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An interview with Bobby Julich, March 17, 2004
A man reborn
At 32, Bobby Julich is by all accounts a man reborn. The Colorado native joined the Team CSC this season to ride for team director and '96 Tour de France winner Bjarne Riis. Riis, now known as a master tactician and a great motivator, was eager to give Julich a chance to rediscover his best racing after several seasons without result. For Julich, the camaraderie and support at CSC has already paid off, and for him, CSC is the team he's been looking for his whole career since turning professional in 1992. Story by Chris Henry.
When Team CSC director Bjarne Riis pulled the car alongside Bobby Julich during a pre-season team training camp in Italy, he asked Bobby if he'd be going for a jersey in Paris-Nice. "Hell yeah!" Julich answered. A few minutes later, Julich dropped back to the team car once more to continue the conversation. "Think [race director] Jean-Marie Leblanc will let me go for the young rider's jersey?" he joked.
"Things have been so much better than expected, it's unexpected," says Julich. "This is by far the best team I've ever seen.
"Not only did Bjarne pick the right riders, but it's the whole morale, the professionalism of the team and the staff. Everyone has a real passion, and the people love their jobs. People want to do as much as they can to help... other teams don't do that."
In addition to the chance to tackle the top races in Europe once again, Julich is particularly excited about returning to race in the United States at the Dodge Tour de Georgia. It's been nearly eight years since Julich last raced on home soil, and despite his many successes in Europe, his parting memory of US racing was not a good one.
"I remember it very well; it was the 1996 Thrift Drug Classic in Pittsburgh," he recalls. "It was part of the Olympic trials, and that's when I had that heart episode."
That "heart episode" to which Julich refers was an acceleration of his heart rate beyond normal levels, forcing him to drop out of the race and dashing any hope of competing at the Atlanta Olympics. Not knowing the cause of the problem, Julich feared his racing career was over. Lucky for him, a few weeks later in North Carolina at the continuation of the Olympic trials, Julich happened to meet Michael Lepp, a physiologist and an acquaintance of fellow cyclist George Hincapie.
In a case of good fortune and good timing, Lepp provided the answer to Julich's problem, diagnosing the condition as re-entrant supra ventricular tachycardia (RSVT), caused by either a congenital defect or by a mild virus when he was young. RSVT causes the heart to "short circuit", suddenly accelerating the heart rate to 180-250 BPM at rest. Julich's heart rate went even higher during exercise.
Lepp recommended a procedure to correct the problem once and for all, and Julich has not been slowed by RSVT since. That year he went on to a breakout performance at the Vuelta a España, where he held the best climber's jersey for over a week and finished ninth overall - which, at the time, was the best ever result for an American at the Vuelta. Julich's European career was on a roll, later winning the prestigious Critérium International and take the third step of the podium at the 1998 Tour de France.
Now it's time to give US racing another shot: Julich didn't race the inaugural Tour de Georgia in 2003, but he has many fond memories of racing in the state in his early days as a cyclist.
"I did the Atlanta Grand Prix, the Athens Twilight Criterium... those were the big races when I was growing up," he remembers. "We did them together as the national team: me, Lance [Armstrong], Chann McRae... Georgia is a good place to rekindle big American stage racing."
Following the demise of the Tour du Pont in 1996, big-time international stage racing has been non-existent in the United States. In Julich's eyes, the state of American cycling has declined - not improved - since the glory days of the Tour du Pont in the early 1990s. Despite the increased success of Americans competing in Europe and on European teams, highlighted by Lance Armstrong's five consecutive Tour de France victories, no major sponsors were willing to step in after Du Pont's withdrawal. Julich, like many others, hopes the Tour de Georgia can fill this role once again and create a new momentum in American cycling.
"I'm looking at this as the same thing as when Davis Phinney, Ron Kiefel and all those guys did the Tour de Trump and Tour du Pont," he says with a smile. "That's what motivated me. That first real competition with the professionals motivated me to make the selection for the national team. I'm hoping to help lend some credibility to this race and maybe that can inspire some kids."
Julich also makes no secret about his ambitions for his return to race in Georgia in April: "I haven't raced in the US in eight years, but I want to come back and win the race.
"Obviously it's not that easy, but it falls in a very good period in my spring peak - after a good load of racing, but before a five week break. I'm very motivated, the team is looking forward to it, and I'm expecting to have a lot of fun and be an ambassador for the sport and help the race become a success.
"I've been in contact with some people from CSC in Georgia, and it looks like the days in the mountains will be very challenging," he says, taking a look at the Tour de Georgia route map. Julich is a strong rider in a time trial, and this spring at the Tour Méditerranéen and Paris-Nice stage races in France, he seems to have rediscovered his climbing legs, two components critical to overall success in a stage race.
The Tour de Georgia's April time slot appeals to Julich, who this year will also make a return to the USPRO Championships in Philadelphia in June, hoping to win the stars and stripes jersey of national champion. Between the Tour de Georgia and USPRO events, he will return to his Reno, Nevada, home for five weeks to take a break from racing and spend time training at altitude.
"It's a dream to come back to race a big race in America, take a break, then race the biggest race in the US, the USPRO championships in Philadelphia," says Julich excitedly. "That is the biggest dream of mine; I've been salivating over that jersey for years."
Bobby Julich and his wife Angela have homes in Nice (France), Reno, and outside of Philadelphia in Manayunk, atop the famed Manayunk Wall, the principal difficulty of the USPRO Championships. Racing at home is a motivation for any rider, and after finishing third overall in Paris-Nice, Julich can count on another home-court advantage in Philly this June.
"Plus there's a new race in Vail, Colorado, before the San Francisco Grand Prix in September," he adds. "Team CSC is planning on doing the race, and Vail is near where I grew up."
Perhaps it's time for the Julichs to look for property in Georgia.