By Susan Westemeyer in Düsseldorf, Germany
Jan Ullrich is slowly making his way back into the public eye, but he is taking it "step by step," he told Cyclingnews Wednesday. The events of the last two years "hurt me badly", the retired cyclist said, and he is still finding his way. Ullrich said he did not follow pro cycling at the moment, as "It would break my heart."
Ullrich was in Düsseldorf, Germany, to testify in his suit against former Team Coast owner Günter Dahms, for whom he rode in 2003. The court ordered Dahms to pay him some 340,000 Euro in unpaid wages, plus interest.
Ullrich appeared relaxed and self-confident, posing calmly for the clamouring photographers and patiently answer media questions. However, he seemed to be nervous on the stand, answering the court's question, as he frequently stuttered out his answers and even made a mistake when he said he was 33 years old, but quickly corrected himself to 34.
He was noticeably happy to talk about his current life, describing himself to the court first as "a retiree" and then "a family father." Ullrich married Sara Steinhauser, sister of his former teammate Tobias Steinhauser, in September 2006. He has two children, five-year-old daughter Sarah from his former relationship with Gaby Weis, and one-year-old son Max. "I am happy with my life now, with my family," he told reporters. And although he said that he rides his bike "seldom, but more and more", he did not in any way give the impression of planning a comeback to racing.
On the recent development of German cycling, Ullrich commented, "the question is, how much longer will it exist?" Since his retirement, and because of several doping affairs concerning German riders, sponsors have been dropping out of the sport. Team Gerolsteiner, as well as the Deutschland Tour, ceased to exist. With regard to anti-doping, Ullrich said, "We need a self-cleaning process. But I would still tell parents: send your children to cycling." He added, "the fan potential in Germany is still there, there are millions of fans," before concluding optimistically, "cycling won't die!"
As to the court hearing, Ullrich noted that "it is easy to tell the truth," and added, "I am always open and honest about these things." He was not worried about testifying under oath, saying, "I would never lie under oath. But testifying under oath in Germany, this was my first time and hopefully my last time."
In its ruling, the court noted that it had "no reason to think that Jan Ullrich did not tell the truth," and added that Dahms' accusations had little evidence to support them. Ullrich said he found the decision in his favour "good" and that "deceit doesn't win, the truth does."
The German, who lives in Switzerland, said that if he does receive payment from Dahms, he would donate it to childrens' charities. He noted that he cycled "out of passion. Money was never important to me. I never rode for the money."