Former cyclist Jan Ullrich has said that he was “nearly dead” before a visit from Lance Armstrong, his rival during the 1990s and 2000s, helped him turn his life around.
The 47-year-old Ullrich, who won the 1997 Tour de France and in 2013 admitted to having received blood-doping treatment during his cycling career, was speaking to Armstrong as part of The Move podcast after the pair had been riding together in Mallorca.
“Two years ago, I had big problems. You come and visit me and I’m so happy that you come,” Ullrich told Armstrong, who was stripped of all seven of his Tour de France titles.
“I was on the same way as Marco Pantani, nearly dead. And then I recover and I have good friends … friends bringing me back to life and now I’m very happy.”
Pantani, winner of the Tour de France and Giro D’Italia in 1998, was also a fierce rival of Armstrong and Ullrich. He died of a drug overdose in 2004.
Reflecting on his recent return to the bike, Ullrich added: “God gave me this body and God gave me this talent and then I’m nothing or full gas … I train every day good, I drink water. I stopped alcohol, drugs three years ago. I live very healthy, my girlfriend’s cooking very healthily for me.
“And this altogether brings me in good shape and a good feeling … I forgot for a long time what is good for me.”
In 2018, Ullrich penned an open letter about his experience of rehab in Miami, which he called “the first stages of my personal Tour de France.”
He added: “I will be the old, new Jan, who will do everything and fight to defeat his demons and to find his way back to the light with new energy and joie de vivre.
“I apologize sincerely to the people I have not treated with due respect in the recent past because of my illness.”
According to Reuters, Ullrich was fined for attacking and injuring a sex worker at a hotel in 2018 while under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
In an ESPN documentary on Armstrong’s cycling career released last year, the American recalls his visit to see Ullrich.
“It’s just a terrible situation. Jan was in that era, that cesspool that we were all in, and he got caught, we all got caught, and the reason I went to see him is I love him,” Armstrong says on the documentary, according to Cycling Weekly.
“Anyways, it was not a good trip. He was the most important person in my life. Nobody scared me, motivated me. The other guys … no disrespect to them, didn’t get me up early. He got me up early. And he was just a f*cking mess.
“When I look at Jan’s situation and I look at my situation, because they’re very similar, the timing is very similar… he had all the things I had. He had a wife, children, money, and that wasn’t enough to keep him together.”
In the podcast episode of The Move, released on Sunday, Ullrich acknowledges that he started riding again five weeks ago and beat Armstrong when the pair rode together in Mallorca.