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.
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.'
Click here to read the full interview.