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Jan Ullrich: The Best There Never Was

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I think that if there’s a contrast in attitudes of sort to reflect about is how singling out DDR allows us to “forget” all the time what USADA was doing, or CONI and so on and on. If you want I could also name several doped ex-athletes in cycling and beyond who get moral and financial support today… without having ever had any relation with DDR, imagine that.

On a much smaller level the Tour monopolises attention such that when a cycling biography comes out in June, along comes the race with all its distractions. It’s “the same USADA” (not exactly *the same* of course), covering up doped Olympic medallists or catching Lance. Imagine that DDR doping doctors were trying to convince decision-makers to allow specific doping use (and succeeding to do so)… because Keul was promoting it! The point is that when doping is strongly related to some of the State’s power structures (as it was in the DDR, for sure… and pretty much everywhere else) it becomes harder to tackle for a series of reason.

I won’t further comment on “The contrast in attitudes towards DDR doping days and pro cycling’s leaden years is striking” because I went some length on it below. At the risk of ruining the book for others, the story is more about a young man who was unable to cope with the sudden fame and fortune that was thrust upon him. This is an institutional level of financial and moral support that I’ve not seen in pro sports whether it’s cycling, tennis, athletics etc, but for many reasons this is not going to happen, because it’s not the state that’s perpetuating it, because some victims because wealthy through it and so on.

In 1997, Jan Ullrich announced himself to the world by obliterating his rivals in the first mountain stage of the Tour de France. as in: “There’s exploration on when Ullrich might have started using EPO and whether he was a victim of the East German state doping program”).

Doping is one among the lead themes of the piece (obviously), and the DDR is being related to that (not as obviously), while other *strongly* related subjects, albeit present in the book (dunno to what extent), hadn’t appeared at all before I named them, despite being by far more relevant both in Ullrich’s history and for their general interest regarding “sport medicine”. A Wunderkind who won the amateur worlds in 1993 as a teenager and almost won the time trial against the pros there too, he was second in the 1996 Tour de France, taking the final time trial. In a podcast episode Friebe mentions that Lance Armstrong looms large in this book and and prior to reading this was a concern, especially if the publishers wanted him to be crowbarred into the story because of his celebrity. Sure, and proud, but in case I could choose I’d always pick as a political model Rojava or Chiapas over DDR or the USSR Yet this put him on a pedestal and the move from cheer to adulation, and the risks this brings are well set out in this book.

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