Jan Ullrich, Germany’s only winner of the Tour de France, has for the first time admitted to doping with the help of Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes who ran a large-scale doping network.
“Yes, I had access to treatment from Fuentes,” the 1997 winner of the Tour de France told German weekly Focus in its edition to appear on Monday. “At that time, nearly everyone was using doping substances and I used nothing that the others were not using.”
In the Focus report, Ullrich has insisted he used no other doping substance other than his own blood, presumably with transfusions to combat the effects of lactic acid. Ullrich, who also won road race gold and time-trial silver medals at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, said he was motivated by the desire to be competing on a level playing field with his main rivals.
“In my view you can only call it cheating on my part when it is clear that I have gained an unfair advantage,” he argued. “That was not the case. All I wanted was everyone to have the same chances of winning.”
He also told Focus he believed that the main factors contributing towards his success in cycling were pure talent, effort, team spirit and the will to win and that the damage he had done by doping was mainly to himself, “It was myself who suffered most because of this episode as concerns my public image and what it meant for my own health,” he said. “Now it is time to bring down the curtain on all of this. I want to look to the future and no longer be dragged back to the past.”
Ullrich’s doping admission comes months after a similar public pronouncement by his greatest career rival and nemesis Lance Armstrong. The seven-time Tour de France winner, admitted to doping throughout his career in January and was subsequently stripped of his Tour titles and banned for life. Ullrich finished second three times to Armstrong in the Tour de France in 2000, 2001 and 2003 and was also runner-up behind Italian Marco Pantani in 1998.
“We are both guilty,” said Ullrich, referring to the American. “I am no better than Armstrong, but no worse either. “The great heroes of old are now people with failings that we’ve got to come to terms with. I always knew that even Lance Armstrong would not get away with it.”
But Ullrich’s confession has been branded “too little, too late” by Thomas Bach, the president of the German Olympic Federation.
“Jan Ullrich had his chance for a creditable admission a couple of years ago and he missed it,” said Bach, who is seen as favorite to succeed International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge when he steps down in September. “Today’s confirmation of some of the already well known and established facts helps neither Jan Ullrich nor cycling.”
Ullrich was barred from the Tour de France in 2006 amid speculation that he had used illegal substances. He retired from cycling in February, 2007, denying that he had ever cheated. He was later found guilty of a doping offence by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in February, 2012 and was retroactively banned from August of that year with all results gained since May, 2005 wiped from his slate.
Anti-doping campaigner Werner Franke, who received a gagging order in 2006 by a German court after accusing Ullrich of doping, was also highly critical of his compatriot’s confession.
“That is a new European record in lying,” the molecular biologist told SID, an AFP subsidiary. “In 2006 or 2007, he insisted, in four different languages, that he did not know Mr Fuentes. He then obtained a court injunction against me that took four and a half years to overturn.”
Franke has insisted Ullrich used aggressive tactics, similar to Armstrong, in order to keep any opponents silent, but was scathing of the lawyers who helped him maintain the silence.
“These are the biggest crooks who have gotten him into this mess of lies,” said Franke.
Germany’s Anti Doping Agency (NADA) has already said they will investigate.
“For the sport to be clean, it is important that he not only admits his crime, but also mentions the names of other participants in the background. NADA will also try to make contact with Jan Ullrich to find out more clues and background,” it said in a statement.