Julich has a chance to ride high for team
Time in the spotlight appeared to be growing dimmer for Bobby Julich.Now, thanks to a doping scandal that rocked the Tour de France on the eve of its start, the 1990 Glenwood Springs High School graduate, has been yanked right back into the spotlight.As the Tour de France prepared to embark on its 2,270- mile, 23-day trek to Paris, Julich’s role was to be that of a loyal lieutenant.As a member of Team CSC, Julich’s role was to help Italy’s Ivan Basso win the greatest cycling race in the world.Not anymore. The doping scandal has turned the Tour de France upside down. Basso is gone and so is his number-one challenger, Jan Ullrich. Four of the top five finishers in last year’s Tour are gone. In the year after Lance Armstrong left the sport he dominated for seven years, there was great intrigue on who would replace him. That question is now as unknown as ever.Team CSC and Basso were huge favorites. Basso had just annihilated the field in the Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy) by more than 9 minutes. He finished second to Armstrong in last year’s Tour. The Tour was his to lose. And he was surrounded by a powerful team, which includes Julich.After the announcement, Julich said, on ESPN.com, that he and Team CSC still support their teammateWho will be the team leader for CSC now? It could be Julich.After the Giro d’Italia in late May, Team CSC Director Bjarne Riis offered high praise for Julich in a quote posted on Julich’s Web site.”Bobby Julich had a hard Giro this year but finished strongly and I have followed him a lot in the last couple of weeks and have seen the best Bobby Julich I have ever seen,” Riis said.
Top shapeIn an e-mail interview last week, Julich talked about heading into the Tour as a support rider for Basso.”I was flattered by (Riis) saying this, but all that matters is what happens in the race. I feel that after suffering through the Giro with allergies that I am back in top shape and ready for the Tour to get started,” Julich said.Julich was ready to be that loyal lieutenant to the 28-year-old Basso. In the Tour, individuals win but it takes a team to do the work.”It’s a natural thing and one that I’m comfortable with,” Julich said last week about his support role. “I have had others ride for me in the past and it’s time for me to pay that debt.”For Julich, the philosophy of cycling and his career bubble out like champagne.”Cycling, like life, is all about give and take, and now it is my turn to give, he said.But now, Julich might go from loyal lieutenant to captain in less than a day.Julich’s strengths make him a contender. He’s a strong time-trialer and climber. To win the Tour, contenders must do both well.Before Basso was sent home, Julich talked about what it would be like to accomplish the ultimate goals of the Tour de France.”Winning a stage of the Tour or wearing the yellow jersey has always been and will always be a dream and a goal of mine,” he said.
This is the biggest doping scandal to hit the Tour since 1998, when customs agents found a huge stash of drugs in a team car.It’s ironic that Julich has been pulled back into the spotlight with this Tour, since his greatest Tour performance was in 1998 when he finished third. That year, big things were on the horizon for a 26-year-old Julich, who appeared poised to be the next great American cyclist.Instead, it was Armstrong, who rebounded from cancer to win seven straight Tours from 1999 to 2005.”After 1998, I thought that I would be at that level for years to come, but it didn’t work out that way,” Julich said.Place in historyFor America, cycling has always been a sport in the shadows. Greg LeMond won three Tours and Armstrong’s career is one of legend.Looking at Julich’s career, an argument can be made that he’s the third greatest American cyclist ever.This will be Julich’s ninth Tour. Only George Hincapie (10) and Armstrong (11) have more as Americans.Julich has 19 career victories, including being the first American to win the Paris-Nice race, but it’s the number three that gives credence to the argument.His 1998 third-place Tour de France finish, puts him in rare company. Only LeMond, Armstrong and Julich have ever stood on the podium.
Julich also won a bronze medal in the 2004 Olympics in the time-trial event. The race was won by American Tyler Hamilton, who has been dogged by doping allegation since and is currently serving a two-year suspension for doping.It was the Olympic podium and bronze medal that Julich remembers most.”I have to say the best cycling memory was getting off the Olympic podium and having my daughter Olivia run into my arms and play with my medal,” he saidThe futureAt 34, Julich is still looking down the road.”I have a contract for this year and next, then we will see if I still have the passion to continue,” he said. “I would love to do another Olympic games, so perhaps that will be my motivation to continue until 2008.”After the fourth stage of the Tour, Julich is in 22th place, 25 seconds behind leader Tom Boonen of Belgium. Hincapie is in third place, five seconds behind Boonen.Editor’s Note: Bobby Julich will be providing an exclusive diary for ESPN.com throughout the Tour de France.Vail, Colorado