An interview with Bobby Julich, March 9, 2006
He's now 34 years of age but Bobby Julich appears to be as strong as ever. This was evident after he won the prologue of this year's Paris-Nice recently; the American told Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes that despite not getting any younger, there are new goals and targets for 2006.
The afternoon of March 6 saw Bobby Julich storm to victory in the prologue of Paris-Nice, taking up where he left off 12 months previously by again wearing yellow at this early-season ProTour race. That and his third place overall in the Tour of California show that he's already in strong form, yet with the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France on this year's race programme, he had actually counted on a slower start to the season.
"It [the prologue win] was a total surprise," he admitted. "So too in California, where I almost won the prologue there. I had a couple of years where no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't ever get a result - but now they almost seem to be coming all by themselves."
"But now that I just enjoy what I do and take the off-season a little bit easier, then hit it hard again in January" -Julich on his approach leading into the 2006 season
Julich had ended the 2004 season early and, after a break, began training hard in December. This time round, a later end to his race programme in 2005 plus bad weather at home near Reno meant that it was January before he really started to knuckle down. Yet performance tests held on the climb of Monte Serra at the CSC training camp in Tuscany, plus the data from his SRM power meter showed that he was in similar shape to the start of 2005, despite having done less miles. That good form has continued into his early races.
Julich told Cyclingnews at the CSC Italian training camp earlier this year that he is aiming to be in peak condition for May. He has a specific aim in mind. "I would like to be as good as I can at the beginning of the Giro, because I'd like to take a little bit of the pressure off Ivan [Basso] and go for the leader's jersey myself," he says. "I think the team time trial and the 52 kilometre time trial will help with that goal. It would be great to have the jersey within the team, without Ivan having to have it on his shoulders for the whole three weeks. Unless things really change, then, in those last few days when the race really gets tough, I won't be able to go up those sort of mountains [with the best]. So then Ivan takes over and we're all happy."
After the Giro - which he hopes will be won by Basso - he'll go on to the Tour. Again, he'll be playing a support role to the Italian and once more he hopes that this will pay off with overall race victory. As an American Julich has seen many of his compatriots riding down the Champs Elysees in recent years, the US Postal/Discovery Channel riders proudly leading Lance Armstrong to overall victory. It's something he would like to achieve.
"I think it would be an odd sensation because for seven years, I got to watch some of the guys I have known for a long time do that ride," says Julich. "I was wondering about it; it would be pretty cool, a pretty amazing experience."
Cyclingnews: Well done on your win in the prologue of Paris-Nice. You had told us earlier in the season that you didn't expect to hit top form until May, in the Giro, but here you are taking your first win of the season two months earlier than that.
Bobby Julich: It was a total surprise. So too in California, where I almost won the prologue there. I just said, "Hey, I am going to go out and have fun, enjoy the day and do the best I can," but not really stress about the result. Both outings I was very strong and I had a lot of fun, I had a smile on my face the whole time. In California I was second and here I won, so it was a very, very surprising result for me. At my age you have to take what you get when you can get it. I had a couple of years there where no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't ever get a result, but now they almost seem to be coming all by themselves.
CN: You had a very heavy season last year, so do you think it is a case that you have been able to rest up over the winter and are reaping the benefits of all that work you did in 2005?
BJ: I definitely rested over the winter, let me put it that way! It was relaxed, very relaxed. I played a lot of golf in October and November and then I came for a training camp in December. I had to take it easy because the weather up in the mountains where I live outside Reno wasn't very good after Christmas. I've done less than last year, yet I feel good. It's kind of weird.
I think one reason is perhaps that I have been doing this for 20 years now. Maybe there is a little bit of a roll-over effect; I have never really allowed myself to recover in the off-season, so maybe I was always riding with one foot in the grave, for a couple of years. But now that I just enjoy what I do and take the off-season a little bit easier, then hit it hard again in January, maybe my body has time to recover and have a little bit of a rollover effect.
CN: You said in January that you hadn't done a whole lot of training and that you are aiming for the Giro to hit top form. Do you still feel that you can step up a level from where you are now?
