Friday, April 18, 2008

Six Figures

Jan Ullrich has elected to pay a fine to the Bonn Prosecutor’s office, thus ending the investigation into his possible sporting fraud through doping. Ullrich is reported to have paid six-figures to make the investigation go away. Most of us wouldn't voluntarily write a check that large unless real estate was involved.

Naturally, the out-of-court settlement allows Ullrich to admit no guilt. That works fine for major corporations, but in this instance it has the feel of closing the gate after the horse has left the barn.

The case began after allegations arose that Ullrich was one of the athletes who had used the services of Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes’s Spanish clinic. An alias for Ullrich had been found in the doctor’s records. That was enough to send German authorities into action.

German authorities launched a criminal inquiry that allowed them to request blood and plasma from Spanish officials. The basis of the criminal complaint was sporting fraud, that by winning the Tour de France while using banned substances and forbidden doping techniques, Ullrich had defrauded his employer of millions of Euro, thus illegally increasing his income.

The authorities tested both blood and plasma found at Fuentes’s clinic. Prosecutors, in a turn that wouldn’t fly in the U.S., announced that they had confirmed a DNA match between the seized blood and plasma and Ullrich. As trials by public go, the announcement was effective enough that Ullrich retired from the sport almost immediately after the announcement.

In a gentler time, the world might have let Ullrich go quietly. But there has been a widespread desire to know the truth, to find out just how prevalent doping was, if only one rider at a time.

Ullrich’s settlement lacks the finality of a conviction in court and while he insists he has done nothing wrong—that he has never used performance enhancing drugs or used illicit means to boost his performance—there is ample credible evidence that he all but had Fuentes on a retainer. Even though the criminal investigation has ended, there is more than enough damning evidence to have tarnished the athlete’s career

So the chapter on doping titled “Jan Ullrich” is at an end, right? Wrong. Ullrich’s settlement seems to be an effort into stopping any further inquiry into his alleged (or confirmed) doping. Unfortunately, Ullrich has a history of underestimating his opposition. First it was Marco Pantani. Then Lance Armstrong. Then the German Cycling Federation when he moved to Switzerland and registered as a Swiss pro; that didn’t stop the investigation into his activity as he was employed by a German team. It could just be that Ullrich hasn’t taken into account the next phase of “The Persecution of Jan Ullrich.”

T-Mobile has ample evidence to file a civil claim against him.

To the degree that his settlement was meant to end investigation into doping activities by the Olympic Gold Medalist, Ullrich was successful, but to the degree that the settlement was meant to protect his legacy, and ultimately his Yellow Jersey from the 1997 Tour de France, the settlement might prove to be fuel for a civil claim by T-Mobile. If they do file suit and prevail in court, ASO is guaranteed to come calling for that yellow shirt.

For the PROs of the '90s, riding in a doped peloton was a classic double-bind. The riders were damned if they rode clean and damned if they abandoned their values to be competitive. And now it is our turn.

As fans of cycling, there is no satisfactory outcome for us. If we choose to endorse the retroactive rewriting of the record books, we find ourselves on a slippery slope that would eventually see not only Bjarne Riis’ and Ullrich’s Yellow Jerseys seized, but also that of Marco Pantani and the Polka-Dot Jerseys of Richard Virenque on our way to record books filled with names we don’t recognize as greats.

If, instead, we dismiss the doping of the '90s as being an unfortunate footnote to cycling’s past, we turn our backs on those honest athletes who suffered at the hands of a supercharged peloton, suffered as only Prometheus could appreciate. Who says Ullrich shouldn't pay for his part?

Photo courtesy of John Pierce, Photosport International


Bolivar said...

Completely agree. It is a true testement of the riders who did not sucumb to the needle and managed to hang on for dear life.

RF - would you mind making a comment on a couple of frames I am considering to replace the wrecked bike, you have great insight to the bike building world and would appreciate your opinion over at uponthecobbles. Thanks

Patrizio Newell said...

I don't mind Ullrich paying as long as Armstrong chips in.

Anonymous said...

I see your point about T-Mobile/Telekom having grounds for a suit. However, I don't see that the amount of money would change much for a large corporation but more to the point, I doubt they want more press about doping associated with their brand. We'll see.

