Saxo Bank’s Bobby Julich believes that the team is in a stronger position than ever to attract new sponsors after main sponsor Saxo Bank confirmed they would be pulling the plug on the team at the end of the current season.
Julich rode for the team for five years during its incarnation as CSC. He is about to begin his second year as part of the squad’s back room staff, as a rider development manager.
“From the very first day I signed on this team I had to either battle for my contract or battle for a sponsor right until the last minute. With Saxo Bank pulling out we’re more prepared than ever to deal with it. We went through the biggest issue last year when IT Factory was forced to pull out. We were forced to continue with the team at the highest level but with a lower budget. We really pulled together and fought together. I know we’re more prepared than ever,” Julich told Cyclingnews.
With the team losing some of it’s previous management staff to Team Sky in the last few months, Julich has also found himself with more responsibility, liaising more with current sponsors, while also being the go-to-guy for the riders, many of whom he used to ride with professionally.
“The role is everything I did last year and then also inheriting sponsor accounts, trying to reconnect with them and get the most out of that. It’s turned out to be very fruitful so far and we’re working together really well. We want to be an open and friendly team. Make it more fun and no barriers. I’m trying to help with that.”
Julich retired during the 2008 season after a 16-year career as professional rider. He finished third in the 1998 Tour de France but after unsuccessful stints at Crédit Agricole and then Telekom, he found himself contemplating retirement. However Bjarne Riis, a man who Julich, admits saved his career, gave the American a final shot at resurrecting his career. In 2005 Julich bounced back to won Paris-Nice, the Benelux Tour and the Criterium International.
“I was able to leave everything on the road. If I’d been forced to retire in 2003, like I thought I’d have to, I would have been the typical ex pro blaming everyone and everything. But I got to finish it and perhaps even go on for an extra year. I was planning on retiring the year before but Frank, Andy and Fabian talked me out of it.”
“I got it all out but I realised I wanted to remain in cycling. When Bjarne came to me he told me he needed me more off the bike than on it. I didn’t want to act like I was their buddy or sparing partner. I wanted to make a difference and make their lives better as riders.”
The transition from rider to management has been eased by the fact that Julich remained with the same team or ‘family’ instead of joining another set-up. With less time on the road Julich is now able to spend more time with those closest to him, his wife and two young daughters at their home in Nice, France.
“There were more family responsibilities when our second daughter was born and it was just a little too much when I looked at myself in the mirror and saw my wife and what she was having to do. A wife taking care of one child is one thing but two by herself for weeks in a row, I couldn’t do that. I was cutting my training short because I didn’t want to leave her hanging like that,” he said.
Julich’s relationship with Riis has also been a paramount in his shift to management. The two were rivals on the bike during the late 1990s, but even then Julich admits that he was full of admiration for the Dane, who famously won the Tour in 1996 before later admitting to doping and offering to give back his yellow jersey.
“I’ve always had a very unique relationship with Bjarne and I respect him very much. He’s a guy I can learn from. He and I can talk about sensitive topics, maybe even argue about them but we respect the boundaries.”
“In 1998 when we almost abandoned the Tour on stage 17 I was there saying, ‘hey listen, if they stop the race now do I still get second?’ That’s all I was interested in. We started the race after a two hour delay and Bjarne came up to me and said I should talk to Leblanc.”
“I was like, ‘you’ve won the Tour, who the hell am I?’ It was right then that I knew he’d be involved in cycling still. He took the leadership in a very difficult situation in the Tour and he took me on when no one else would and gave me two of the best years of my career and some great memories.”
Those memories will have to be put to one side as Julich fights to find a new team sponsor. Despite the global economic conditions he believes that cycling is still growing and that Lance Armstrong's comeback has fuelled further interest in the sport.
“With the new sponsors and what’s happening in America with cycling right now I think it’s a great time for new sponsors to get involved in the sport.”
“Since he’s come back he’s ignited the passion for cycling within America which has been fantastic. Hats off to him for having that effect. With Garmin, Columbia, and Specialized becoming more interested, there are other American sponsors that are waiting for the right opportunity and think there’s one now.”