BJ: Yeah. Besides the training camps, I haven't even started my individual training, which is where I really got my form for Paris-Nice, Criterium International and the Tour of the Benelux last year. I started that block of training after Paris-Nice, so I am really looking forward to being even better in the Giro.
CN: What are your feelings for the rest of Paris-Nice; what will your goals be, what can you do in that race?
BJ: Well, this definitely wasn't one of my objectives. Probably the only reason why I am here is because I have number one on my back from last year. Otherwise I would be doing Tirreno [Adriatico] or maybe even just training right now. As far as the overall, I am already happy to have a win. I am ecstatic. But like I said, at my age, if the opportunity is there to get another good result, then great.
The only problem is that you are comparing yourself to a [overall] victory and the only thing that's going to be as good as last year is winning again, which is kind of difficult. I am under no false impression that I'm going to just ride away from the field and win for the second time, but I am definitely going to have fun doing what I do and, with one win already in the pocket, there is really nothing to worry about. For me, personally, anything more is just icing on the cake.
CN: What's your impression of the 2006 team thus far?
BJ: Well, after two years where CSC just blitzed the spring, we purposely took a more lax training schedule. Bjarne stressed on us that he didn't want us to be burning all of our matches right away in the spring - in particular I think he was talking about Jens Voigt! We have been kicking around a little bit, seconds and thirds, so it was really nice to get the first team win. This year we have goals in all three Grand Tours, so we have to have people strong in May, July and September. I think in the past we have wasted a few guys in the spring, burned a few matches when we didn't really need to, so now we just want to focus more on the bigger races.
CN: You have mentioned the Giro and the Tour as goals for this season. Have you ever done the Giro before?
BJ: No, I've never done the Giro. It's one of those things in cycling that I don't want to regret not doing. I don't want to be saying in 10 or 15 years time, 'ah, I wish I did that'. Of course, the Giro is a huge part of cycling. The Tour de France is still number one, but the Giro got a lot of exposure when I was growing up and Andy Hampsten won. So since then it's always being interesting to see - not that many Americans have done the Giro, we have always kind of focused on the Tour. This year I wanted to do the Giro even before Ivan decided he was going to do it. It's something that I decided to do, just to put another check next to the '100 things I want to do before I die,' sort of thing!"
CN: A lot of guys are saying that they want to ride the Giro; Floyd Landis will be and Jan Ullrich is supposed to be doing it.
BJ: I don't know if they [the organisers] deserve it, but they are going to have a very, very competitive field. Despite not conforming with the ProTour, they are going to come out smelling like roses with the riders that are lining up for their event. It's pretty impressive, actually. I think it will be a good race. I think that obviously some guys will do it for training, but the most important thing is that you have the big names at your event, whether they are riding it in the grupetto for training or going for the win. I think the Tour of Italy is not only going to be one of the most difficult, but also packed in terms of big names, compared to years prior.
CN: Do you have any idea why that is?
BJ: No, I think it's just the way things worked out. It just seems that guys want to try something different to prepare for the Tour, maybe to try to get a little bit stronger. I also look at it as guys finally realising that, 'hey, maybe I can't win the Tour, there is only going to be one guy who can do that.' In particular because in the last seven years it's obviously been out of the question - it's only been one person. So now guys are starting to look around.
That is what I did last year. I said to myself that maybe I can't win the Tour, but perhaps I can win Paris-Nice, Criterium International again or the Tour of the Benelux. So I concentrated on races like that, and when I was in the Tour, I didn't have the pressure that those guys have.
I think that guys are trying to split it up, asking why 25 of the biggest names are going for the same objective when only one can win it. It's still a pretty prestigious thing to win the Giro. I also believe that guys look at the Giro as a possible feather in the cap before going to the big pressure cooker of the Tour. Savoldelli has made a career out of winning the Giro; he doesn't really race much more than that and hasn't won many more races, but both in the week before the Giro and at the Giro itself he is firing on all cylinders. He has made his career out of winning the Giro, and maybe other guys are starting to see that and say they can still be part of the sport outside of the pressure cooker of the Tour.
