By Andrew Hood
Bobby Julich is never afraid to speak his mind.
Like many inside the peloton, Julich is worried about the growing tensions between the UCI and the major race organizers led by the Amaury Sport Organisation, noting that the split may permanently damage the sport.
This weekend, the veteran CSC rider lines up for the Critérium International, a race he won in his big comeback season in 2005. Julich’s big goal of the year is to perform well in ASO’s flagship event, the Tour de France.
Julich, 36, says he still has some unfinished business with a race that he admits he’s had a love-hate relationship with ever since 1998 when he reached the podium by finishing third, behind Marco Pantani and Jan Ullrich.
VeloNews European correspondent Andrew Hood caught up with Julich at Paris-Nice earlier this month. Here’s the second installment of an interview, Part 1 of which was posted earlier this week:
VeloNews: How troubling are the growing tensions between the UCI and ASO?
Bobby Julich: It’s a distraction to the point that the governing body and the biggest promoter can’t agree on anything. It’s the sponsors, the riders and the public that ultimately pay the price – that’s frustrating. It’s more of a disbelief that two grown-up parties cannot come to some resolution for the betterment of the sport.
VN: Are you worried that the split between the two could be permanent?
BJ: There won’t be a sport if those guys cannot agree on something. They have to realize they are not doing anything positive for the sport in a time when we do need a positive image.
This is the worst time to have these issues come to a head. We just hope that the teams are willing to be with the sport. We have to show that we’re not going to be pushed around, that we’re going to whatever race ASO tells us to go to. First and foremost, we have to realize that we do need a governing body. We need great promoters as well. One cannot be stronger than the other and cannot mix in each other’s affairs. Hopefully we can move on and rebuild the sport into what it should be.
VN: Is there worry that the conflict is eclipsing the fight against doping at a time when some progress seems to be taking hold?
BJ: With all this bad publicity we’ve had with the doping scandals, now we’re really confronting that situation, with the biological passport, following with the out of competition tests, now it’s a another thing. We’re not even talking about doping anymore, and it’s potentially even more destructive because it affects everyone.
VN: Why was it important to race Paris-Nice?
BJ: In taking the start of Paris-Nice, we did not take the side of ASO. We took the side of the sport, because if we didn’t race Paris-Nice, the sport is going to suffer. We didn’t go against the UCI, but we didn’t go in support of ASO. We went in support for the sport of cycling, which is what we should think of first and foremost.
VN: What is your racing schedule for the next events?
BJ: Critérim International, Vuelta al País Vasco, then I head back to the States for the Tour de Georgia, take a little break and come back for Philly week, then back to the Europe for the Tour de Suisse and, hopefully, the Tour.
VN: Looking ahead to the rest of 2008, what are your top goals?
BJ: I would like to do the Tour de France one last time and try for the Olympics one other time. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the Tour. There are still some goals in my little book that I haven’t put a check next to yet. One of those is winning a stage or wearing the yellow jersey in the Tour.
VN: How confident are you about earning a spot on the Tour squad? Last year you were sick and missed the Tour.
BJ: It’s a difficult season for me, because I’m one of the older guys. These young guys are getting good really fast. Last year was same thing, when they told me I didn’t make the Tour team, I wasn’t bitter or upset, because we could have fielded two strong Tour teams. More than anything, I’m just having fun and enjoying what could be my last season as European pro.
VN: And the Olympics?
BJ: It’s going to be hard to qualify because everyone who rides a bike in American now can time trial fast, but that’s my ultimate goal, to make it back for the time trial. After getting a (bronze) medal in ’04, that just wets your whistle for that. To be part of that would be great again.