Aiming high on home soil: Part I

In 2004, Bobby Julich finished fourth in the Dodge Tour of Georgia, two minutes off the pace set by...

An interview with Bobby Julich, April 19, 2005

In 2004, Bobby Julich finished fourth in the Dodge Tour of Georgia, two minutes off the pace set by Lance Armstrong. But after wins in Paris-Nice and the Criterium International, this year has seen him move to a new level, and as a consequence, he is now regarded as a stronger favourite for the title. Shane Stokes speaks to a man aiming high on home soil.

'Last year, the Tour of Georgia was a lot of fun, but I was much more tired mentally and physically at that point than I am now,' he told Cyclingnews this past weekend.

'This year I have been going really good since the beginning of the season. It would be naive of me to believe that I am going to be as strong as I was in Paris-Nice, but the possibility is always there. My motivation will be high, the weather is supposed to be nice, and I'm looking forward to having a good time.

"In my case, when I ride well I can pretty much do everything - except sprint!" - Julich speaks about his sensational start to 2005

Regarded by some as a finished rider less than two years ago, Julich has turned things right around since joining mentor Bjarne Riis at Team CSC. Last year he rode well in a number of events, leaping an incredible 299 places in the world rankings to 30th last October. Highlights included a superb Olympic debut with bronze in the Elite TT in Athens, wins against the clock in the Vuelta a Pais Vasco and the Luk Challenge, second in the GP Eddy Merckx, third in Paris Nice and fourth overall in the Criterium International, the Vuelta a Pais Vasco and the Dodge Tour de Georgia.

This year, things have been even better. Voigt was supposed to CSC's main hope for Paris-Nice but at the end of the first ever ProTour race, it was Julich who stood on the top step of the podium. In doing so, he redisplayed the kind of form which earned him third place in the 1998 Tour de France. From there, the increasingly motivated 33 year old went to Criterium International, where he placed third in the mountain stage, won the race against the clock and secured his second major win of 2005.

Julich says he has always gone into stage races aiming for the win, but this year was the first time in quite a while that he really found himself in the position to turn that aspiration into a reality. 'I was surprised, of course to come out on top, because I am not so much of a winner,' he states modestly.

'To win Paris-Nice and Criterium International back-to-back was really a surprise. I am definitely not used to winning, yet then all of a sudden I had the yellow jersey at the end of two big races. So I was very happy.'

Following a TT second place and fifth overall in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, he came back to the US and has prepared quietly for the Dodge Tour of Georgia. And as he tells Cyclingnews, he's got bigger fish to fry later this year in races like the Tour de France and world championships. Yet riding well on home soil is definitely a big ambition this week.

Cyclingnews: How are you keeping?

Bobby Julich: Good, I've just spent the last few days back here in America, getting over the jet lag and, most importantly, getting my daughter over the jetlag! Because, when a little girl wakes up at three in the morning and wants to play because it is nine o'clock in the morning over in Europe, it kind of affects your sleep patterns! But, yes, I am doing well.

CN: What kind of training have you been doing since you got back... have you been at altitude?

BJ: No, no. I have been here on the east coast - we still have a house in Philadelphia so we went there and just checked on the house. I have just been riding really easy, four hours a day, getting over the jetlag and just keeping the motor running for the race this week.

CN: Considering the start of the season that you have had, your motivation and confidence must be really, really good...

BJ: Yeah. For me, the Tour of Georgia is a big race. It obviously isn't really one of the races that I have peaked for, because it is not an international ProTour event, but I am coming here and I would love to ride well. It kind of just depends on the way the race plays out. Here, racing is a little bit more unpredictable and less structured than it is in Europe. I am sure I will be one of the favourites of the race and myself and my team will want to take on a lot of responsibility. We are looking forward to it, it should be fun.

CN: It must be special to go back to the US and perform in front of your home crowd, especially in an event as big as the Tour of Georgia...

BJ: Yeah. It is always nice to come back and race in the States. To be honest, I have raced so infrequently in the US... I think I have done maybe four or five races in the last seven years over here, so it feels almost foreign to me to race over here!

Last year, the Tour of Georgia was a lot of fun, but I was much more tired mentally and physically at that point than I am now. This year, I have been going really good since the beginning of the season. It would be naive of me to believe that I am going to be as good as I was in Paris-Nice, but the possibility is always there. My motivation will be good, the weather is supposed to be good, so I'm looking forward to having a good time.

