stopped the stage at Albertville, France in protest of the way French authorities entered the hotel room where the Dutch TVM team was staying and pulled out riders for questioning and blood tests.
TVM pulled out of the race Friday, leaving just 15 of the original 21 teams in the tour.
The riders' strike Wednesday was particularly bitter for Ullrich, he wrote, because he intended to mount another attack on the holder of the yellow jersey, Marco Pantani.
While Ullrich is third, 5 minutes 56 seconds behind the Italian, he mounted a stirring duel with Pantani the day before the strike in his bid to defend his title.
"That [the strike] hurt badly. I wanted to attack mercilessly like the day before," Ullrich wrote.
"I felt that morning I was in super form. I looked out the window, saw it was my kind of weather, my kind of terrain and I swore: Pantini, this is going to be another hot day for you."
But Ullrich said he believes in solidarity among the riders, and he feared repercussions from the other teams if he mounted an attack.
"I, probably also my Telekom team, would have been isolated," he said. "Everybody would have ridden to make sure I don't win."
Ullrich said he was available at any time for a doping test, but was upset at the description TVM riders gave of how French authorities stripped them naked and pulled out hair for testing during the investigation.
"When I heard that, I believed I wasn't in France, but a totalitarian state like earlier," said Ullrich, raised in former East Germany.
Ullrich's few words of praise were reserved for Telekom teammate Bjarne Riis, who he believes avoided a Tour collapse at Albertville with his adept negotiating during the race with Tour authorities.Ullrich described Jalabert as the "spokesman" who helped instigate the rider strike that delayed the race shortly after the Albertville stage began.