By Bruce Hildenbrand
American Bobby Julich decided to hang up his wheels at the end of this season, but he will by no means exit the sport. The 1998 Tour de France podium finisher will take on the role as rider development manager for the Saxo Bank-IT Factory team next year, and will also be providing Cyclingnews with his unique insights in a monthly column, to begin next week.
We spoke with the humble family man from his Pennsylvania home last month, where he recalled his most famous day on the bike - the epic 15th stage of the '98 Tour where he battled through horrible weather, dropped Jan Ullrich and thought he was riding into the yellow jersey only to find one Marco Pantani many minutes ahead.
"The one day that I really remembered that will stay with me forever was the stage that finished on Les Deux Alpes after going over the Galibier," Julich remembered. "It was epic survival. What was crazy was going up the Galibier, I had Kevin Livingston on the front and he started to go really, really fast pretty much from the bottom. He actually sprinted out of a turn and I yelled at him 'Hey Kevin, slow down, slow down' and that was when [Marco] Pantani just rocketed away from us. There wasn't anyone that could even come close to matching the pedal stroke that he had that day."
"Just going up the climb with the weather we had that day, riding side by side with Jan [Ullrich] who had the yellow jersey, you just felt like 'wow, this is going to be remembered.' We went over the top and, luckily, I was able to put on my rain jacket; I almost went off the side of the road and hit a camper trying to put it on. On the descent, even with the rain jacket, I was shivering so hard I could barely keep my bike straight."
"I got warm again and we came to the bottom of Les Deux Alpes and I remember seeing guys like [Laurent] Jalabert throwing his helmet, his gloves, his arm warmers, everything that was wet and heavy on the side of the road. I decided to do the same thing. One thing I don't do very often is take off my helmet, but I took it off along with my rain jacket, gloves, everything. Whoever the person was standing right there probably scored five or ten grand of cycling clothing because everyone was just ripping it off and throwing it."
"I did not know that Jan had a flat tire at that time because I had decided that I needed to go from the bottom. I knew the climb. It is a good climb for me. I needed to limit the time advantage that Pantani was taking. I felt amazing and I was just going with it in the big ring just time trialing to the top. I got to the top and thought that I had made some progress taking back some time on Pantani and I come across the line and I saw that I was over five minutes behind."
"As fast as I was going, he put two minutes on me on that climb. That was when I realized the guy was going to win the Tour. I really felt that I was possibly riding into the yellow jersey that day because I never really looked around, but I knew that Jan wasn't with me. But, when I came across the line and I saw the time difference of over five minutes I was blown away, but happy at the same time.".
More epic tales can be found in the complete interview with Julich.