Target: A maglia rosa for two

Bobby Julich makes his Giro debut this weekend, finally riding the Tour of Italy after a long career...

An interview with Bobby Julich, May 3, 2006

Bobby Julich makes his Giro debut this weekend, finally riding the Tour of Italy after a long career in the peloton. He and the rest of the CSC are fully behind Ivan Basso, but the American rider tells Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes that he has one personal ambition he'd also like to achieve.

Since its inception in 2001 when Bjarne Riis took over the former Memory Card - Jack & Jones squad, the CSC team has grown to be one of the best teams in the sport. Winner of the ProTour teams classification last year, the team scooped over 50 victories and took many more strong placings, including Ivan Basso's second consecutive podium slot in the Tour de France. Prior to that, Basso had looked on course to dominate the Tour of Italy but his challenge was derailed when he became sick during the race.

With the Italian star a year older and stronger and Lance Armstrong now retired, it seems the time may be right for him to finally win the Tour. Prior to that, though, the 28 year old is aiming to capture the Giro d'Italia title, and in order to achieve the goal of a first ever Grand Tour win for the Danish squad, Team CSC boss Bjarne Riis has taken two big measures. Firstly, he asked several of the team's strong spring riders to hold back on hitting top form until the Giro, gambling that in relinquishing the big trophies the team landed last year in races such as Paris-Nice, an even bigger prize could be won.

"Ivan has proved time and time again, especially in the last six months, that he is worthy of us working for him." - Julich has no doubt that the team's sacrifices this year are justfied

The second step is in putting together a very strong lineup, using some riders who are more well known for backing Basso in the Tour de France. Tour and Vuelta contender Carlos Sastre is included in the team list, as is Jens Voigt, Volodimir Gustov, Giovanni Lombardi, Iñigo Cuesta, Michael Blaudzun and Nicki Soerensen. So too Bobby Julich, who will be riding the Giro for the first time in his career and is very much looking forward to the experience.

"The plan since last November was to take the spring a lot easier than before, and then concentrate on being good at the Giro and later on the Tour," the American told Cyclingnews this week. "First things first, the Giro is the first main objective for us for the year, as far as the stage race team is concerned. We are really looking forward to it. I have definitely got over the injury and the sickness I experienced in the month of March, and now I am feeling good and looking forward to helping Ivan in the Giro."

"My form is where I wanted to be right now. I was definitely a little bit set back with the injury in Paris-Nice and then the sickness at the Criterium International, but the last few days in the Tour of Romandie I was feeling really good. I was doing some little tests here and there, and then I felt strong in the time trial. I think it is just going to come together all at the right time. Obviously you can't be at top form at the beginning of the Giro, you need to be at 90 percent and then ramp that up all the way through the three weeks."

Earlier this year, Cyclingnews had sat down with Julich at the team's training camp in Tuscany and asked him his thoughts on doing the race for the first time. "I am looking forward to doing the Giro," he said back then. "It is 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 rode that race.' 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 has always being interesting to see.

"Not that many Americans have done the Giro, too - we have always kind have focused on the Tour. This year I wanted to do the Giro even before Ivan decided he was going to do it. It is 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! That said, it does add a totally different dimension going for an overall with Ivan. So I am sure it will also be a pretty stressful Giro."

Basso has prepared fastidiously for the race and has shown good form in several races this spring. Although he was aiming to hit peak form for the Giro, he had sufficient early form to win the Criterium International plus a stage of the Circuit de la Sarthe.

Julich is bullish about his team-mate's challenge. "I think his chances are very, very good," he states. "I don't think Team CSC would sacrifice Jens Voigt, Carlos Sastre and myself and the other four guys if we didn't really feel that we had a chance. Ivan has proved time and time again, especially in the last six months, that he is worthy of us working for him. We are all really counting on him and hopefully we can be there and give him what he needs, and then celebrate in Milan with the overall victory. That is what we are aiming for."

Julich mentioned earlier this year that the ideal scenario for him would be that he could use his strength against the clock to take the pink jersey early on in the race, handing it over to Basso in the mountains. This is still very much an ambition for him. "I am really focussed on trying to do that," he says. "I would say 80 percent of my days racing this year are working for Ivan in the Giro and the Tour. Obviously I am a competitor and I need to have some motivations for myself, some personal results to chase. So I am still looking forward to trying to take the jersey, if I can; if not after the team time trial, then after the long time trial on the stage into Pontedera. But I think it is going to be a kind of secondary bonus, the overall plan of the team is to have Ivan in pink in Milan.

The Italian team leader is happy with the idea. "Ivan and I talked about it since last December, that I would keep the jersey warm for him, and then hand it over to him once we hit the high mountains towards the end of the race," Julich continues. "For me, it is definitely a goal. You know, I think the race is going to be a lot of fun. It is my first Giro, and with the prologue, the team time trial and a 50 kilometre individual time trial coming in the first 11 days, I will definitely give it [chasing the maglia rosa] a shot."

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