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Great Cyclists of the Tour de France: Jan Ullrich

Jan Ullrich was one of the great riders and personalities of the Tour de France. A German cyclist born in 1973, he would go on to become the first German rider to ever win the Tour de France. He also built a career on his legendary consistency that unfortunately coincided with that of Lance Armstrong. He finished in the top three of the Tour de France an incredible six times, with one win, four second place finishes and a third place finish. He also finished fourth in 2004. Ullrich was known as a powerful rider with great natural ability and athleticism.

He was often criticized for getting too far out of shape in the offseason, but maintained that it was not an issue, since he was always ready to race when the time came. His start in competitive cycling came when he was 11 years old, as he had his first win at that age. He turned professional in 1994, signing with team Telekom. Although his first couple of years as a professional weren’t very memorable, Ullrich experienced great success in his first ever Tour de France. Ullrich had the chance to compete in the Olympics in 1996 for his native Germany, but he passed up on the opportunity to compete in the Tour de France.

It was a decision he wouldn’t regret. He made quite a splash, finishing second overall and winning the coveted white jersey as the best rider at age 25 and under. He also won Stage 20 that year, finishing behind his own teammate, Bjarne Riis, by one minute and forty-one seconds. Ullrich quickly earned a reputation as a team player, as he dismissed any speculation that he would have won the race had he not been focusing on assisting his teammate, Riis. His performance nonetheless impressed many Tour de France veterans, including the great Miguel Indurain. He would go on to be one of the favorites for the 1997 race. In 1997, Ullrich would build upon his previous success by winning his first and only Tour de France. He won stages 10 and 12, while holding off a courageous comeback attempt by Marco Pantani, and was able to win the yellow jersey as well as a second consecutive white jersey in the overall competition. His win captured the hearts of his home country and sparked a resurgence of interest in the sport of cycling there. The next year began a rough period for Jan Ullrich.

He fought hard but lost the 1998 Tour de France, finishing second as Marco Pantani won. It was a moral victory of sorts for Ullrich, as he had been fourth and several minutes back earlier in the race, but a disappointment nonetheless. Then, in 1999, a knee injury caused by a crash would keep him out of the Tour de France. It was the same year when Lance Armstrong won his first of seven straight Tours. From then on, Ullrich unfortunately became known as the “eternal second” to Armstrong. He was never able to beat Armstrong, although he finished just 61 seconds behind in 2003. He also struggled with depression at times at this point in his career, disappointed that he couldn’t seem to defeat his rival. In 2007, Ullrich retired, finishing one of the most storied careers in the history of cycling. PPPPP Word Count 562.


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