The headline is right: ex-pro Jan Ullrich, also known as ‘Der Kaiser’, will be attending the RCC Summit in Sonoma County, California. Considering Ullrich’s past, his appearance at the Summit will be controversial to some. So, what will Jan Ullrich bring to the RCC Summit this October? Firstly, no one wins two Grand Tours without gaining a few good tales to tell. Also, never underestimate the wisdom of the retired pro, especially one who endured such a sudden and turbulent re-entry to civilian life – so we’ll be looking to Jan for interesting stories and good riding, which is pretty much the essence of a Summit.
For those unfamiliar with Jan and his story, here’s the quickest of debriefs: Jan, a prodigious talent, attended an East German KJS sports school, which were hothouses of athleticism. His career progression hinted at his hard work and ambition – a World Amateur title in 1993 at age 19, a professional World Championship bronze in the time trial a year later, then a litany of results that include his victories at the 1997 Tour de France, 1999 Vuelta a España, and Sydney Olympics.
But that isn’t the entire story. Jan spent almost all of his career in the fuchsia hues of Telekom, and any memories of that team, or that era of racing in general, are now muddied by the fact that most of the peloton were chemically super-charged. Victories in the biggest races eluded Jan for several seasons following his Olympic gold, and then he took an ignominious exit from the sport under the cloud of a doping controversy on the eve of the 2006 Tour de France.
That year, the race started without the top five finishers of the previous edition – a number that included Ullrich. It was the biggest scandal since the Festina affair, and fans from that time will attest to the fallout. For Ullrich’s part, he didn’t ride his bike for four years after his suspension from the T-Mobile team. In 2013, he admitted to doping in the German press.
Without any further ado, here’s a short update from Der Kaiser.
You started out at a sports-specific school – how did this set you up for career in the professional ranks?
It was the perfect combination of school and sport. We were a class of only cyclists, the best twelve talents of the DDR [German Democratic Republic]. We were trained by very well educated professional coaches that put a high emphasis on gaining a broad set of skills: athletics, track and cross, and cycling techniques were all on our daily schedule. We learnt the importance of the team and of camaraderie, the will to fight, and to crucify oneself to achieve your goals.
It sounds like an intense environment. Was ‘switching-off’ ever an issue?
We were taught the importance of relaxing. The trainers put an emphasis on us having relaxing time (light training, time in the sauna) and massage. The trainers knew each of us very well and knew exactly when we needed some relaxing time in order to improve and develop further.
Riding is at the heart of the Rapha Cycling Club, and the Summit is intended to showcase this. Did you find that your attitude to riding changed once you stopped racing?
My exit from the professional sport was kind of harsh and thus the transition into ‘normal’ life was very hard for me. To switch from the demanding and very active professional sports life into retirement from one day to another is not that easy. I was lucky to have a lot of wonderful and happy moments with my marriage and the birth of my kids during that time.
After I finished my professional career I took a long break and did not ride at all for almost four years. Then I slowly started to rediscover my love for cycling and above all the joy of riding my bike.
Pros are at the vanguard of traveling with a bike – could you give us a quick refresher on how to get to Sonoma with our bike and kit intact?
Most important for safe transport of your bike is the bike case. As I am not a meticulous packer at all, I prefer a really big hard case. To pack my bike into it I only need to take out the wheels, nothing else has to be disassembled. Helmet, cycling shoes, drinking bottle and spare materials also fit in easily.
Essential things to bring are always cycling shoes, matching pedals, helmet, glasses and clothing adapted to the expected weather. That is why I love my weather forecast app!
RCC Summit California
The RCC Summits are an annual celebration of the Rapha Cycling Club and road cycling in general. The Summit California is being held in the rolling hills and vineyards of Sonoma County, 55 miles north of San Francisco. Renowned for its wines, cuisine, and climate, RCC members will have fantastic access to the best riding the region has to offer.