An interview with Udo Bölts, May 23, 2006
"I believe that Jan Ullrich can win the Tour again. Yes, this year. And I think that as compared to Ivan Basso, he has the necessary mental strength to win it. " Udo Bölts is not one to mince his words, and there is no question for him as to who is favored to win the Tour de France this year. After 11 years of riding for Team Telekom, he finished his active career with a year at Team Gerolsteiner, where he is now in his third year as a directeur sportif. Susan Westemeyer got caught up to date on his thoughts in a recent phone interview.
Cyclingnews: One of the reasons you became a directeur sportif was so that you could spend more time with your family. Has it worked out as you had hoped, or are you still away from home a lot?
Udo Bölts: After my racing career I obviously had to do something. I didn't want to just fall in a hole and I wanted to stay in touch with cycling. I was lucky enough to get an offer from Hans-Michael Holczer to become a DS but limited to only 50 to 60 days on the road. That allows me to spend more time at home with my children, Helena, 8, and Jan, almost 6. I am very happy with the way it is working out.
" Bjarne Riis was the one who ... made Telekom into a team that was capable of winning the Tour de France." - Bölts looks back on his first team captain
CN: How long do you think you will work as a DS? What else can you imagine yourself doing professionally?
UB: I hope to remain a DS for as long as the team exists. What else I might do, I really don't know right now. That is hard to answer. I trained in a profession before I turned pro, but I could never go back to that. Sometimes something new comes along that you just have to go along with.
CN: Are you still physically active? Do you plan to participate in another marathon or triathlon? Do you still plan to climb the Himalayas?
UB: Yes, of course I am still physically active. It was my job and is now my hobby. I ride my bike very seldom -- two times a week . I much prefer to run now and I usually run four times a week, 10 to 15 km. I have run a marathon and will do it again, because it is a lot of fun. Triathlon really doesn't come into question right now because I just don't have the time for it -- all that training for the different disciplines is very time-intensive. The Himalaya project has been postponed but not canceled. I am still in contact with someone who organizes that sort of thing. I want to wait, for example, until my children are older and I have more time.
CN: During your time at Team Telekom, you rode for three captains: Bjarne Riis, Erik Zabel and Jan Ullrich. How would you briefly describe each of them?
UB: Bjarne Riis was the one who brought about the change in the team, the change to a successful team. He made it into a team that was capable of winning the Tour de France. And Riis accomplished that, not Walter Godefroot. He gave us a lot of self-confidence. Jan Ullrich learned very much from him. And today Riis still leads a very successful team.
Erik Zabel is not an authoritative person. He would never say, today you must ride for me. He always let the DS say it. But whenever he rides, then the probability that he will win is excellent. Whenever I rode for him I could always be fairly sure that the victory would be his. He always rides to win.
Jan Ullrich is a person who from the very beginning I liked a lot and who has brought me much pleasure. When something goes wrong, he looks for the fault in himself and not in the team. For example, after the 1998 Tour, he repeatedly apologized to the team. He is an outstanding cyclist and a good person, who also has his faults and weaknesses. And that is one of the reasons that he has so many fans.
CN: Do you believe that Jan Ullrich can win the Tour de France again? Do you believe he has the necessary mental strength?
UB: I believe that Jan Ullrich can win the Tour again. Yes, this year. And I think that as compared to Ivan Basso, he has the necessary mental strength to win it. He has won it one time and knows how it is to stand on the podium in Paris wearing the yellow jersey. Neither Basso nor Vinokourov has done that, and it makes a big difference. And in order to reach that goal you need a lot of mental strength.
CN: A lot of people believe that the future of German cycling looks dim. As German tennis sort of died out after Steffi Graf and Boris Becker retired, German cycling could die out after Ullrich retires. How do you see it? Which young German riders do you see as the new stars? Which of them might win the Tour one day?
UB: Well, you've got youngsters like Schumacher who make the future look good, but on the other hand, there are always athletes who can go only so far and no further. Like in tennis, after Graf and Becker there have been many good players, but none who were as good as them or as popular with the fans. And now tennis is not as publicly popular any more. We'll just have to wait and see how it is after Jan retires.
I think that there are a handful of young German riders with good potential: Stefan Schumacher, Heinrich Haussler, Marcus Fothen, Linus Gerdemann -- but will any of them win the Tour de France? Naturally there will never be a second Jan Ullrich, but there will be many riders who can ride a good Tour de France. And in France they've been waiting for years for a French rider to land on the podium in Paris. I believe the Germans have better chances.
CN: Take a look back at your active career: Was it worth it? Would you do it again? What would you change if you could?
UB: Was it worth it? Well financially -- I didn't earn badly, but surely not enough to live on the rest of my life. At any rate I would do it all over again because it is wonderful to be able to make my hobby my career. You can't look back, you must always look forward because life goes on. Would I change anything? That's nothing for me -- what's done is done. I would rather look forward. I was lucky enough to be able to choose the time of the end of my career; it wasn't forced on me by a crash or injuries or lack of contract. I had full control in making this decision, and that is really satisfying.