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Berlin – Retired Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich admitted to knowing a Spanish doctor at the heart of a blood doping scandal on Friday, a day after the German cyclist was banned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport for two years.
Ullrich had repeatedly denied any contact with Eufemiano Fuentes, the doctor who had been investigated as part of Spain's Operation Puerto.
The scandal broke in 2006 when Spanish police raids uncovered more than 200 code named blood bags, some of which were linked to cyclists.
CAS said on Thursday Ullrich had contact with the doctor, paid him 80,000 euros ($106,000) for unspecified services and the German's genetic material matched blood bags in the doctor's possession.
“I confirm that I had contact to Fuentes,” Ullrich said in a statement posted on his website (www.janullrich.de).
“I know that was a grave mistake which I regret. I want to apologise for this behaviour. In hindsight I would have acted differently in some situations during my career.”
The now 38-year-old Ullrich said the pressure on him ahead of the 2006 Tour had been great and that he had been desperate to be at his strongest.
“After my win in 1997 and five second place finishes the pressure from the public, sponsors and myself was immense. Everyone wanted a second Tour win especially after the retirement of Lance Armstrong,” Ullrich said.
Ullrich, who retired in 2007 after also winning an Olympic gold and silver medal at the Sydney 2000 Games, became the first German to win the Tour de France in 1997.
With his name linked to Operation Puerto, Ullrich was barred from starting the Tour de France in 2006 and was then fired by his T-Mobile team although he had repeatedly denied links to Fuentes.
“Shortly before the 2006 Tour came the bing bang. Suspension, headlines, ostracism, home raids, criminal investigation, charges. The whole world wanted to put me against the wall,” Ullrich said.
“Even back then, shortly after my suspension I wanted to openly admit my mistake. On the advice of my lawyers I stayed silent.”
CAS ruled that, based on the evidence, Ullrich, who had waited more than five years for a final ruling, had engaged “at least” in blood doping.
The court also annulled all Ullrich's results from 2005 until his retirement.
“I accept the verdict and will not appeal. The verdict cannot change my plans for the future. I have never contemplated a return to the sport of professional cycling in any capacity.” – Reuters