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Jan Ullrich: The Best There Never Was

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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. In 1997, Jan Ullrich announced himself to the world by obliterating his rivals in the first mountain stage of the Tour de France. 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. The book places Ullrich’s life in the wider context, the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification are more than a historic and political soundtrack, these events shapes lives. A small picture of Walter Ulbricht with His Antikapitalist and Antiformalist glasses may calm you down : https://media2.

Germany has Doping Opfer Hilfe, literally “Doping Victim Help” and it’s run almost on similar ways to those who might have been given wrongful medical treatment.There was a point towards the end of the book when I could feel the weight of pages on the left of the hardback spine and how I almost didn’t want to turn further, as if to leave some kind of future ahead. The possibility of doping in the DDR days is perhaps more about Ullrich’s upbringing as a child and the person he became, but as suggested above, the danger is ersatz psychology. 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 Barely a mention about the role of “Western” universities, medical national institutions, Olympic committees etc. Of course, only Fuentes has been *proven*, but just as Friebe “explores” the DDR leit motiv, why don’t explore this also rather promising subject, given that Ullrich had quite much a stronger relation with the Telekom team than with the DDR, be it only due to mere chronology?

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”). Well apparently Gabriele is very sensitive about East Germany… As Inrng often says, it gives more informations about you than about the subject when you react so strongly to what is at worst a slightly deflected review of a book you didn’t read. So awesome was his display that it sent shockwaves throughout the world of cycling and invited headlines such as L’Equipe’s ‘The New Giant’. 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”. I got the impression that the author went to great lengths to not make this book an “East Vs West” narrative.There’s exploration on when Ullrich might have started using EPO and whether he was a victim of the East German state doping program.

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. Then came 1997 and Stage 10 from Luchon to Arcalis, a ski station in Andorra whose name today still seems to evoke Ullrich’s ascent, the day he rode the field off his wheel, his flat back, a gold earning dangling and the black, red, gold bands of the Bundesflagge on his jersey. 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.

Pro cycling also had endemic doping but once entangled by Operation Puerto – the final verdict would take years – Ullrich never raced again and became a pariah. And let me be clear: I consider it fairer to treat people as “we” do with Basso than as it happened with Ullrich. There’s plenty of stuff about Telekom and Fuentes and you certainly don’t come away thinking “if only he’d been born in the West”.

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