Ganz oder gar nicht, Meine Geschicte
(All or Nothing, My Story)
- "I began the year 1998 with a new personal record: I was heavier than
- April 1999: "I was totally fed up. Yet again I had not come
through the winter well.... I was even heavier than a year ago. A new record,
which left me sad and hopeless."
- Why didn't Jan Ullrich ride the 1999 Tour? "I had lost all interest in
Everything that had to do with cycling seemed to me to be dark and depressing."
- 2002: "This season turned out to be the worst of my life. I lost a
nerve-wracking battle against the mysterious pains in my knee. I made incredibly dumb mistakes,
family and friends and was on the brink of losing my career."
The book cover photo. (c) Amos Schliack.
If there is a recurrent theme in Jan Ullrich's autobiography, it is this: he
he realizes he has made mistakes, always manages to more or less save the
situation - and he
then goes on to make even more mistakes. Yet he always manages to retain the
affection of his
fans, perhaps because of, rather than in spite of, his faults.
His book, Ganz oder gar nicht, Meine Geschicte (All or Nothing, My Story)
appeared in June
2004 and ends with his return to Telekom/T-Mobile in the fall of 2003.
Ullrich got his first bike at age 5. Shortly thereafter his father
disappeared out of his
life. And although he says, "I have never missed a father," it is noticeable
that he has
always turned to trainers and managers (always older, fatherly men) and has
dependent relationships with them, from his first trainer, Peter Sager, to
He won his first race when he was 11 and was eventually accepted at the KJS
(Sport School) in
Berlin. He was still there in 1989 when the Wall fell, and within 2 years the
closed. However, the opportunity arose for Ullrich and his teammates to move to
join an amateur team there. He was still with this team when he unexpectedly won
amateur road championship in 1993.
He decided to remain an amateur for another year. In 1994 he was unable to
repeat his success
in the Worlds, but that fall he met someone who was to become the most important
person in his
life - Gaby Weis. It was apprently love at first sight, and they are still
although major problems have loomed along the way.
That fall he also signed his first pro contract with the young and struggling
His first pro race was the Catalonian Week, and he ended the first stage as
80th, in the last
group. It was an eye-opening experience - a pro race "quickly separates the men
from the boys.
And I was one of the boys." The whole race was difficult for him. "It was
hadn't imagined it would be so hard."
In 1996, after a spring of sicknesses, Ullrich was glad to ride the Tour de
Suisse - glad to
have a big race to ride, because he was not preselected for the Tour de France.
His job there
was to support his new captain, Bjarne Riis, who got sick and dropped out after
stage. Ullrich, on the other hand, rode exceptionally well and said that after
"I realized that I had been riding with the hand brake on."
He rode so well, in fact, that he caused - not for the last time - a fight
between Rudy Pevenage and Walter Godefroot. Godefroot had already preselected his Tour team,
was not on it, and the Belgian did not want to change anything. But in the end
well enough to win a place on the team.
And what he accomplished in this, his first Tour de France, only 22 years
old, is well-known.
And how did he accomplish it? By staying at Riis' side in the mountains, earning
becoming his most important helper and by his own outstanding time trailing
Coming in to the Tour in 1997, Ullrich had only one goal: "to repeat my
performance of last
year." It was teammate Jens Heppner who said, before the prologue, that he would
attack and not wait for Riis. On July 15 was the biggest mountain stage.
"At the foot of the final climb Bjarne rode
directly next to me. 'What do we do now,' I asked him."
"'If we want to win today, then we have to attack now.' Bjarne was
"That sounded practical to me. 'Okay, and how? Shall I make the tempo and
then you attack?'
"'No,' said Bjarne. 'When you can, go for it.'
"I wasn't sure whether I had understood him correctly. But Bjarne had seen what
was long before I had. In the past few days I had helped whenever I could and
had often had to
wait for him. He knew that other riders in my situation would long since have
Bjarne had already give the leader's role over to me, I just hadn't noticed it."
