In its second high-profile cycling verdict of the week, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has sanctioned Jan Ullrich for his participation in the Operación Puerto doping scandal. The 1997 Tour de France champion was issued a symbolic two-year ban (beginning August 22, 2011) and stripped of all results after May 1, 2005, including his third-place finish at the 2005 Tour de France. Ullrich announced his retirement from the sport in February 2007.
The 1997 Tour champion was suspended by T-Mobile on the eve of the 2006 race after a Spanish police investigation revealed connections between the rider and Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes. An apartment belonging to Fuentes was raided in May of that year, yielding a haul of steroids, hormones and blood bags that would eventually implicate many of cycling’s biggest names. Blood seized in the raid was later positively identified as matching a DNA sample derived from Ullrich’s saliva.
In issuing its ruling, the CAS panel expressed “surprise that Jan Ullrich did not question the veracity of the evidence or any other substantive aspect of [his] case,” limiting his defense to procedural issues (each subsequently rejected by the panel).
Citing documentary evidence presented by the UCI, including payments to Fuentes and the undisputed presence of Ullrich’s DNA on blood bags found in the doctor’s presence, the panel concluded that Ullrich had “engaged, at least, in blood doping in violation of Article 15.2 of the UCI Anti-Doping Rules.”
The ruling is likely to come as a relief to Ullrich, who has spoken publicly about his desire to reach closure. Speaking to Velo magazine in November, Ullrich downplayed the practical consequence of any adverse ruling, explaining a ban would have no “influence on (my) future life,” adding, “I want to have a final decision, because then it’s over.”
Ullrich’s manager Falk Nier has intimated that a statement from the rider is forthcoming and has made clear that the Ullrich will feel free to speak openly upon the case’s resolution. Nier has refused to confirm or deny whether Ullrich will confess to doping.
Thursday’s announcement presumably caps a weeklong flurry of decisions relating to former Tour de France champions. Last Friday, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr., announced that federal prosecutors have closed their two-year fraud investigation of Lance Armstrong’s U.S. Postal Service team without charges. On Monday the CAS issued its long-awaited verdict in the case of Alberto Contador, imposing a retroactive two year ban after a 2010 Tour de France doping control found traces of Clenbuterol, a banned bronchodilator.
Update: In a statement posted Thursday on his website, Ullrich accepted the decision of the CAS and confirmed meeting with Fuentes, calling his involvement with the Operación Puerto doctor “a big mistake.” The rider suggests that he previously declined to speak (pending resolution of his case) upon the advice of his lawyers, and that this multi-year silence “so polluted” him that it led to his much-publicized emotional breakdown.
The Olympic gold medalist again disavowed any interest in returning to professional cycling and appeared to close the door on any further discussion of his case or past transgressions, noting, “I hereby draw a line.”
A rough English translation of Ullrich’s statement, written in German, can be viewed here.