My biggest mistake of the Tour de France so far actually happened five days before the race started. The Editor rang to say that he had been told by an impeccable source that Jan Ullrich would not be starting the Tour.
A call to T-Mobile?s press officer drew a frank denial. There was nothing in the story, it was just a malicious rumour.
“It would be a shame to go to press and then have it turn out he?s out of the race. See what we can find out,? the Editor said.
A contact on a German newspaper proved interesting. They had heard the same rumours and had the same denial from T-Mobile.
The paper had been leaked all the same information that was all over the internet. Documents labelled ?Son of Rudy? and ?JAN? indicated Ullrich (pictured) may have been one of Dr Eufamiano Fuentes? clients.
There was no definitive proof, of course, but the circumstantial evidence surely put Ullrich?s place in the Tour under threat. The paper was planning to run the story with a headline along the lines of ?Tell us it?s not true, Jan?.
Persuaded that the right course of action was to run a story for Cycling Weekly stating the facts as they stood and indicating that Ullrich?s place in the race was by no means certain I rang another contact, this time in Spain, to get a bit more information.
The contact dismissed the story out of hand. Did I really think the Tour would chuck Jan Ullrich, it?s biggest and best-known rider, out of the race at such short notice, running the risk of landing another edition of the great event in the mire? The circumstantial evidence, he said, was flimsy. ‘JAN? could mean anything and the ?Son of Rudy? didn?t add up either as it didn?t translate cleanly and directly from Spanish anyway.
It was all over active minds and putting two and two together and coming up with five.
Plagued with doubt, we didn?t run the story. The magazine came out on the Thursday with a picture of Jan Ullrich on the cover. Inside there was not much in the way of coverage of the oncoming storm.
Our source had been good and, as it turned out, right, but it is easy to say in retrospect we should have run the story. If it had turned out to be untrue we would have been calling our lawyers for advice.
But it shows that the leaks and rumours do not always come to nothing.
The latest rumour is that there is a second list to be revealed some time. Maybe this week, maybe next month. There are, apparently, some nervous men in the peloton. They may not be doping now but their names are on documents and dossiers pertaining to their past conduct.