After five years in the shadows, Bobby Julich is rediscovering the steps to the podium
By Neal Rogers
Sitting in a plush hotel lobby several hours before the final stageof the Dodge Tour de Georgia, CSC’s Bobby Julich is acutely aware thathe’s just one flat 75-mile ride away from a well-earned rest. It’s beena tough but successful spring campaign for Julich, and tomorrow he’ll beback at his home in Reno, Nevada, taking a week off the bike with teammateand good friend Jens Voigt.
If all goes as planned today, Julich will finish the Tour de Georgiafourth overall behind race leaders Lance Armstrong, Voigt and Chris Horner.Coming into the weeklong race, his CSC team was aiming to ride in supportof Julich, but, as he admitted, it just wasn’t there.
“I’ve just been running on fumes all week,” Julich said. “I’ve had ahard spring, I’ve tried my best here, and it just wasn’t good enough.”
It’s not the first time this season Julich’s been one spot off the podium;he finished fourth overall at both the Critérium International andTour of the Basque Country. But he’s philosophical about his first raceappearance in the States in eight years, comfortable with the knowledgethat he’s found the podium a few times this season as well. Riding in supportof German Jörg Jaksche, Julich placed a surprising third overall atParis-Nice. And in what he considers “the second-most beautiful podium”of his career, Julich won the time trial at the Basque Country tour, asplit second ahead of fellow American Tyler Hamilton.
“It was a little bit of validation, and a little bit of compensationfor all the sacrifices and hard work that I’ve put in and gotten nothingout of the last couple years,” Julich says. “It was a really nice feelingand it was the feeling that I knew was driving me to continue, despiteall those setbacks and all that disappointment and blows to my ego.”
The most beautiful podium in Julich’s career, of course, was his thirdoverall at the 1998 Tour de France. It was the year Lance Armstrong wasstruggling to return to racing following his fight with cancer, and atthe time, Julich, riding with Cofidis, was seen as America’s brightestTour hope since Greg LeMond. But in the years since, Julich has battledwith injuries, allergies and power struggles while Armstrong’s trajectoryhas shot him into the history books. After five years in the shadows withCrédit Agricole and Telekom, largely spent riding support, Julich’scareer has been resurrected in just his first few months with CSC
“The past five years have been a very pride-swallowing, difficult partof my life, but that win just made all that suffering worthwhile,” Julichsays of his time-trial performance at the Basque Country race. “To winat an hors categorie race, in a time trial, at the end of a tough five-daystage race, I felt like I was back after I won that race.”
Without hesitation, Julich acknowledges CSC’s directeur sportif BjarneRiis as the figure most integral to his return to the top. It was the 1996Tour winner that threw him a lifeline just as he was beginning to thinkit was time to pack it up and head home.
“I was thinking I’d do one year in the States, two years max, and thenI’m done,” Julich admits. “The teams I went to in the last few years, sincemy good years at Cofidis, I just wasn’t finding the right sort of vibefrom the team, and that trickles down. When you’re the one that’s alwaystrying to give morale, that takes a lot of energy, and this is definitelya team sport, give and take. When you’re giving the morale and trying toget guys motivated, sometimes you need that from your teammates and fromthe personnel.”
Beginning with the CSC team’s unusual Outward Bound-style team-buildingcamp in December, Julich immediately knew he was in for something different.What he didn’t know was how far this change, which begins with Riis’s “allfor one” approach, would lift him.
“The organization that we have here at CSC is bar none the best I’veever seen on a cycling team,” Julich says. “It should be a blueprint ofwhat a cycling team should be. That allows me to not worry about things,not stress about things, not waste energy in areas which really don’t concernme, and just allows me to concentrate on the bike.”
While his two years at Telekom were largely forgettable, the two yearsspent at Crédit Agricole didn’t offer much success for Julich either:18th at the 2001 Tour and a stage win in the team time trial were the highlights.Being a part of then-teammate Voigt’s stage 16 win was another high pointof that Tour. And while they rode for different teams in 2002-03, theirfriendship has endured, making the transition to CSC that much smootherfor both. For Voigt, seeing Julich again riding up to his promise comesas a relief.
“I was anxious,” Voigt says. “I could see the potential in him. I’veknown him for so long. I could just see the way he pedals, the way he sitson the bike, it’s still there. But he just needed a good director to gethim back up, you know, some proper training, and give him the real backuphe needs. I always used to tell all the people, if we would have, whatever,races, championships, on home trainers, Bobby would beat me nine timesout of 10. His body just concentrates. He’s just got better working lungs,a bigger heart, whatever it takes. Finally, with Bjarne he’s got it alltogether.”
Voigt and Julich will likely join Jaksche, Carlos Sastre and Ivan Bassoto form the core of CSC’s Tour team. Like the team did at last year’s Tour,when Hamilton, Jakob Piil and Sastre each took a stage win, CSC is expectedto confirm its world No. 1 status by targeting the team overall competition.
“That’s five guys that can go for the general as well win stages,” Julichsays, “and then the spots behind that are still open for other stage hunters.We’re the number one team in the world right now, and the way you confirmthat and continue that is to be dominant at the Tour. As it looks rightnow, it’s going to be very difficult to beat Lance Armstrong. I believehe will win a sixth Tour, but the second and third
podium spots appear to be wide open, and we have as good a shot asanyone. Riding the way we are, with the team morale and the team supportthat we have, I wouldn’t be surprised if we are as successful, if not moresuccessful, than last year.”
It’s a bold statement coming from a man who, in November, was unsureof his future in the sport. “I thought last year when I wasn’t selectedfor the Tour that was going to possibly be my last shot at it,” Julichsays. “But when I signed with CSC I knew that the option was there rightaway, and that was part of the motivation of coming, to make the Tour team.Historically I’m a rider for the summer and
I’m so happy the way I’ve been riding in the spring, but you can’tteach an old dog new tricks. I’m still thinking about July, and the motivationand the instinct that’s inside of me is looking forward to the Tour deFrance.”