By Andrew Hood
Bobby Julich is a few hours away from realizing a career-long dream of taking the yellow jersey at Paris-Nice.
Friday’s 172.5km fifth stage ends atop the twisting, 5.5km climb at Mont Faron, and Julich could grab the maillot jaune with a strong ride.
“I would be lying if I wasn’t thinking of that. I know I have good legs,” said Julich who started the day 20 seconds back. “The steeper, punchier climbs aren’t really my forte, but it’s nice to have that 28 seconds to the other guys and that’s going to help out a lot.”
The 33-year-old American moved into third overall after working himself in Thursday’s winning break and gained valuable time on overall rivals such as Alejandro Valverde (Illes Balears) and Erik Dekker (Rabobank).
Sitting ahead of him in the GC are Fassa Bortolo’s Fabian Cancellara and Juan Antonio Flecha. Cancellara isn’t expected to be able to hold off the climbers, but Flecha at 15 seconds back could play the spoiler.
Julich trained hard over the off-season at his home base in Reno, Nevada, and then underwent two intense Team CSC training camps in January and February to hone his form coming into the season’s first ProTour race.
With Saturday’s and Sunday’s climbing stages still to come, Julich said he’d love to win the overall, but played the diplomat and said it was only important that someone on the team take the win.
“I think is Jens (Voigt) is our ace in the hole, we also have (Franck) Schleck, myself and Nicki (Sorensen),” he said. “Today, you’re not going to win Paris-Nice today, but you can take yourself out of contention. It’s important to us to have as many cards to play the last two days where the meat of the race is.”
No Georgia for Rodriguez
American champion Fred Rodriguez (Davitamon-Lotto) won’t be racing in this year’s Tour de Georgia because of the scheduling demands of the ProTour.
“We have too many ProTour events, there’s just not time,” Rodriguez said before Friday’s stage at Paris-Nice. “It’s going to be pretty tight to get to Philadelphia.”
Rodriguez is shaking off a crash early in Paris-Nice and nearly won Wednesday’s weather-shortened stage in the cold.
“I had the perfect wheel on (Tom) Boonen in the last kilometer. (Guido) Trenti was taking us on the outside and I thought we were going to get boxed in,” Rodriguez said.
“We both got boxed in, I braked and slowly worked out to the right. I had no speed and someone cut me off, I was in a big gear trying to get back to speed, passing some guys, and I was like, ‘There’s not enough time,’” he continued. “Maybe if I had another 10 meters it would be better. I was hoping that both Boonen and I could have gotten out, then it would have been a good fight.”
Rodriguez said his immediate goals include Milan-San Remo, where he was second to Mario Cipollini in 2002, and the spring classics. Later, he’ll race Vuelta a Cataluyna, Tour de Suisse with Philly week squeezed in between, and he’s hoping for a berth at the Tour de France.