Young Ullrich remembered

By Phill Bates AM, Organiser Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic 1982-2000 Jan Ullrich came to Australia...

By Phill Bates AM, Organiser Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic 1982-2000

Jan Ullrich came to Australia to contest the Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic as the recently crowned Amateur World Champion. We had many World road champions compete in the Classic but none as young at just 19 years of age and with such incredible ability.

Ullrich was quite unbelievable - he could time trial, climb, bridge big gaps by himself and sprint with the very best and the bike was a natural extension of his body. He never appeared to panic.

For the many people that were associated with the race in those years, they all knew that Jan Ullrich was something special and we knew that it would not be long before he would race professional and be standing on the Tour de France podium.

Jan was impressive not just as a cyclist but as a person, and despite limited English in his early years, you never left meeting him with any doubt of how genuine he was.

It was not surprising to see Jan Ullrich return again the following year and enjoy the country criteriums before competing in the Classic. Out of the Grand Prix series, staged over four rounds, Ullrich won three of the four rounds and finished third in the other behind great sprinters Max Van Heeswijk and Jeremy Hunt. Some of Australia's best road sprinters and many national champions, including the likes of Robbie McEwen, Jay Sweet, John Den Braber, Bob Rasenberg, Chris Lillywhite, Thomas Brozyna, Dave McKenzie and many others couldn't match his sprint ability - a feature we rarely saw in his professional career.

But in 1994, Jan Ullrich showed how supportive he was of his own teammates and worked relentlessly for Jens Voigt to win the race. It was the same loyalty displayed in the 1996 Tour de France when he helped Bjarne Riis win the Tour.

I well remember a press conference that Ulrich had after his win in the 1997 Tour de France and he was asked what was his favourite country - he replied that Germany was a wonderful place because he was born there, he loved the food of Italy, France had made him a very special person but he loved Australia the most.

It was great having him compete in events in Australia and was fantastic to see him when he returned in 2000 to win the gold and silver medal at the Olympics. I followed his career with great interest and know that many of his competitors from all round the world will salute a great champion in more ways than one.

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