By Andrew Hood
After what he admits were five dark years struggling to rediscover the winning formula that shot him to the 1998 Tour de France podium, Bobby Julich says he’s excited about the 2004 racing season.
Julich said he’s rediscovered his passion for racing after joining Bjarne Riis at Team CSC in what he admits is his “last chance” to return to glory.
“I was very close to retirement and I’m very happy to get this chance to ride with Bjarne,” Julich told VeloNews during the team’s training camp in Lucca, Italy. “I feel like I’ve gotten my last chance.”
Since his meteoric rise to third place in the 1998 Tour, the 32-year-old hasn’t won a race except for the team time trial effort at the 2001 Tour with Credit Agricole.
Julich said he turned inward during his frustrating stints at Credit Agricole (2000-01) and Telekom (2002-03) when he said he didn’t have the support he needed to tackle another run at the Tour podium.
He said Credit Agricole was mired in tradition and wouldn’t respond to his requests for lighter bikes for key mountain stages or for a chef to prepare meals for the team during the Tour. At Telekom, he said he felt like pack fodder and was forced to race more than 100 days in 2003.
Julich said he’s been impressed with Riis and Team CSC’s structure. Racers traveled to Lanzarote in December for team-building exercises that included a two-day Outward Bound-style boot camp.
“At CSC, I feel like I’ve finally found the team I wish I had had five years ago,” he said. “I’m a little older than I was in 1998, but I still have goals. Perhaps the goals are to help the team, but I hope to get a chance to do something in the Tour to pay back Bjarne and the confidence that the team has placed in me.”
Riis told Julich that he’s on the short list for the Tour de France, which Julich missed last summer for the first time since his 1997 debut. He’ll make his season debut at the Trofeo Mallorca, followed up by Paris-Nice, Criterium International and the Tour of the Basque Country. He’s looking forward to racing in the United States for the first time in eight years when he starts the Philadelphia races in June.
The ultimate goal is to get back to the Tour and perhaps have a chance to shine once again on cycling’s brightest stage.
“A great result would be a great ending to my career,” Julich said.
Concerning his relationship with five-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, Julich said he admires Armstrong’s ability to build a team that completely supports his bid for the Tour.
“Lance is one of the best riders in history,” Julich told ex-pro Davide Cassani during CSC’s team presentation Saturday. “He’s accomplished what I wanted to achieve, but I don’t have a conflict with him.”
CSC reloads with strong team
Tyler Hamilton is gone, but Team CSC promises to ride into 2004 with higher goals and a bolstered lineup that includes 11 new riders.
Team boss Bjarne Riis has high hopes for newcomer Ivan Basso and hopes he can work the same magic with the young Italian that he did for Hamilton, who won Liege-Bastogne-Liege and finished fourth and won a stage at the 2003 Tour de France.
“Basso is a great talent. I’m very happy to have him here on the team. He’s the future of the Tour de France. I think he can go far,” Riis told about 300 people during a flash team presentation in Lucca, Italy, on Saturday.
The biggest name to come to CSC is classics strongman Michele Bartoli. The former World Cup winner will right it out in such races as Tour of Flanders and Liege, but wants to return to the Tour as well.
“I haven’t raced in the Tour in a few years and I would like to go back to help the team and use the strength from racing in the Tour to prepare for the Olympics,” Bartoli said.
Other new faces include Bobby Julich, German riders Jens Voigt and Jorg Jaksche, Italians Fabrizio Guidi and Max Sciandri.
Tour stage-winners Carlos Sastre and Jakob Piil give the Danish team a strong base going into the season. Riis is optimistic that the team can top last season’s strong results.
“Be ready for a lot of victories this season,” Riis said. “This is a very strong team with motivated riders. We have riders who can win races from February all the way to October. This season is going to be a lot of fun.”
Team CSC for 2004
Bartoli and Ballerini share stage
Franco Ballerini most likely isn’t Michele Bartoli’s favorite person after the Italian national team coach left Bartoli off the past two road world championship teams.
But the pair shared the stage Saturday during Team CSC’s presentation in Lucca, Italy.
Ex-pro and TV presenter Davide Cassani called Ballerini on stage after Bartoli was introduced to the crowd.
Ballerini, who made the controversial call to leave Bartoli off the Italian world championship team the past two seasons, said Bartoli will have his chance this year to return to the “azzurra” jersey.
“Things look good for Michele in the Olympics. We will only have five riders and the team is not as important there and the race is more of an individual effort, which suits Michele’s style of riding,” Ballerini said.
With the 2004 worlds set for Verona, Italy, Bartoli said he also wants to earn a spot on the national team.
Fassa Bortolo looking for revivals
Led by 2002 Vuelta a España champion Aitor Gonzalez and cycling’s bad boy Frank Vandenbroucke, Italian team Fassa Bortolo is hoping its lineup of frustrated stars can shine in 2004.
The team was formally presented Saturday in Treviso, Italy, when American Tom Danielson made his debut in Fassa Bortolo colors.
Sprinter Alessandro Petacchi will fight Mario Cipollini in the sprints while Dario Frigo will aim for the Giro d’Italia.
Fassa Bortolo for 2004:
Marzio Bruseghin (ITA)
Fabian Cancellara (SUI)
Francesco Chicchi (ITA)
Dario David Cioni (ITA)
Tom Danielson (USA)
Juan José De Los Angeles (ESP)
Mauro Facci (ITA)
Dario Frigo (ITA)
Aitor González (ESP)
Volodimir Gustov (UKR)
Kim Kirchen (LUX)
Gustav Eric Larsson (SUE)
Alessandro Petacchi (ITA)
Filippo Pozzato (ITA)
Mateo Tosatto (ITA)
Guido Trenti (USAr> Marco Velo (ITA)
Luca De Angeli (ITA)
Fabio Sacchi (ITA)
Alberto Ongarato (ITA)
Massimo Codol (ITA)
Juan Antonio Flecha (ESP)
Frank Vandenbroucke (BEL)
Julián Sánchez (ESP).
Long fight expected against dopers
Generations of effort may be needed to flush doping out of cycling, the French sports minister said as officials Thursday pursued a probe into suspected drug use within a leading team, the AP reported.
“I feel anger,” Jean-Francois Lamour told the Figaro newspaper, reacting to the probe that this week snared two ex-members and an assistant of the Cofidis team.
“It is distressing to see irresponsible people, criminals, throw into the question the progress, which is indispensable for sport, being made in the fight against doping,” the minister said.
“There is such a culture of doping in cycling that it will take one or two generations for things to really change” Lamour added.
A magistrate leading the probe placed Cofidis assistant Boguslaw Madejak and former team racer Marek Rutkiewicz of Poland under formal investigation late Wednesday, a step toward charging them. They are accused of supplying doping products and poisons.
A second cyclist, Frenchman Robert Sassone, who like Rutkiewicz left Cofidis last year, also was expected to be placed under formal investigation. Police say they found the male hormone testosterone and the performance-enhancer EPO in a search of Sassone’s home.
Lamour, the sports minister, called for co-operation against doping, saying: “Without worldwide coherence, it’s a waste of effort.”
He said France conducts 9,000 drug tests a year, half of them out of competition.