Former Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich has spoken candidly about blood doping during his career for the first time, ahead of a four-part Amazon Prime documentary series called Der Gejagte (The Hunted), released November 28 in Germany.
"If you wanted to keep up, you had to take part," Ullrich told German outlet Stern. "The general attitude was: If you don't do this, how will you survive in a race? Without help, the widespread perception at the time was that it would be like going to a gunfight armed only with a knife."
The German, who turns 50 next month, was hailed as a bright new hope when he won the Tour de France at what was then the very tender age of 23. He remained a top contender until 2006 when his name was linked to the Operacion Puerto scandal. Ullrich kept quiet, but was eventually sanctioned in 2012, and stripped of his results from 2005 and 2006.
He wishes he had spoken up sooner, he says now.
"My past weighed on me so much," he says. "It was so big and so stressful. This is also why I was a master at repression for many years.
"In 2006 I wasn't able to talk because I didn't want to be a traitor. I didn't want to come out with half-truths and certainly not with the whole truth.
"The lawyers told me: Either you go out and tear everything down, or you don't say anything at all. I decided on the second recommendation at the time. Because tearing everything down would also have meant that I'm dragging a lot of people down with me into the abyss.
"From today's perspective, I should have spoken," he added. "It would have been very hard for a brief moment, but after that life would have been easier."
Things did not get much better for Ullrich after he moved to Mallorca, hoping to begin again. Drugs and alcohol featured heavily in his life. He was drinking up to two bottles of whiskey a day and taking cocaine. He ended up separating from his wife, and she took their children back to Germany.
"The mix of whiskey and cocaine made my heart colder," he said. "It brings up all the evil qualities in you. It turns you into a monster in a very short time. If you no longer have a heart, you are no longer human."
In 2018 he was arrested twice – once for breaking into a neighbour's property and also after attacking an escort in a hotel in Frankfurt.
Ullrich sought help after his wife threatened to stop him from speaking to his children. An intervention from former Tour rival Lance Armstrong also helped considerably, and the two remain good friends.
For Ullrich, the new documentary has been part of the healing process: "I'm hungry for life again," he said.
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