He went on, of course, to win that Tour. He was thereafter celebrated throughout
Germany for his
extraordinary achievements - advertising contracts, tv appearances, award
ceremonies - and he
came to life as a celebrity. With disastrous results.
He started the '98 season heavier than ever. He couldn't get in shape. Colds,
allergies laid him low. He quickly discovered the downside of celebrity status,
newspapers that only months before that praised him now heaped ridicule on him.
He finally managed to get in shape for the Tour, but the Tour '98 was destined
to be more
reknowned for the doping scandals than for the Ullrich-Pantani drama. "I wore the
jersey, but was only asked about the new wonder drug EPO. In our team meetings
we talked more
about the latest rumors than about the tactics for the next day.... I wore the
jersey in the world and asked myself why. To go down in history as the winner of
Doping Tour?" He didn't win, of course, but took second place.
The spring of 1999 saw - unsurprisingly - overweight, illnesses and false
wanted to give up, but was persuaded to keep on, and the famous Telekom
"Babysitter system" was
set up. It was an around the clock system of care-taking, controls and
motivation. It didn't
help. A crash in the Tour of Germany gave him a knee injury, which was excuse
enough to skip
the Tour. "I simply had no more interest in cycling. Everything that had to do
seemed to be dark and depressing. I was tired of the endless torture that
life. Since I was nine I had thought of nothing but cycling. After more than 16
needed a break."
Evidently the break did him good. The beginning of August the team management
he get back on his bike and ride the Vuelta "as preparation for next season." He
thought of being able to salvage something of the current season. And in the
end, he won the
Vuelta. "What had happened? At the start I would have been satisfied to survive
20 days of
the Vulelta. At the end, I had won my second Grand Tour. But almost more
important that that:
I enjoyed cycling again." And he crowned the crazy season with the world time
In 2000, Ullrich faced Lance Armstrong in the Tour for the first time. What
are his impressions of his rival? "I experienced Armstrong as a highly-concentrated, determinedly
captain of the U.S. Postal team, who was constantly pushing his teammates. He
to beat this German 'Wonderkind.' It was me who so motivated him. I'm not like
that. I am
motivated, because I want to win, and that means primarily to win over myself. I
everything that Lance Armstrong has accomplished in his life, but I wouldn't
want to be like
Jan wearing the German National Championship jersey and riding
for Deutsche Telekom-ARD at the 2001 Tour de France Prologue. Photo by
The Ullrich-Armstrong 2001 duel is best known for the Alpe d'Huez stage.
Ullrich says, "We
never took his admitted and not entirely unconvincing act seriously, because when
Rudy Pevenage set up our team radios that morning he stumbled across the U.S. Postal frequency.
us to listen in on the radio conversations between Armstrong and his sporting
director, and so
we learned that they were listening in our frequency, too. We were aware of
motives the whole time."
The drama of the 2002 season began with knee pain during a training camp in
South Africa in
December 2001. It never went away entirely, race appearances were cancelled,
were ordered. He gained weight. After sitting out the whole month of March, he
training again in April. He overdid it and the pain returned, worse than ever.
frustration, he went drinking with a friend on the night of April 30/May 1 -
and leaving the scene of an accident were the results. Not to mention what his
team thought of it all. But that was not enough. He was still unable to pull
The knee was still there, and was finally operated on. Ullrich went to a
clinic near Munich
for rehabilitation and physical therapy - with a notable lack of success. And
he was bored,
so he called up friends and went out nearly every evening, staying out very late
again incurring the wrath of his girlfriend and team.
On the evening of June 21, 2002, "I was listless and apathetic." A friend
offered him two
pills - allegedly anti-depressives. "'They're harmless. And much better than
bottle of wine every night.' That sounded convincing. Without thinking any more
about it, I
swallowed the things." And he was promptly visited by doping testers the next
He was subsequently suspended by the team and by the national cycling
with partner Gaby he fled, ending up in Whistler Mountain, British Columbia,
Canada. He took
advantage of the long stay to patch things up with Gaby and to reflect on what
he needed to
change in his life.
