Jan Ullrich and the missing Tour de France trophy

The following is an extract from Rouleur 60, published Spring 2016. Writer Morten Okbo and photographer Jakob Kristian Sørensen meet Jan Ullrich and his wife Sarah at home in Switzerland, on the shore of Lake Constance.



The basement is huge. There are cycling shoes lying around. Two SRM stationary bikes. Weights. All kinds of posters. The shit Tour de France winners have to do. The industry around it. Look at Bradley Wiggins. Has he not released 12 books in four years? Anyway. For a man who retired ten years ago, Jan hasn’t been busy clearing the room of all his stuff. You’d think – with the exit he experienced – he’d have thrown everything into a closet and slammed the door shut. But no. It’s all here. The basement also has a bunker. In case of nuclear war. The room has all kinds of technical equipment. For example: it makes its own air. But in this house, the bunker works as a wine cellar. So we go in. More posters. Cycling clothes. Food supplies. Wine. Wine, wine. Jakob Kristian says that Lance also has a huge wine cellar.


“Yes,” says Jan. “But 40 per cent belongs to Floyd Landis!”




I just burst it out. Jan and Sara laugh hard. Now I want a beer! We leave the room. The feeling, the little kick I got, is left behind. I see a picture of Jan winning the amateur World Championships. I take it down.


Sara says: “Was that in Denmark?”


“Oslo,” says Jan. “I won as youngest amateur world champion. I was 19. And the day after, Lance won as youngest pro. He was 20. You don’t remember this, Sara. This is waaay back in time. You were at school!”


Sara rolls her eyes.


“Where are the jerseys? They are not on the wall,” I say.


“Noh, no. The yellow jersey is. Sara, where is the yellow jersey?”


“It’s in here.” She has disappeared into a room. “See if the Vuelta jersey is there also,” Jan says.


I look at a machine. There is a compressor of some sort attached. Measuring instruments. A display. Handles. Tubes.


“What’s that?”


“A high-altitude room.”




“Yep. Look. I can set this for, let’s say, 2,500 metres. And then I go in there and begin running. There is the TV. I put on Eurosport. And I could just train. You know, back then.”


“It’s the size of a small apartment. What does that thing cost?”


“A lot! They gave it to me. I believe I was the first athlete to ever get one. It’s good. You could stay home and train in the high mountains!”


Sara comes back. Yellow jerseys from Le Tour and the Vuelta. Two World Championships jerseys. Olympic medals. World Championships medals. The Tour de France trophy – in a cardboard box.


“Here is the Tour trophy. I’ve lost it two times. First. After Paris. We had a huge party, and I had all the jerseys and everything else you get during Le Tour. It was in my hotel room. Everything. You get the jerseys in small, medium and large. Long sleeve, short sleeve. A lot of jerseys. They are all gone. I donated them. Gave them to team-mates. That’s what you do. You give them away. But of course, I kept one. This one here. This one I wore in Paris. Okay, so the staff get all my stuff, pack it up, go back to Germany and I race all the criteriums afterwards.”


“Oh, God. The crits. Don’t go there. Froome beating Kittel in a sprint.”


“Haha ha. Yes. It’s silly. I must have won half of all those crits. So anyway. I get back and then look around the house. But where is the trophy? I can’t find it. I go through everything. I call the team. They don’t know. Nobody knows. And I’m like, does anybody know where my Tour de France trophy is?”


“Haha ha!”


“Yes. And then someone one day finds it in a cardboard box in the Telekom office. Right. I get it home. Now I have it. Then later it goes to the Deutsche Museum for the German people to see. This is later. They pack it up and send it off with some of my medals and jerseys. I forget about it. Time goes. One day I’m thinking: I wonder where the trophy is? We call the Museum. No. This was delivered back a long time ago. To whom? Erm… They are not too sure. Telekom doesn’t have it. Nobody has it. It’s gone. But then I talk to my former father-in-law. He received some of the stuff because I was away all the time. And he had my medals. But not the trophy. Now the delivery service say they delivered it. Remember. This trophy is insured for a million or something. So people are nervous.”


“Jesus, Jan,” I say.


“Jesus,” says Jakob Kristian.


“But then finally. The trophy is in my father-in-law’s basement. When the delivery man came, he had all these boxes and somehow the trophy got thrown into the corner of the basement. So there it was. He had found it. And I got it back again. We’ll take it out and look at it.”


Jakob Kristian says he was at the place where they make the trophy. A place near Paris. And that he couldn’t resist but send a picture of one of them to Lance who then immediately replied that he has SEVEN of those!


We laugh. Jan pretends to take a big hit at the trophy. In fact. He fools around most of the time. He is good at making people relax. Maybe he thinks this is his role in life. Because people get intimidated around their stars. I witnessed David Millar do the same thing in London at the [2015] Rouleur Classic. People in London look at David Millar like he is a tall version of Moses. I don’t know. Moses. He is small, right? I want him to be a tiny little person. Like Bono or Hitler. And then I stood next to him. Millar. And he said hello. And I said hello. And then I told him, he had some fucking nerve showing up wearing the same hat as me. Then he got me a glass of champagne. Meanwhile people were taking our photo. I don’t understand it. A star is not a star in his or her own head. Your soul doesn’t care whether you are a big star. A star will often try to be the person you think they are. Often they’ll try and do the right thing. What they think you think is the right thing. It can’t be an easy living. Mingling with fans. Maybe that’s why Jan chose not to come to London.


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