By Patrick O’Grady
In vino veritas.
– proverb quoted by Plato, Symposium 217
No doubt many of us had a bad moment over our morning eye-openers today when a cycling Web site offered the headline, “Ullrich loses his license.” Happily, it wasn’t his racing license – but it might as well have been.Apparently the 1997 Tour de France champ got overserved on Tuesday, hopped into his Porsche 911 with teammate Alexandre Vinokourov and a couple of hotties, then backed into a bicycle rack near Freiburg. A bike rack, of all things. Then he did what many twenty-something guys with a snootful of vino would do – he left the scene as quickly as Lance Armstrong left him last year on L’Alpe d’Huez.Unlike Lance’s famous attack, Ullrich’s action enraptured no cheering crowds, though it did involve a “look.” Unfortunately, that look came from a witness who took note of Ullrich’s license-plate number and called the Polizei. They paid Ullrich a visit, lifted his license and required him to take an out-of-competition substance test for alcohol, which is definitely not a performance-enhancer, if my tax returns are any indication.Telekom manager Rudy Pevenage, noting Ullrich’s frustration over a nagging knee problem, confirmed that the young German had had several glasses of wine prior to his mishap, and called the young German’s actions “not fitting for the leader of our team.” As for Ullrich, he copped on his Web site to doing “a stupid thing.”Stupid, to be sure — but also understandable.How would you like to step into the ring with Armstrong for another three-week rematch, having been punched silly by him twice before, with a bum knee and without having raced once until late May?The very idea makes strong men crazy, and for proof you need look no further than ’98 Tour winner Marco Pantani, who got such a kink in his bibs after Armstrong made him a present of Mont Ventoux in 2000 that he took to referring to himself in the third person and parking his car on top of other cars instead of on the street, where he should be living before much longer.The jug-eared whacko with the “Pirates of the Caribbean” fetish will find his personal bogeyman – “the American,” as he calls him – the least of his worries now that the anti-doping commission of the Italian Olympic Committee has proposed a four-year suspension just in time to send Elefantino off to the Giro in his usual composed state of mind.As for the Tour, Pantani is unlikely to see it again unless he stands atop his Dumpster and watches it on Eurosport through a tavern window.But Ullrich? He should be right there, man, not sitting in the Telekom offices with his head drooping, his hands clasped and his eyes pinker than his jersey, listening to Pevenage and team director Walter Godefroot call him a putz while his skull throbs like the engine of the Porsche he won’t be driving for a while.He’s a fierce yet sportsmanlike competitor — witness the respect he and Armstrong showed each other in last year’s Tour — and he should be getting an entirely different sort of press altogether.I had my own brush with the Polizei when I was not much older than Ullrich is now. I had, as the Irish say, a drop taken, and was motoring erratically through downtown Denver when a cop pulled me over. After a brief conversation and paperwork check, he told me to park the truck and find some other way home. I thanked him, then yanked my bike out of the bed rack, hopped aboard, and wobbled off.Happily, I wasn’t on the short list for the editorship of The Denver Post, or the maillot jaune, and when I woke up in a tangle of sheets with a skull-splitting hangover the next day, I didn’t have to read about myself in the papers and wonder whether I still had a job.I did have to ride back downtown and fetch the truck, though.
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