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Jan Ullrich: The Best There Never Was

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If you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, having bought the hardback you can feel the heft, it runs well beyond 400 pages with notes and an index and the font isn’t big either. For many it was a vision of the future: if he could climb like this, win the time trials, and arrive in Paris with nine minutes on his next rival all at the age of 23 – precocious in those days – then the Tour seemed to belong to him. You won’t look at a chocolate Toblerone bar again but after this anecdote Friebe is quick to add “there were elements of pantomime, like this, but also moments when the sport seemed not so much to have mislaid its moral compass as lost contact with Earth’s magnetic field”. It’s “the same USADA” (not exactly *the same* of course), covering up doped Olympic medallists or catching Lance.

It’s an irony of sort that they were founded the same year when Keul was elected President of the German Association of Sports Physician.A Wunderkind who won the amateur worlds in 1993 as a teenager and almost won the time trial against the pros there too, he was second in the 1996 Tour de France, taking the final time trial. 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”. 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? Obviously doping is a key topic but mainly because of the times not solely because he was born in the DDR. Let’s leave the Keul and Southern (Federal) Germany universities surprise to the readers of the book, then.

As I also said, it may well depend on the review, but just check the insisted presence of “DDR” above. 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. 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. Imagine that DDR doping doctors were trying to convince decision-makers to allow specific doping use (and succeeding to do so)… because Keul was promoting it! Even when he didn’t win, there was always the seasonal targeting of the Tour with his preparation getting more intense the closer the race got.I think that if there’s a contrast in attitudes of sort to reflect about is how singling out DDR allows us to “forget” all the time what USADA was doing, or CONI and so on and on. He went on to become Germany’s first ever Tour winner, storming to victory in that edition by almost ten minutes, a result that was greeted as an era-defining changing of the guard.

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