Anonymous said...

Why would TMobile go after this guy with a civil suit? T Mobile is complicit in systemic doping. But so is the German federation and that didn't stop them from vilifying their own son and hero.

Oh, yeah, the reason everyone is attacking "Ulle," is that, now out of favor, with blood in the water, everyone (even BKW) wants a taste- for some it is a taste of what they imagine to be a big pile of money under Jan's mattress- for others it is just the opportunity to fell a giant of the sport. Sad, but I guess it's human - build up the hero then find and expose his tragic flaw...

Isn't it all leading to beheading the beast? When will they (you?) finally go after Armstrong?


Old Fonzie said...

Maybe old Paul Kimmage has a shot at the yellow jersey after all.

privateer said...

The lesson is, Don't outlaw substances for which you have no reliable test.

Having hard-threshold limits for naturally occurring substances (hematocrit, testosterone, one drop less you are fine, one drop more you are screwed) guarantees brinksmanship among the riders.

Jim said...

Crucify him! Crucify him!

Is that the theme?

It's patently unfair (and the height of phony moral posturing) to try to impose today's rules on yesterday's riders, for crimes committed under a regime that made it quite clear that some rules were made to be broken. The only thing treated as a real crime in the 90's and early 00's, seems to have been getting caught. The underlying rules have now changed. I submit the proper thing to do - unfair to some though it may be - is to give an amnesty to yesterday's dopers and acknowledge it was a flawed era in the sport, accept the understanding that man is an imperfect vessel and leave it at that. Whose fault is the doping? Ultimately the riders make their decisions and bear primary responsibility, but the sanctioning bodies, promoters, marketers, and teams bear responsibility as well. The fans too perhaps - if there was a real problem we should quite supporting the sport until it changes. Obviously, it doesn't rise to that level of importance for most of us.

Padraig said...

It's important to distinguish between T-Mobile the sponsor and the former management of the T-Mobile Team. The T-Mobile corporation paid Ullrich based on his sporting achievement, for which there is now ample evidence he doped, thereby defrauding the sponsor of money through inflated results. Whether they (T-Mobile) go after Ullrich or the team's former management remains to be seen.

As for the money involved here, it really matters insofar as it demonstrates the lengths to which Ullrich is willing to go to protect his place in history. The dollar amounts are mostly immaterial; it's much more about extracting a pound of flesh.

BKW has nothing against Ullrich. We've no axe to grind here; this is a simple analysis of where the facts stand. We're certainly not calling for a witch burning, but the fact remains, in this game of chess, Ullrich left his King open.

As for what will or should happen to Armstrong, that's another matter entirely. He is a different man and deserves his due process; while many may believe the allegations that are out there, he has prevailed in court, better protecting his brand than Ullrich has up to this point.

Newmaforma said...

To clean the past of doped winners how far must one go? Riis? Hinault? Merckx? Coppi and beyond? Should the dead heroes be exhumed? Ridiculous. We move forward. For all the exploits of the doped, they still had to train far harder than weekend amatuer racer will ever know. Cycling is a painful and dirty sport on many levels. Anytime money is involved there will be cheating. Regardless of the past, cycling remains a beautiful sport of heroes, villans, winners and also-rans.

Gary said...

Newmaforma Makes the most sense.

Unknown said...

Okay. I stopped reading right here: "...that by winning the Tour de France while using banned substances and forbidden doping techniques, Ullrich had defrauded his employer of millions of Euro, thus illegally increasing his income."

Such hypocrisy!

The statement seems to treat the issue of "doping" as if Jan is hooked on huffing a crack pipe. He just can't help himself. He needs to check himself into the Betty Ford Clinic and get clean.

Who WHO wants Jan to WIN a Tour? Who benefits from Jan crossing the finish wearing that distinctive magenta and black kit?

Professional athletes are treated like animals-- race horses, greyhounds.

The sponsors/"employers" expect results. Win win win. And win and win.

I don't even pay attention to this anymore. It just makes me sick. And we're getting ready to be treated to another two weeks of sporting acrimony and drug scandals as the Olympics rolls through Beijing.

george said...

Nice piece.

