Former Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich, serving a temporary drug ban by German cycling, has decided to part company with German cycling outfit Team Telekom. Other teams have already shown interest.
Riding off into the sunset: Ullrich and Telekom go their seperate ways.
German cycling hero and 1997 Tour de France champion Jan Ullrich has announced that he will be looking for a new team when he returns from his current six-month drug ban in March 2003.
"After long and intensive talks over the last few weeks I have decided not to sign a new contract with Team Telekom," said Ullrich in an official statement on his own website.
"It wasn't an easy decision to make, because I've always felt part of the team," he said. "Only with the support of all my Telekom colleagues and the good management was it possible for me to celebrate my great successes."
The German's manager Wolfgang Strohband told BBC Sport: "Jan has come to the conclusion that he needs a new start. He needs to find a new motivation in a new environment."
No hard feelings as talismanic star moves on
The resignation ends a 8-year relationship that has grown frosty over the past months following Ullrich's ban from the 2002 Tour de France and subsequent admittance that he took recreational drugs at a club during a personal crisis.
Team Telekom boss Walter Godefroot said that he respected Ullrich's decision. "He would like a change of air in order to get a new motivation," said Godefroot in an interview with Radsport-news.com. "We are parting on good terms. I wish Jan all the best for his future career."
When asked what effect the talismanic star's departure would have on Team Telekom, Godefroot replied, "Jan was our top rider and we would have held on to him gladly. But we are Team Telekom and not Team Ullrich."
Ullrich's 'recreational' drug use cost him dearly this season.
New Telekom contract rejected for pastures new
He was expected to return to racing with the German team after the ban from the German Cyling Association expired next March. Team Telekom said earlier this month that Ullrich had been presented with a new contract for 2003.
Ullrich remained tight-lipped regarding the interest that has been shown by those bidding for his services. "There have been offers from several teams. I have nothing concrete to say about this at the moment."
One of those concrete offers is thought to be from the cycling team CSC Tiscali, whose boss Bjarne Riis used to race with Ullrich at Team Telekom. But they may face stiff competition from rival Team Coast.
Ullrich (right) will be swapping the vivid pink for unknown team colours next season.
Ullrich, 28, has ridden for Telekom ever since he turned pro in 1994, winning his first race for them in the Tour of Hawaii that same year. The native of Rostock, Germany went on to win the Tour de France in 1997 at the age of 23, signaling what many thought was going to be a Jan Ullrich/Telekom era of Tour domination.
This year, Ullrich started off on a positive note, keeping his weight down over winter and starting the season in the Tour of Qatar. However after that things went completely wrong, when a knee injury flared up and refused to go away. He was forced to renounce the Tour de France and was subsequently involved in a couple of incidents that turned out to be very costly.
Personal problems derail star's bid for greatness
The first was when he ran his Porsche into a bike rack while under the influence of alcohol. That led to a heavy fine and the loss of his driving licence for a year. The second was the doping scandal that ended his 2002 season.
Many thought that would be the end of Ullrich's promising career but the recent news that he is now looking for a comeback with a new team suggests there is more racing to come.
It just won't be in the vivid pink colours of Team Telekom.