Pro Cycling

Recollections of an interview with Jan Ullrich

Motionless, like the plastic chair in Eurobike’s media centre, I stare disbelievingly into space. Sounds of productivity encircle and taunt me. A peripheral flash of light pulls me back to the present. “How did it go???” read the SMS from Wade at CyclingTips.

At least we got photos. Image credit: Kristof Ramon | kramon.be

 

Only days prior, I had received an email from Wade at CyclingTips containing the single-most significant sentence I’d received thus far in my short-lived career as a freelancer – “I can confirm you 30 minutes interview with Jan on Wed, 31st of August at Eurobike exhibition – BR, Falk”. We had secured the only interview with Jan Ullrich at Eurobike, the bicycle industry’s largest trade show in Friedrichshafen, Germany.

Back to the plastic chair. A fleeting moment of catharsis as I reply.

CW: “Just perfect. I just downloaded the dictation. Dead silence for 33 minutes. Absolutely gutted. No idea what went wrong.”

CT: “Oh no! My worst nightmare! When u get time perhaps get all of your recollections down on paper and we can make that part of the story. Don’t stress about it. It’ll work out!

I emailed Falk Nier, Jan’s manager, with the bad news.

“Thanks very much again for the opportunity to interview Jan. The sound file from the interview has been corrupted. Best-case scenario is we fix the file, transcribe the article, and post the interview in the next few days. Worst-case scenario, I might have to send you some questions again for answering by email. In any case, it was great to meet you and I hope we can do a follow-up interview in the future.”

With the same efficient manner in which the dialogue began, a reply quickly arrives.

“Hi Cam, very miserable but things happen…let me check it with Jan next week. Currently he is in vacation with his family. Hopefully I can send you the questions by end of next week before my holiday.”

With that, the dialogue stopped. Weeks passed with no further replies. Wade, ever the professional, continued to press for a follow-up interview on my behalf to no avail. In hindsight, Jan – and his agent – had  other matters to attend to. Today, CyclingTips published the notes that I had taken during the interview. However, in my own whimsical mind, I remember it differently. Without further delay, I give you “recollections of an interview with Jan Ullrich”**

PROFESSIONAL LIFE

How old were you when you knew, in your heart, your future as a professional cyclist was certain?
What a terrific first question! Already, I am feeling so excited about this interview. Falk, remind me to take his business card at the end of the interview. We could use a guy like this on our team. With regards to the question, there was no particular moment that I can recall when I was certain that cycling would be my profession.

How did it feel to sign your first professional contract in 1995? How did you know the time was right?
Another elegant and probing question. Chapeau! I had been racing since I was ten years old (Jan was born in 1973) and won the amateur World Championships in 1993. It was a natural progression to turn professional. It felt good to sign my first contract.

You first raced in Australia in 1993 at the Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic, which you won. Why did you travel such a long way to race your bike?
I feel like we have already formed a deep connection, so I will tell you something that I have never before revealed to the media. There was a hidden agenda. After deciding I would win the 1993 Commonwealth Bank Classic, which I did, I spent a week in Sydney doing reconnaissance for the 2000 Olympics, which I also decided I would win. I rode the Bronte Rd hill climb 100 times in six days; on each occasion in the 53 x 11. Oh, I also let Eki win the TT at the Olympics. You can see I was leading at the last time check, but I really wanted to visit the famous “Harry’s Cafe de Wheels pie cart” after the race. If I’d won the TT, the numerous post-race interviews would have guaranteed the cart would be closed, and I could not have lived with that disappointment.

After the 1997 TdF win, you were asked what was your favourite country: you replied you loved Australia the most. Is this still true now? What is it you love about Australia?
The culture, the beaches and the people are all special. And of course, I have very fond memories of the Olympics. The crust of that pie was cooked perfectly! I hope to find a reason to go back there one day.

[At this point in the interview, a large pack of Tim Tams and small box of Weetbix are handed to Jan. He laughs and gives a heartfelt “thankyou very much” in English]

You won a Gold and Silver medal at the Sydney Olympics, the Tour de France, National and World Championship titles and numerous other races. Is there a single race in which were you not victorious but remember feeling the same happiness?
Can I first say it’s a pity this interview is not being filmed. You possess a boyish handsomeness that is compelling. I’ve only ever been happy when I’ve won. I chose not to be victorious if I’d already achieved my previously defined goals for the season.

Before you announced your retirement in Feb 2007, you had seven offers from pro teams. Did you ever get close to signing again? With what team?
No, the decision to retire had fully matured over several months. No offer could have changed my mind.

COMMENTARY ON CYCLING TODAY

What do you think of the way Cadel Evans won the TdF this year?
His win was very familiar to me. He was the strongest rider across all disciplines and really demonstrated panache. The Ullrich household was cheering for Evans throughout the Tour this year.

