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