CN: When are you planning to hit top form?
BJ: I would like to be as good as I can at the beginning of the Giro, because I would like to take a little bit of the pressure off Ivan and go for the leader's jersey myself. I think the team time trial and the 52 kilometre time trial will help with that goal. It would be great to have the jersey within the team, without Ivan having to have it on his shoulders for the whole three weeks. Unless things really change, then, in those last few days when the race really gets tough, I won't be able to go up those sort of mountains [with the best]. So then Ivan takes over and we're all happy.
CN: I guess it is good to have a new focus at this stage of your career, as well.
BJ: For me, it's just like I am putting the finishing touches on my career. It is not going to be that much longer before I retire and I don't want to have any regrets when I am done. The only race that perhaps I won't do that I will regret not doing is Paris-Roubaix. Obviously it's something that you want to do as a cyclist, but is it really the smartest thing to do at this stage of my career? Probably not.
So, other than the Giro, the two races that I would like to do are the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. But who knows, maybe my last year, next year, I can give it a shot just to say I did it, just to experience it.
CN: So are you thinking next year could be the last one?
BJ: Well, I have a contract for this year and next year, so yes. you can never go further than your contract. But if possible, I would like to go and try for one more Olympics, the time trial in Beijing, because, number one, I think I have a chance at it and number two, the last one was the coolest thing I have ever done, as far as experience goes. You can mention I won Paris-Nice and the Tour of Benelux and I was third in the Tour, but most people in America are like, 'did you do the Olympics?' And now I can say yes. So I would really like to do that, and then probably move on after that. In other words, go for this two-year contract, maybe do one year after that to go for the Olympics and then decide what I want to do. By that time I will be 37.
CN: I guess you could always do what some guys have done - just continue on to Paris-Roubaix the following year  and finish there.
BJ: Hey, that's a really good idea. But I don't think anybody would pay me to do three months of the season for Paris-Roubaix, if I basically haven't done it my whole career! Hey, what would really stink is if I did Paris-Roubaix, ended up winning it, and wondered why I didn't do it during the earlier part of my career (laughs).
CN: How do you think the team is looking this year?
BJ: You know, every year - especially after that first year - I say, " that was just a dream, it was that one year that everything came together and everything really gelled, there is never going to be another year like that." Then when we came to the 2005 camp I saw that it wasn't a fluke, that this was going to continue. That said, going into this off-season, especially with the massive changes we had, I was very nervous. There was just a different feel about it. Yet once we were back at the camp again , I realised that we are going to be just as good, if not even better.
The snowball effect that Bjarne has started on this team is just amazing; success breeds more success. It is exciting! You always wonder, maybe we've gone too far, maybe we've reached the top, but when I saw the results from the guys in the training camp test, it was something else. It was nothing short of amazing for me to see everyone motivated, fit and able to do the sort of times they did. There is nothing spectacular in what they did, but the collective result just shows that the team overall is much, much stronger than last year. And that says a lot.
CN: How were the tests done?
BJ: There is a climb in Tuscay that Bjarne did testing on when he was an athlete, and evidently all the riders in the area do it. It's 6.2 kilometres long and called the Monte Serra. Many, many riders judge themselves on this climb. We've done that test at least twice every camp for the last three years, so I can click up my SRM files of these tests and compare them. You just see that each one you do gets better. When I compared this year's test to the one taken at the same time last year, looking at them side-by-side to see exactly where I was, the figures were almost identical. The difference was one Watt and two seconds.
I mean, I don't stare at my SRM, I do it on how I feel. Obviously at that time of year I can't go so much over my anaerobic threshold, because I don't train that system during the winter. It feels like I can get up to a certain level where you have a governor on the engine, and then you just go all the way to the top. Then you push the button, you download the stuff at night, and you see where you are. I was pleasantly surprised to see where I was after taking the off-season pretty relaxed. It was a good sign, because I'm definitely fresh.