IMHO It's time to leave the past alone. Going back and chasing after the champions of sport because of alleged misbehavior is a waste of time and will only cause division and harm. For the sake of the future of cycling, lets focus on the here and now of the sport and move forward. Those who have been made mistakes and been penalized deserve a fair shot at returning. Those who did/do bad things and didnt get caught need to be reformed in a structured way with clear disciplinary processes and rules, not the current guilt by assumption.

As for T-Mobile suing Ulrich, i say horsepucky. They got more than their money's worth from Ulli as he kept his team in the news and spotlight day in and day out, for better or worse. They didnt pay Ulli for his moral convictions, but because they wanted to have their name associated with a celebrity and cycling legend. He wore pink in victory and loss and what more can they ask for?

Anonymous said...

agree with jim and brian-j. but really who cares?

as others have pointed out the doping argument(s) is specious at best without the necessary context and scientific rigor. moreover, are we all that naive? professional bicycle racing is just entertainment. and in that spirit, that's where i derive joy from bkw--fretting with other burned-out/bored/dialed-in/checked-out types about the right handlebar tape color and carbon wheels that cost more than some unfortunate souls count as annual income. and while i can appreciate a beautiful ride such as devolder's in the recent tour of flanders, you'll never hear me waxing poetic as to how it engenders the human spirit. doping is cheating to be sure. but cheating is relatively uninteresting.

admittedly, though, all bets are off when it comes to our tragic VDB. i mean i know that it's been covered to death, but allegedly entering italian races as "francesco del ponte" with boonen's picture and riding off the front only to go home *is* interesting--and, well, funny...

bikesgonewild said... cycling as a game of chess...

...while ullrich was one of the "kings of the road", he was also just one of many pawns in the game...

...& considering the hypocrisy, other than pantani, ullrich has & will continue to pay a bigger price than most...

Anonymous said...

What BS! Lance is just as guilty, if not more. Pro Cycling, all the media outlets that reports and write articles concerning the sport, blogs, websites... all that, is a circus of absolute hypocrisy!

Lance knew what he had coming and skipped town fast as hell! He's a bum too.

Anonymous said...

The thing about making a civil claim against Ullrich is that it would open such a can of worms. Are they also going to sue Bjarne, or Zabel for that matter?

Jim has it right--we move forward from this point.

Anonymous said...

When a child has a hero, their flaws don't matter. Only when we age do we realize the wrongdoings of those we grew up admiring. Our parents will always be our parents, Spiderman and the Hulk will always be revered. No matter what the world tells us. Merckx will always inspire awe, Anquetil will forever have charm, Ullrich will always be the first pro racer who made my heart beat faster. And, say what we will, Armstrong will always be Armstrong. Where did the childlike love for this sport go? Why have we let the adults come in and tell us how to enjoy freedom? Taking hard won jerseys off the backs of past heros/idols/gods is wrong and seems almost insulting to those fans who cheered, gasped and cried with every victory.

Anonymous said...
Lance dope. Franky's wifes speaks out ..

Anonymous said...

tonyoh said...

Good comments! The past is history, lets move forward! I feel sorry for Ulrich as a flawed champion, and one who does not obviously have the best team of advisor's behind him. Cycling has taken the brunt of the anti-doping crusade, and I very much doubt any other professional sport has less doping involved (perhaps proportional to money involved).
I too think an amnesty for past wrong, to clear the air with no real consequence, is a great idea. Witch hunts are a waste of time, and do not help move forward!

Anonymous said...

The adults take the childish hero worship away when a 20 year old American kid goes over and has a manager stick needles in his ass and lies about whats being injected. Then steals the kids start money and takes half his winnings.

Anonymous said...

So, I guess the Eastern Block kids never really had a chance to ride clean. With the needle being stuck in their butts before they really even knew what they were doing.

Anonymous said...

nice freekin handlebars

Anonymous said...

Were there any clean riders in the
1990's? How do you know? How would
you tell who was clean and who wasn't?
I don't know the solution it must:
* get rid of rules that can't be
enforced uniformly
* state what the rules are
* enforce them uniformly
Anything less is a farce---just the
way they seem to like it. The current
unwritten rules seem to be if you
win the Tour or if you are Ullrich
or if you are Spanish then you are
a cheat---and everyone else is clean
except for some Italians. Great.