Has Europe lost it’s dominance in the sport of cycling?
Just because one American has won the Tour seven times, you can’t say that Europe has lost its dominance!

When do you think we will see the first Asian winner of the TdF?
(Laughs) Probably not for a long time – I think at least several years will pass before we see riders from Asia doing well in the Grand Tours.

EUROBIKE

We’re at Eurobike, the bicycle industry’s largest trade show. What’s the main reason you’re here?
I’m representing my bicycle company Jan Ullrich Bikes, to meet with dealers and also potential distributors. Incidentally, I understand you were here in 2007 surreptitiously taking photographs of my calves and limited-edition IWC watch. Is that true?

Ah, I don’t know anything about that. How active are you in the daily operation of Jan Ullrich bikes? What are your objectives for the company?
I am very involved in the operations of Jan Ullrich bikes, taking decisions and holding meetings regularly. You won’t find it mentioned anywhere on the public record, but I want to sell at least as many bikes as Giant. Maybe twice as many. I will decide first and then take the necessary steps.

Would you describe yourself as a bicycle equipment enthusiast?
At first, I only appreciated the bicycle as a tool to help me win races. In recent years though, I have looked forward to learning about the technological improvements in the industry. Yes, I would say I am an enthusiast of bicycle equipment. Tim Tam?

PERSONAL and RIDING

When did you last ride your bike? Where did you go?
On the weekend, I rode the Ötztaler Radmarathon in Austria. It is a mass participation event of 240km and almost 5km of combined altitude gain.

Do you prefer training alone or with people?
I enjoy both. I go riding with Klödi (Andreas Klöden) quite often but I can also enjoy riding with only the sound of the countryside and the gentle sound of my pedals being mercilessly crushed by an extraordinary natural power that causes butterflies to melt as they float by.

Have you kept any of your old bikes? Which is your favourite?
Yes, I have kept all of the bikes from my professional days that were not crashed. It might be obvious that the Pinarello from 1997 is my favourite. Tim Tam?

What equipment exists today that you wish you had access to when you were still racing professionally?
Actually, all of the equipment I used when racing was the best at the time. Even with today’s lightweight wheels – no, no, don’t get me started on the ADA/Lightweight nonsense! – and carbon frames, the UCI still has limitations on overall weight. I was most concerned with reliability.

What cycling tip could you pass on to our readers to improve their enjoyment of cycling?
Don’t forget to have fun in your cycling. A lot of people, especially the media, were critical of me for having a life off the bike. It’s about balance and enjoying all things in life.

Do you plan to visit Australia again? Would you accept an invitation to ride an Australian Gran Fondo event if offered?
Sure! I’ll be doing more of these races in the future, so I don’t see why not.

What else in your life gives you as much joy and satisfaction as riding a bike?
My family.

What a poignant way to end the interview. How about we all squeeze into a lift and do a quick photo-shoot?
Excellent idea. I have never enjoyed an interview so much. Falk, let’s make sure we get a copy of the audio for my website. Sehr gut!

 

**Post-script
A reader, in response to the actual interview, commented on CyclingTips (following 50 generally positive comments from other readers) that “publishing half-remembered interview responses in a  ‘verbatim’  Q & A format is not credible journalism and bordering on irresponsible.”

Firstly, I shouldn’t need to clarify that the story-telling posted above is mostly fictional. However, the same does not apply for the interview posted on CyclingTips. This is why:

1) the questions were asked exactly as posted – they were also emailed to Jan’s agent, Falk Nier, two days prior to the interview. Yes, it is common to be asked for a list of questions prior to an interview.

2) a professional photographer and translator were organised for the shoot – even though Falk speaks excellent English, we (Wade and I) wanted our translator to be independent of Jan’s inner circle to remove the possibility of translative “editing”.

3) I took notes during and immediately after the interview. This is why Jan’s answers in the CyclingTips interview are brief – my short-hand is still developing.

4) further to the above, the audio file was sent to the support team at Dictamus (the app producer) who said (copied from email): “I downloaded and checked your file. I’m sorry, it really is entirely empty, the audio signal is all zeroes in the entire file. We haven’t yet seen a file like that. I’m afraid that there’s nothing we can do to salvage anything from that specific file.”

5) The same reader asked “What’s to stop someone from copying/pasting Jan’s responses and reproducing them somewhere else, sans excuses for blank audio file?”
Nothing, this is happening more and more. Media can be lazy. On the other hand, we arranged an exclusive interview, flew to Germany – I changed already pre-booked flights and other travel arrangements to accommodate this interview – organised a professional photographer and translator and sourced completely original content. It was a shame the interviewer (me) let everyone else down by not having a back up recording device.

- Cycling iQ | 13 February 2012

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