Before the start of the Tour de France, the documentary series “Being Jan Ullrich” traces the life of the cycling star, before which Lance Armstrong trembled.

The next Tour de France starts in a week on July 1st in Copenhagen. 25 years ago, Jan Ullrich (48), who was born in Rostock, was the first and so far the only German to win the most famous and probably most important road bike race in the world. With the five-part documentary series “Being Jan Ullrich”, ARD looks back on the life of the former cycling star.

The authors Uli Fritz (SR) and Ole Zeisler (NDR) draw an impressive portrait from archive recordings, eyewitness interviews and private material. Among other things, they traveled to the USA to speak to Ullrich’s former rival and current friend Lance Armstrong (50). “He scared me, nobody else. This man made me get up early. He changed my life. He had more talent,” admits the American in front of the camera.

The touching story of Jan Ullrich’s triumphs and serious falls begins in Rostock. “He looked like a peeled rabbit, just muscle and skin,” his first coach, Peter Sager, remembers the little boy, who later trained at the children’s and youth sports school in Berlin-Hohenschönhausen and then moved to Hamburg.

The death of his grandfather

From Hamburg we went to the amateur cycling world championships in Oslo, Norway, where Jan Ullrich became world champion in 1993. He dedicated the title to his grandfather. “He was always rooting for me and was one of my biggest fans,” said the athlete in a TV interview at the time. The grandfather wished so much to see him on television after winning, he continued, “and 14 days after he died, I became world champion in Oslo”.

“His grandpa was his idol and if grandpa had been a few years younger and could have continued to accompany him, Jan Ullrich would not have marched through life the way he unfortunately marched. His grandpa was everything,” explains Peter Becker, Ullrichs Trainer from 1986, in the film.

The day after winning the amateur championship, Ullrich and his teammates watched Lance Armstrong win the pro race.

alcohol and domestic violence

The first episode of the documentary also tells of the difficult family circumstances that little Jan was exposed to. Jan Ullrich biographer Hagen Boßdorf reports on violence in the family: “Jan Ullrich comes from a very humble background, the father no longer played a role early on. Violence played a role in the family, including against the mother, which Jan noticed.” , he says in the documentary.

Coach Becker also remembers it and describes the depressing conditions as follows: “Jan’s father was a physical giant. He was a speed skater at the time, a bricklayer by trade, but of course also a woodpecker. Jan told me that himself. And he hit the children . He also hit his mother and he hit Jan so badly that he got a laceration on his head – Jan still has the [scar] today,” he says.

Physically, Jan Ullrich was “blessed”, summarizes biographer Boßdorf: “This strength-to-weight ratio, which is crucial in cycling. But mentally, with his family roots, he wasn’t blessed.” Armstrong also raved about Ullrich’s body and talent. “If I had Jan Ullrich’s body, I would win the Tour de France ten times in a row without a doubt,” he is said to have said to Bossdorf.

A sense of home in Merdingen

In 1994, Jan Ullrich moved to Merdingen in the Black Forest for the first time. There he was probably first with his friend, the former professional cyclist Dirk Baldinger, until he met his future girlfriend Gaby Weis at a party. “He was then also connected to the family there” and it was probably the first time that he had really rooted himself. “A home that he perhaps didn’t have before,” says Bossdorf.

Gaby’s father also has his say in the documentary. Winegrower Ernst Weis remembers: “I think he not only made friends with my daughter, but also with the Merdinger red wine.” That’s exactly what another Ullrich biographer, Daniel Friebe, classifies as “possibly dangerous” for Ullrich in retrospect…

The documentary series “Being Jan Ullrich” can be seen in the ARD media library from June 25th. The documentary of the same name can be seen on July 2 after the end of the second stage of this year’s Tour de France at around 5:20 p.m. on the first.