Oh hey, did you guys read anything about Jan Ulrich retiring from racing to become an advisor/ consultant for the Team Volksbank UCI Continental pro team in Austria?
I didn't figure any of you would have read that or heard about it. It wasn't exactly newsworthy, or anything...
Jan was a worthy winner of the Tour de France in 1997, taking over the helm of T-Mobile from his then-mentor Bjarne Riis (current director of Team CSC and former winner of the Tour in 1996... just for background). After that fateful Tour win in '97, the wunderkind had a rollercoaster career with many flashes of his brilliance, like winning the Olympic road race title in 2000 and the World title in the Time Trial in 99 and 2001. Along the way, Jan also managed to be in the wrong era for Tour contenders by finishing second to Lance Armstrong four times (along with finishing second behind teammate Riis in '96).
Over the years, especially after winning the Tour in '97, Jan suffered the indignity of mistakes (like that little problem with the authorities after taking X at a club during the offseason and then later having a little drunk driving problem) and being in the constant focus of the press and pundits. Jan's winter training took on mythical proportions as his weight and waistline increased each year. Early season races were a time for the press to question Jan;s commitment to the sport when he showed up doughy and out of prime condition. Yet each year, he managed to make it back to the top (nearly) by Tour time. Enough to remain Lance's confessed biggest rival.
Last summer, just before the start of the Tour, Jan was implicated in the Operation Puerto scandal and kicked out of the race that served as his burning goal in life. Not long after that, his T-Mobile team fired him. He spent the rest of the summer defending himself against the accusations that mounted. Ultimately, nothing has ever been proven. However, in the sport of cycling, implication is as strong as proof. Our beloved sport is so paranoid with fear of doping that all whispers and rumors become far heavier than they should. (No, I am not trying to gloss over the very real problems in cycling. I'm no fan of doping or dopers at all.)
All of this led to Jan's ultimate decision to retire from the sport, as his choices of teams were limited (despite his claims to the contrary). I always had a soft spot for the soft spoken German superstar of cycling. His sheer power and talent were both amazing and never reached their full potential- possibly. As pure, raw talent goes- very few thought of him as anything less than the ultimate cycling machine.
Now that his racing career is over and he will be freer from the incredible scrutiny he once faced, hopefully he will be able to live a more normal life. Many of us who watched the Tour each year, waiting for the slow, powerful pedaling style of the redheaded German on the climbs or time trials will be sad when this next July comes around. I know that I will be. Jan was always one of my favorite riders to watch and I'll miss his face in the peloton. However, I hope that the happiness that seemed to allude him will now land at his feet. Now that he has new direction, I hope he gets what he needs from life.
So, Jan, auf wiedersehen. I wish you the very best and hope that you tackle your life now with the same determination that saw you win so many wonderful races.
(PS- I know I'm way late to this little conversation... but I've been busy and sick... so get over it!)