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Jan Ullrich finally admits to using ‘treatment,’ says it was to level playing field

"I used nothing that the others were not using," the winner of the 1997 Tour de France tells a German magazine

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BERLIN (AFP) — Jan Ullrich, Germany’s only winner of the Tour de France, has for the first time admitted to doping with the help of Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.

“Yes, I had access to treatment from Fuentes,” the 1997 Tour winner told German weekly Focus in its edition to appear on Monday.

“At that time, nearly everyone was using doping substances and I used nothing that the others were not using.”

In the Focus report, Ullrich has insisted he used no other doping substance other than his own blood, presumably with transfusions to combat the effects of lactic acid.

Ullrich, who also won road-race gold and time-trial silver medals at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, said he was motivated by the desire to be competing on a level playing field with his main rivals.

“In my view you can only call it cheating on my part when it is clear that I have gained an unfair advantage,” he said.

“That was not the case. All I wanted was everyone to have the same chances of winning.”

He also told Focus he believed that the main factors contributing toward his success in cycling were pure talent, effort, team spirit and the will to win. He added that the damage he had done by doping was mainly to himself.

“It was myself who suffered most because of this episode as concerns my public image and what it meant for my own health,” he said.

“Now it is time to bring down the curtain on all of this. I want to look to the future and no longer be dragged back to the past.”

Ullrich’s doping admission comes months after a similar public pronouncement by his greatest rival and nemesis, Lance Armstrong.

The seven-time Tour de France winner admitted to doping throughout his career in January and was subsequently stripped of his Tour titles and banned for life.

Ullrich finished second three times to Armstrong in the Tour, in 2000, 2001 and 2003, and was also runner-up to Marco Pantani in 1998.

“We are both guilty,” said Ullrich. “I am no better than Armstrong, but no worse either.

“The great heroes of old are now people with failings that we’ve got to come to terms with. I always knew that even Lance Armstrong would not get away with it.”

Thomas Bach, president of the German Olympic federation, said Ullrich’s confession was “too little, too late.”

“Jan Ullrich had his chance for a creditable admission a couple of years ago and he missed it,” said Bach, a candidate to succeed International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge when he steps down in September.

“Today’s confirmation of some of the already well known and established facts helps neither Jan Ullrich nor cycling.”

Ullrich was barred from the Tour in 2006 amid speculation that he had used illegal substances. He retired from cycling in February 2007, denying that he had ever cheated.

In February 2012, the Court of Arbitration for Sport sanctioned Ullrich for his participation in the Operación Puerto scandal, issued a two-year ban backdated to August 2011, and stripped him of all results since May 2005, including his third-place finish at the 2005 Tour.

In issuing its ruling, the CAS panel expressed surprise that Ullrich “did not question the veracity of the evidence or any other substantive aspect of [his] case.” He limited his defense to procedural issues, each of which was rejected by the panel.

Anti-doping campaigner Werner Franke, who received a gag order in 2006 by a German court after accusing Ullrich of doping, was also highly critical of his compatriot’s confession.

“That is a new European record in lying,” the molecular biologist told SID, an AFP subsidiary.

“In 2006 or 2007, he insisted, in four different languages, that he did not know Mr Fuentes.

“He then obtained a court injunction against me that took four and a half years to overturn.”

Franke said Ullrich used aggressive tactics, similar to Armstrong, in order to keep any opponents silent. He also lambasted the lawyers who helped Ullrich maintain the silence.

“These are the biggest crooks who have gotten him into this mess of lies,” said Franke.

Germany’s anti-doping agency (NADA) has already said it will investigate.

“For the sport to be clean, it is important that he not only admits his crime, but also mentions the names of other participants in the background. NADA will also try to make contact with Jan Ullrich to find out more clues and background,” it said in a statement.