Jan Ullrich withdraws from public eye as Operacion Puerto links flare up again
1997 Tour de France winner may face charges of perjury and fraud after losing court case
Jan Ullrich, 1997 Tour de France winner has announced that he is retreating from public life after being diagnosed with burnout syndrome. In what may not be a coincidence, the news came hours ahead of the former cyclist losing a court case connected to the Operacion Puerto drugs scandal that could now leave him open to charges of perjury and fraud.
The 36-year-old, one of the few realistic challengers to Lance Armstrong during the seven-year period when the Texan dominated the race, announced on Thursday that he had been diagnosed with the condition, first identified in 1974 by the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger.
Ullrich made his statement in a message to fans on his website, adding that it was likely to need long-term treatment and asking the media to respect his privacy.
Ullrich’s competitive career came to an end in 2006, when he was sacked by T-Mobile after being linked to the then emerging Operacion Puerto scandal shortly before that year’s Tour de France began, and in recent months he is likely to have been under additional stress as a result of continuing allegations about his alleged use of EPO.
Earlier this year, DNA tests established that samples of blood seized as part of Operacio Puerto had been taken from Ullrich, although his lawyers have queried the validity of those tests.
Then, last month, Ullrich’s former advisor Rudy Pevenage claimed in French sports daily L’Equipe that he had accompanied the cyclist on trips to Spain to see Dr Eufemiano Fuentes, the sports doctor at the centre of Operacion Puerto investigation.
Yesterday, a court in Hamburg found against Ullrich in a civil action brought by the former cyclist against doping expert Werner Franke, a professor at the University of Heidelberg, who had alleged that he had paid €55,000 to Fuentes.
A criminal investigation into Ullrich relating to lying under oath and fraud had been dropped by the Hamburg state prosecutor’s office earlier this month, but according to the news magazine Der Spiegel, reported on English language German news website The Local, yesterday’s decision means that the investigation is likely to be reopened, raising the prospect of criminal charges being brought against him.
As well as the 1997 Tour de France, Ullrich, won the Olympic road race at Sydney in 2000, where he also took silver in the individual time trial, the Vuelta in 1999 and was twice world time trial champion. Between 1996 and 2005, riding mainly for Team Telekom, he made the Tour de France podium eight times, missing the race in 1999 through injury and placing fourth in 2004.
The cyclist, born in Rostock in the former East Germany – he once said that he greeted the news of the fall of the Berlin Wall by crossing the now defunct border and buying a pair of socks, a feeling he described as “exhilarating” – has always denied using EPO, although in 2002 he received a six-month ban after testing positive for amphetamine, which he said had been mixed into an ecstacy tablet he had taken in a nightclub.