Road

Julich: Calm and collected

The last three years have presented American Tour de France hopeful Bobby Julich with a long and rocky road. As a member of the French outfit Cofidis in 1998, Julich surprised nearly everyone with a third-place finish, but crashes and illness have taken their toll on the man from Colorado ever since. At last year’s Tour, Julich was a glum figure, out of the headlines until Jeroen Blijlevens decided to punch him on the Champs Elysées. But if memories of that, and the year before when Julich crashed out of the Tour in the stage 8 time trial, were on his mind this past March, it didn’t show.

Bobby Julich is taking a more relaxed route to Paris

By William Fotheringham , Nice, France

Photo: Graham Watson

The last three years have presented American Tour de France hopeful Bobby Julich with a long and rocky road. As a member of the French outfit Cofidis in 1998, Julich surprised nearly everyone with a third-place finish, but crashes and illness have taken their toll on the man from Colorado ever since. At last year’s Tour, Julich was a glum figure, out of the headlines until Jeroen Blijlevens decided to punch him on the Champs Elysées.

But if memories of that, and the year before when Julich crashed out of the Tour in the stage 8 time trial, were on his mind this past March, it didn’t show. Dressed in his green-and-white Crédit Agricole gear and waiting beneath the palm trees of the Place Masséna in Nice, Julich appeared relaxed as he waited for the final stage of the Paris-Nice stage race. It couldn’t have hurt that he was close to his new home, just inland and uphill from the center of Nice.

He and his wife Angela bought the house, and Julich soon discovered new neighbors to train with. “The Postal crew all moved out, but Mercury came in instead,” he said. “[Chris] Horner’s come back, there’s [Floyd] Landis and Henk Vogels and Kevin [Livingston] is still here of course.”

Waiting for the start, Julich talked about his form. “When I feel like this, I know that the results will come,” Julich said. “I’m right where I want to be. I don’t feel as much stress.”

Not even over the puncture which wrecked his prologue at Paris-Nice, causing him to lose 52 seconds. “I flatted after 700 meters, and almost crashed, then I went off course because I slid a wheel on the last corner. Basically that was the end of my race.”

Photo: Graham Watson

Crucially, however, Julich wasn’t trying to force the pace. “I know now that there’s no need to try to push yourself to get form until it’s there. When you try to get form and get stressed about it, it never comes. For the last two years I’ve been trying too hard. I’ve been trying to tweak my form here, do something special there.

“Mentally, after 1998 when I was third [in the Tour] I thought ‘Hey, imagine if I pay attention to a few more little things, how I could improve.’ It was weighing me down through 1999 and last year I got an allergy — I’ve always had allergies, but they haven’t affected me badly. The thing is that you can suffocate yourself with stress.”

Julich was satisfied with his place in the top 20 at Paris-Nice, and the remainder of his spring campaign looked solid. He tested himself at races like Liège-Bastogne-Liège, where he went over the Cote de la Vecquée at the head of a breakaway that was caught less than 15km from the finish. He also finished 14th in the time trial stage at the Critérium International, and finished with Tour de France stars Lance Armstrong and David Millar in the lead group at Paris-Camembert in April. Julich finished 11th at that French road race and then, after coming in 74th at Liège, headed home to Reno, Nevada, for his four weeks of training at altitude for the Tour.

Somewhere along the line, Julich is sure that his new, more relaxed approach will bear fruit. “There’s no secret to bike racing. You do what people have been doing for the last 30 years: Ride your bike, stay healthy and avoid crashes.”

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