He made his move in the rugged mountains of the Pyrenees and finished in triumph in the elegance of the Champs Elysees.
Jan Ullrich, his victory in this grueling three-week trek not in doubt, won the Tour de France on Sunday, the first German to capture cycling’s showcase race since it began in 1903.
“I’ll 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 leader’s 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. “I’m overjoyed because I was afraid of crashing up to the last meter.”
Ulrich’s 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 finished second.
And in his Black Forest hometown of Merdingen, the party was rolling and the free beer flowing.
In only his second Tour de France, Ullrich finished 9 minutes, 9 seconds ahead of Richard Virenque of France, the largest victory margin since Laurent Fignon won by 10:32 in 1984.
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. The late Jacques Anquetil, another five-time champion, was only a month younger than Ullrich.
Ullrich had been wearing the leader’s yellow jersey since the 10th stage of the race, taking over the lead on the second day in the Pyrenees mountains in the south of France. Born in the former East Germany, he was the 1993 world amateur road champion.
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.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.