A couple of days ago Jan Ullrich announced his retirement from the sport of professional cycling. Instead of posting the news right away, I watched and waited for the reaction. I waited, and waited, and waited. I expected that the retirement of a star that has been such a presence on the professional cycling scene would cause some ripples through the blogsphere. The ripples were more from a pebble and the water returned to normal soon after.
That is sad. I remember the 1996 tour when Jan helped Bjarne Riis win his Tour de France and dethrone Miguel “Big Mig” Indurain. I remember thinking Jan was clearly stronger than his team leader and could have easily taken the yellow jersey off Riis. But he didn’t. His chance would clearly come.
Then in 1997, he grabbed the jersey with such force and authority that we all thought we were seeing the dawn of a new era. A new patron had arrived. So soon after the sun set on Indurain, it was rising on Ullrich.
Well, you know the story. Jan could never remove the words “could be” and “potential” from articles surrounding his name. The rising sun was actually coming from Texas, not Germany. Each year was the year but that year never came. His gold medal in the 2000 Olympics raised our hope only to be dashed again. In 2003 he had his best opportunity to silence the growing number of critics. He came close but could not close the door on a mortal-looking Armstrong.
After that, Jan began to assume the role of lovable loser. The Raymond Poulidor of our generation. Even though Jan pointed out that unlike “Pou Pou”, he had won. Unfortunately, no one listened.
Jan seemed destined to finish his career as Lance Armstrong’s Alydar. The second best rider of his generation. In fact, it began to seem that Jan was getting comfortable with being second. A sure sign that the shadow cast from Austin would always cover the German.
Finally, Operation Puerto put a mark on Jan’s record that would be worse than a rider with unfulfilled promise. And after Monday’s announcement, that seems to be the last line on the Jan Ullrich story. And it seems that as Jan Ullrich goes quietly into that good night, no one cares and that may biggest the biggest shame of it all.