25 years ago, Jan Ullrich celebrated his greatest triumph: he won the Tour de France. After the career came the big crash. A new documentary series shows how far the former cycling hero really fell.
When they pedaled, the world cheered them on. The duels between Jan Ullrich and Lance Armstrong at the Tour de France are legendary. On the street they indulged, pushing each other to the breaking point and beyond. Off the track, when the jerseys were off and the bikes were still, the pro cyclists were friends. Friends so good that one rushed to the other’s aid when addiction brought him to his knees. Lance Armstrong has now revealed in a documentary what it was like to see his friend in his darkest hour.
In 1997, Jan Ullrich made history. The Rostocker brought the yellow jersey safely across the finish line and took overall victory in the Tour de France. On the occasion of the 25th anniversary, ARD is now showing the multi-part documentary “Being Jan Ullrich”. It shows the former professional cyclist in the hour of his greatest success, but also his crash. After Ullrich ended his active career, he lost himself in addiction and kept making headlines. “I was on the way from Marco Pantani. Almost dead,” Ulrich told Lance Armstrong in a podcast last fall. Pantani died of a cocaine overdose in 2004. Even then, Ullrich said that it was his friends who saved him. “Good friends like you brought me back to life,” he said.
Armstrong on Jan Ullrich: “We all know some crazy friends”
The new documentation also makes it clear how dramatic the situation of the former successful athlete was. Many of Ullrich’s companions have their say there. In addition to ex-trainers and former teammates, there are also sponsors, supervisors, journalists and, of course, friends. So does Lance Armstrong. “He scared me, nobody else. This man made me get up early. He changed my life,” he says, looking back on the great rivalry between the two. But he also remembers other times – times far away from glamor and glory. A good four years ago he visited Ullrich in a rehab clinic. “He didn’t know I was coming, I didn’t know where I was going,” reports the American. “We all know some crazy friends. But I hadn’t seen anyone in such a state.” Ullrich seemed equally “strong” and “uncanny” to him. He saw something there that he had never seen before. But that was not the low point, which followed two years later. At that time, Ullrich had landed in a Mexican clinic after riots on a plane. Armstrong flew there and found the friend in a sorry state. “He was bedridden, unconscious,” Armstrong said. It was the worst of all. According to Armstrong, Ullrich still has a long way to go.
The five-part documentary “Being Jan Ullrich” is available in the ARD media library.