I think I know my body now. I know when it is time to relax, what I can get away with, and what I need. I basically raced from January through to the end of September last year, and the year before I raced up until August, then I was home. So I had four months off. This year I had a three-month off season, so I was taking is much more calmly. I decided that January was where I was going to really start my training, while last year I started in December.
CN: Ivan moved up another level in the Tour last year. He was arguably the strongest guy in the mountains, so that and the fact that he is a year older must give the team confidence.
BJ: Ivan is the most professional guy I have been around. I have been around some good ones, but Ivan is not only professional, but he is very well-balanced, he is very well grounded. I don't think I have ever heard him talk about how expensive the watch he has is, or the car that he drives, anything monetary. He does this absolutely for the love of the sport. He has done it the right way, progressed the right way, so I see no reason why he can't progress even more. His ultimate goal is to win the Giro and the Tour. I would be happy with us just winning one of the two, obviously the Tour being the most important, but Ivan Basso will win the Tour and will win the Giro one day. Is it going to be this year, both in the same season? The way it looks now, I'm very confident that the sacrifices we make for him would pay off with a big result.
CN: What would that feel like, to be heading down the Champs Elysées with the yellow jersey in the team?
BJ: It would be an odd sensation because for seven years I got to watch some of the guys I have known for a long time do that ride, and I was wondering about it. It will be pretty cool, a pretty amazing experience.
CN: Aside from riding well in the Tour and the Giro for Ivan, have you set specific goals for yourself for this season?
BJ: Well, it is really tough to set goals for myself when most of my biggest races are going to be working for somebody else. But obviously inside there I can see maybe a chance for the leader's jersey, or maybe a stage victory such as a time trial. Racing-wise, I wrote down some goals this year on my weight-room chalkboard, like I always do, but they are not the same as last year. I'll put it that way. Looking at last year, it would be tough to repeat those sort of results, as well as keeping in mind that I have to be good in May and July.
CN: You went to the Worlds last year hoping to do well in the time trial but it didn't go as planned. Was it that your batteries were just totally flat at that point?
BJ: Yes, I just overcooked it in the Tour of Poland. Big time. Everyone who did the Tour of Poland - Ekimov, Lövkvist, Dekker, myself - everyone who did that race went into the [worlds] time trial and just flopped. It was just too long, too hard, and too cold. Then when we got to Madrid, it was warm and dry and you only have three days in between. I tell you, mentally I was like, "hey, I got this, I will be okay, the whole year I am on top of this, I will be good, I just need a couple of days of recovery." I did a decent warm up, I did exactly as I normally do in preparation, but I tell you, from that very first pedal stroke off the start ramp, I knew. I just wanted to turn around, to stop.
The worst thing that went through my head there was that I had just had my best ever season, yet my last 48 kilometres were going to be feeling like that. And that was not the way I wanted to end the season. But when you over-cook it, you over-cook it. I thought that the Tour of Poland would be good preparation, but it just turned out that the weather affected me a couple of days and I had a really bad episode of the bonk a couple of days before. So I was just empty.
CN: Is the Worlds something that you would like to target before the end of your career?
BJ: It's so late in the year, really late. If things worked out that would be great, of course I would love to wear that jersey. But that's the time when I started thinking about spending time with my family. And really ramping up again, after doing it two or three times - I don't know how many times you can go back to that trough before it is dry.
CN: Finally - Bjarne [Riis] seems to get the best out of a lot of people. Why is that?
BJ: Well, he doesn't have any magic sprinkle dust that he throws over us or some magic spell. I think that his main gift is that he can pick riders who will work well together, get along, and produce good results. And be friends. I think that's his main gift; how he can select the riders from so many different countries and yet still make it work. Now we have 30 guys, yet everyone gets along well. There is no tension in the team and if there is, we know how to fix it and not let it eat at you.
That is where communication and all his value systems come in. You know, his value system combined with his talent of picking riders who work well together is definitely what makes CSC the best team in the world. We had 54 wins last year, and that wasn't just one or two guys. That's something.