CN: You talk of being mentally and physically tired last year, but you were still fourth in the race. That must give you a bit of confidence for this year's Tour de Georgia?

BJ: Well, the race itself is fantastic. It is very, very selective and this year they have even made it harder. We have the same time trial as we had last year - I was fourth there and fourth in the final overall. The stage to Brasstown Bald Mountain is one of the coolest hilltop finishes I have ever done, anywhere. This year, we do that stage again but my ex-team-mate and friend, Kevin Livingston, who is working with the organisation, told me that there are two big climbs before this year, so it should be even more difficult.

It's better for us that way. The race is a little easier to control when it is like that, rather than if there were just some flat stages where you would have to watch out for every single breakaway. Obviously the strong guys are going to be riding well. Lance is going to be here, Floyd is going to be here, Levi too.

CN: Lance Armstrong has a big press conference on Monday. Have you any speculation as to what he will announce?

BJ: I don't think it is really that big of a thing. I've heard that it is either one of two things: either that he is going to do the Giro, which a lot of people started speculating about when he decided to go over and deal with that legal problem from the Simeoni case. After the words that Hein Verbruggen said, that Lance promised him he would do the Giro, that is a possibility. Then the other possibility, which I believe (the press conference) is going to be about, is that he is going to announce his retirement from cycling after his bid for a seventh Tour win.

CN: In other words, you feel that it is not a case that he will race domestically next year, but rather that he won't compete at all. That is your feeling?

BJ: Well, I think that he would want to retire on top. If he won a seventh Tour I don't think he would really have much else to do after that.

I think the press conference is going to be one of those two things. It is bringing some media attention to the Tour of Georgia anyway, which is important. The more media attention the Tour of Georgia gets, the better for cycling. I will be at that press conference, like everyone, to hear what he has to say!

CN: What you see as being the key stages of the Tour of Georgia? Will it be just the time trial and the Brasstown Bald Mountain stage which will decide the GC, or do you think the other stages will play a big part as well?

BJ: Well, I think that basically the race will really begin with the time trial, because the first two days will be controlled by the American sprinter teams. I think that will be the only real opportunity that they have to really shine.

The time trial will be the real start of the race and it will set the GC, but then the next two days are very, very difficult with a lot of climbing. Especially when we finish up Brasstown Bald. Kevin Livingston told me that people could be 10, 15 minutes up the road and still have a hard time making it to the finish.

I think there are going to be three key stages. Obviously you have to be good in the time trial, obviously you have to be good climber and obviously you have to make sure you don't miss any moves or make any silly mistakes.

CN: You are time trialling very well this year, as evidenced by your ride in the Criterium International. It has always been a strength for you, anyway. But now you seem to have moved to another level in your climbing. You seemed very comfortable in Paris-Nice on the climbs and also in the Criterium International...

BJ: Yeah, when you are riding well you can pretty much do everything. In my case, when I ride well I can pretty much do everything, except sprint! So I have to take advantage of the time trials and climbing stages.

Yes, I do feel very good and much more at ease on the climbs. I worked really hard in January and February at our training camps with specific power workouts. I also worked a lot on my core body muscles this year, and things have been going good. So I'm looking forward to doing this race. That said, I'm also looking forward to having a little rest, cooling the jets a little bit before we start with the build-up to the Tour.

CN: Before the season, I read that you were saying that your tests then were better than those 12 months previously. Were you confident heading into the season that you would move to another level, or you surprised by just how well things went?

BJ: Well, I was as surprised as anyone when the first test that I did at our training camp in January equated to the best test that I had done from all of last year. Doing your best test in January when I really wasn't training very specifically was quite a surprise. But they always say that the SRM doesn't lie.

I was surprised, but then by the end of the second camp I actually went even better. I went into the spring with the same mentality that I had last year, which was trying to be a factor in every race that I was in. Of course, winning a race like Paris-Nice is always set as an objective, but you always fix those targets a little high. Yet there is not much higher than winning Paris-Nice for me, other than taking one of the three Grand Tours. Paris-Nice has got to be right up there on the list as the next biggest race to do well at.

I was surprised, of course to come out on top, because I am not so much of a winner. To win Paris-Nice and Criterium International back-to-back was really a surprise. I am definitely not used to winning, yet then all of a sudden I had the yellow jersey at the end of two big races. So I was very happy.

Part II: Julich speaks about what has kept him going throughout the lean years, his team, the Tour, and the ProTour.

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