After five weeks, Ullrich returned to Germany and started in on what needed
to be done. The
knee was operated on again - successfully, this time. He move to Switzerland.
formally fired by Telekom and started the search for a new team.
His first choice was his old friend and captain Bjarne Riis. The team lined
up a new
co-sponsor, the trikot was designed, all was ready. But it came to nothing. The
was to be DHL, the German Post's package delivery service. But when the Post
announced that it
would have to close 7,000 small post offices and lay off 40,000 workers, there
was just no way
it could justify pouring millions into a pro cycling team.
CSC was still Ullrich's first choice, but without the new sponsor, the money
just wasn't there,
and he decided to tell Riis that he would have to look elsewhere. "When Bjarne
heard that, he
raised his offer. Suddenly he seemed to have found money. I told (manager)
(Strohband) on the telephone: 'What Bjarne is doing now just isn't right. Either
he had the
money all along and didn't want to give it to us, or he still doesn't have it
was sorry not to work with Riis, but he also just couldn't do it.
(Note: At this point in the book, Ullrich goes into less and less detail.
Many events are
skimmed over or omitted.)
Günther Dahms and his Coast team didn't have a lot of money either, but
claimed to have lots of
potential sponsors lined up who would be interested in a team with Ullrich on
it. This time
the sponsor and money question didn't seem to carry so much weight in the
process - one gets the impression Ullrich simply wanted to sign a contract, any
have the team question resolved.
Within a few months, Ullrich realized he might have made a mistake. "It's not
easy to train
when you expect to hear any day that the team you depend on and which you want
to be successful
with, will be disbanded. Our mood was pretty bad."
The team struggled along, and Ullrich did much better than expected. He won
Rund um Köln in an
impressive fashion and realized, "I belonged again. I could still win."
Even more important than the professional accomplishments were the personal
ones. One of the
life-changing decisions he and partner Gaby had made was to start a family. On
July 1, 2003,
it happened - his daughter Sarah Maria was born. "I have never been so moved as
The very next day he was off to France for the Tour. (That the team's name
was now Bianchi is
only very briefly mentioned.) Within days he got sick, a fact he was desperate
to hide from
everyone. During one stage he felt so bad that plans were made for him to drop
out at the feed
zone. But good friend and teammate Tobi Steinhauser went to the Tour doctor's
car, picked up
two aspirin, allegedly for himself, and gave them unobtrusively to his captain.
enough to keep him in the race.
Ullrich at Troyes, 2003 Tour de France. Photo courtesy
And then they came to Luz Ardiden.
"Armstrong crashed and took Mayo down with him. I was able to avoid them at
the last minute.
My heart beat like crazy. Thank God I hadn't crashed, too, I thought with relief.
Now I was
leading. I was first. Rudy spoke to me over the radio: 'We're in the Tour de
think very carefully about what you do.' Within seconds I had to decide: attack
and take the
victory, or wait until my rival was back on his bike again. It was instinctive,
I couldn't do
anything else, I waited." Armstrong won the race and the Tour, of course. "It
Armstrong crashed and profited from it in the end. I, on the other hand, did the
and lost in the end."
And how will it end for Jan Ullrich? How will he be remembered? "As a gifted
rider who often
made problems for himself but was able to pull himself together and achieve
great success. Or
as a careless genius, who all too seldom was able to convert his enormous talent
He knows how he would like to go down in history: as a man "who battled as
hard against his own weaknesses as against his rivals. A man who rode his bike passionately, who
loved life and
all its temptations, and who learned to be responsible for himself and those at
"Ganz oder gar nicht, Meine Geschichte,"
by Jan Ullrich with Hagen Bossdorf
Publisher: Econ Verlag
Grateful acknowledgement to Econ Verlag.