Jan Ullrich & Lance Armstrong.

Consider this:

1993: Jan Ullrich – Youngest Amateur World Cycling Champion
Lance Armstrong – Junior Cycling Champion
1994: Jan Ullrich – World’s Fastest Bike Rider
Lance Armstrong – American Cycling Champion.
1995: Lance Armstrong – 36th – 1st stage Victory
1996: Jan Ullrich – Debut – Finishes 2nd
Lance Armstrong – Down with cancer.
1997: Jan Ullrich – First
Lance Armstrong – Down with cancer.
1998: Jan Ullrich – Second
Lance Armstrong – Down with cancer.
1999 – 2005 – Lance Armstrong – Tour de France Champion
Jan Ullrich – Second

They are probably the greatest rivals that any sport has ever seen and also probably the toughest competitors in the world with each one having gone through his fair share of triumphs and tribulations. One knows what it means to be a step away from death and the other knows what it is like to be perennially a step away from achieving the greatest goal in the sport.

Lance Armstrong has for the seventh consecutive time won the Tour de France, the world championship in the field of cycling. And Jan Ullrich in all probability will finish second for the 7th time in his career. Nothing will be more gratifying for one and more painful for the other.

What really sets these men apart from the rest of 200-odd bike riders in the sport is that both of them have over a period of time understood that to ride 3500 miles in 21 days takes not only talent, strength & guts but also a true spirit of companionship and an attitude to take your rival along and decide it right at the finish under equal conditions. Both these men have done it for the last 9 years of their professional life’s and that is why they are not only the best in the sport but also the best of friends.

I really got hooked onto the sport about 4yrs back when ESPN was really about sports and not about soap opera television and Indian cricket re-run marathons. That was the time when Lance and Jan rode together day after day in practically the most treacherous mountain stages, sometimes the only 2 left on cold rainy days. But they never left each other’s side and always battled for supremacy right at the end.

Like F1, it was the same story every year. Lance would eventually win on the last time-trail in the run unto the Champs-Ellessyes and Jan would settle on the second step hoping for the reversal of fortunes the next year. But much unlike F1, cycling was never boring when these two were in the midst of the huge Peleton. The breakaways would succeed but never did that effect their overall focus to cover the distance in the shortest time among the rest.

The camaraderie was there to be seen by one and all. I still remember the days when on particularly difficult climbs, one would sit up for the other to come up and then attack the elements with their combined forces. They would create mock chases and show of strengths just to get the crowds excited. They would even exchange drinks to show the amount of trust they possessed in each others teams. They were men of flesh and blood who at the end of the day truly enjoyed their glasses of 1869 bolognas watching their kids grow up to be just as resilient

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