Bobby Julich will be one of Saxo Bank’s directeurs sportifs at the Amgen Tour of California, where the team will line-up with the majority of their Tour de France team. The squad is currently on the hunt for a sponsor for next year, but Julich believes that winning the Tour of California won't be the deciding factor in any negotiations with possible suitors.
Julich, who rode for the team before retiring in 2008, has been with the squad as a Rider Development Manager ever since, but will drive the team’s second car at the American marquee race.
“Bjarne asked me back a few months ago if I'd drive the second car at California,” Julich told Cyclingnews. “It was a favour and it was hard to say no, and of course with it being a race that I’d like to promote it’s great for American cycling, so I agreed. But now I know how much work it takes to get everything achieved.”
Julich prepared for the make-shift role in March’s Paris-Nice where he drove the team’s car for two stages.
“Our mechanic helped me that day and my experience as a rider helped too. I finished with no dents on the car and no one was hurt. I’ll always think like a rider and put their wants ahead of my own, but I think at times, to be a directeur you have to be take risks and that’s not my style.”
“I was able to call the race and to motivate guys. I’m good at that but when it came down to a tactical stand-off as a rider I was always the first to fold my cards and do the lion's share of the work. I wasn’t tricky, I was too honest with the workload and tactics and I think sometimes you have to be hard and nasty and gamble.”
Saxo Bank head into the Tour of California with their Tour de France team, minus Fränk Schleck, who will ride the Tour of Luxembourg instead. With just over six weeks until the start of the Tour de France, the Danish team are still in the hunt for a title sponsor for next year, but Julich isn’t adding extra pressure to the riders, who’ve already collected 14 wins this season.
“My expectations might be a little different from the riders. It’s a big race. We have a lot of American sponsors, we have an amazing team, pretty much our Tour de France team are doing the race so on paper you would think that we have one of the strongest, if not the strongest teams in the race. The only thing is that these guys are coming off their break after the Classics.”
“What we’ve done so far in winning fourteen races with six different riders, the writing is on the wall and winning the Tour of California isn’t going to change that. We already have enough wins and California won’t change that. We’re not going there with that kind of pressure on our shoulders.”
“It’s a matter of what these guys can do and the attitude they bring to the race. Are they here to just get back into the swing of it again and prepare for the Tour, or are they switched on and hungry and ready to race because you know that Lance, Horner and Levi, guys like that are going to be chomping at the bit.”
While some riders have already publicly admitted to talking to other teams, Julich is adamant that Bjarne Riis is doing all he can to close a deal and in turn keep the nucleus of his team intact.
“It’s in the hands of Riis Cycling and the management. I know they’re working very hard and they’re the sort of people that don’t give empty promises, but I agree we need a sponsor by the Tour or at least the first week. We have some amazing riders who could get great contracts on other teams and you want to be that first guy taking the contract with the bigger dollar amount. You don’t want to be waiting till October when all the money has gone.”
Julich went on to speculate what size budget a team would need in order to be competitive next year. “I would say seven to 12 million a year. I’m just guessing but I’ve heard some sponsors give seven, teams like Sky have much more, so I think you’ve just got to go in the middle. But I think you could run a pretty good team if you have a main sponsor with ten and you’ve got a couple of smaller equipment sponsors with three to five. I think you could run a very good team with 15 million a year but I’m not an agent. I have no idea what Jens or Frank or Andy get paid. It adds up, though.”