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Amid investigations, ex-Tour champ Ullrich retires

HAMBURG, Germany -- Former Tour De France champion Jan
Ullrich ended his cycling career Monday, still defending himself
against lingering doping suspicions.

The 33-year-old German, who won the Tour in 1997 and was
runner-up five times, announced his retirement eight months after
being implicated in a Spanish doping scandal.

"I am ending my active career," Ullrich said. "It's not easy,
but you have to listen to the voice inside you that the time is
right. It was a good time and I would do it the same way again,
even the bad times."

He said he will stay in the sport as a consultant for the
Austrian-based Volksbank team.

Ullrich criticized the way he had been treated by cycling
officials in Germany and Switzerland and by the German media.

"I feel like a serious criminal although I have nothing to
reproach myself," he said. "People have made a name for
themselves at my cost. Some were 100 percent lies. I wished I had
gotten more support from some people, but I am not bitter."

Ullrich has been under investigation for several months in
Spain's "Operation Puerto" scandal, but has not been charged. He
has been without a team since being fired by the T-Mobile team last
summer.

"I have a clear conscience," Ullrich said during an interview
late Monday on Germany's ARD television.

Some German officials said Ullrich wasted an opportunity to deal
with the allegations which have tainted his reputation.

"Today Jan Ullrich didn't add anything to clear things up,"
said Rudolf Scharping, president of the German Cycling Federation.
"This is a finish to a career which everybody wished had ended
better."

"With today's statement he has probably missed his last chance
to clear up the matter," said Thomas Bach, president of Germany's
Olympic and Sports Federation.

Ullrich said he was still fit and had received offers from seven
teams to race this season, but had decided to move on.

"I could have had a team immediately," Ullrich told a news
conference, accompanied by his wife and mother. "But when one door
closes, three more open. I'm not going to jump off a bridge. I'm a
young man who knows what he wants."

The Spanish probe followed a raid by authorities last April on a
Madrid clinic which allegedly provided performance enhancing drugs
to 57 top riders.

The investigation led to Ullrich, a pre-race favorite, being
expelled from last year's Tour de France -- a day he called the
"hardest" in his career.

"My world broke together a little, honestly," Ullrich said.
"It was a shock I still haven't completely recovered from. It was
an overreaction -- it was an unprecedented prejudgment through part
of the press and the cycling organizations."

On July 20, he was dismissed by T-Mobile and hasn't raced since.

Ullrich said he is only under investigation in Germany, where a
professor has accused him of fraud against the public.

He was angry at the Swiss Cycling Federation, saying the
organization left the impression publicly it was ready to ban him
for life. His last cycling license was issued in Switzerland.

"I ask myself where this evidence is," Ullrich said. "For
eight months I've been asking myself that."

Ullrich said he would work as a media consultant with Volksbank
and will also be active in the team's young riders' program. He
said Volksbank offered a large budget for other riders that he
would bring with him.

"That really impressed me," he said.

Ullrich trained in the former East Germany and emerged as a top
rider in 1996 by finishing second at the Tour de France. The
following year he became the first German winner of the Tour,
setting off a cycling boom in his homeland.

Ullrich also won a gold and silver at the 2000 Olympics in
Sydney.

Some predicted Ullrich would dominate cycling for years, but
Lance Armstrong eclipsed him by winning seven times in a row.
Ullrich had weight problems in the offseason, while his teams
publicly accused him of lacking discipline in training compared to
Armstrong.

Team Telekom dropped Ullrich in 2002, and his driver's license
was revoked for drunken driving when he plowed his car into a row
of bicycles. He served a six-month ban after a positive test for
amphetamines. Ullrich said the drug was laced into an ecstasy pill
he took during a visit to a nightclub.