Ullrich Takes the Grand Tour in Grand Style
By Salvatore Zanca
Monday, July 28, 1997; Page D1
Ullrich, his victory in this grueling three-week trek not in doubt, won the Tour de France today, becoming the first German to win cyclingís showcase race since it began in 1903.
"Iíll never forget this day my entire life," he said. "A dream from my youth was fulfilled."
Before several hundred thousand cheering fans on a bright, sunny day, Ullrich rode into Paris with the leaderís yellow jersey to finish the 21-stage, 2,455-mile race. He ended 39th for the day, the same time as the rest of the pack, but the real work had been done well before.
"Unbelievable," Ullrich said. "Iím overjoyed because I was afraid of crashing up to the last meter."
Ullrichís fans, including his mother, Marianne, traveled to Paris and waved banners and German flags on the Champs Elysees. The German national anthem was played as Ullrich moved up a step on the podium from last year, when he was second.
In only his second Tour de France, Ullrich finished 9 minutes and 9 seconds ahead of Richard Virenque of France, the largest margin since Laurent Fignon won by 10:32 in 1984.
Ullrich, who had worn the leaderís yellow jersey since the race's 10th stage, seemed the only constant factor in this yearís Tour de France, a race marked by falls, controversial sprints and injury withdrawals. He was considered among the three favorites when the race started July 5 in Rouen. Ullrich stayed close while Telekom teammate Bjarne Riis faded in the Pyrenees. With his senior teammate out of contention, Ullrich was allowed to go for the lead and did on the second day in the Pyrenees.
The 23-year-old German is the eighth-youngest winner, younger than five-time winners Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain when they won the first time.
Ullrich, born in the former East Germany, was the 1993 world amateur road champion. He moved to Merdingen, a small town near the French border, in 1994 after turning pro.
Ullrich, who earned $360,000 for the victory, said he will cherish two memories in particular. "The first was the victory in the Pyrenees, the second was putting on the yellow jersey for the first time," he said.
All nine riders finished for the U.S. Postal Service team, which was competing in the race for the first time. It was only the second American team invited to participate.