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An interview with Bobby Julich, August 15, 2005
Riding out the wave
After a strong Tour de France and an even stronger performance at the Tour of Benelux, Bobby Julich is definitely riding a wave through to the shore. Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes caught up with the American in recent days, talking to him as he completed his preparations for the Deutschland Tour. He is currently fourth overall in the ProTour rankings and headed to Germany aiming for another strong ride.
Bobby Julich has had a superb season, winning Paris Nice and the Criterium International in the spring, riding to a solid 17th overall in the Tour de France, then pulling a stomping time trial out of the hat earlier this month to win his second ProTour event, the Eneco Tour of Benelux. Julich had gone into the latter event hoping for a strong performance, but his chances looked to have been compromised when he conceded time early on in the prologue. Describing the race as "my worst time-trial ever," the Olympic TT bronze medallist finished 25 seconds back from the day's winner Rik Verbrugghe, having lost out on a clear run due to heavy rain.
"I felt fantastic. But just couldn't go fast because the conditions were so dangerous," he said. "When you are racing in the wet against a guy in the dry, you lose time in three different ways. You lose it going into the turns, then you lose coming out of them, plus you lose it with the extra energy you need to get back up to speed after those corners. You are basically just losing time hand over fist, compared to somebody who is riding the dry."
Julich left it all to a last-gasp burst, dominating the final race against the clock and wresting the jersey from the shoulders of a disappointed Verbrugghe. His confident performance was a world away from the his displays two years ago, the then Telekom rider suffering poor morale after several disappointing seasons. He was on the verge of retirement, but has grown in strength, confidence and self-belief since moving to Team CSC.
Julich said he's not surprised by his good post-Tour form. "It has been planned since December," he explained. "The idea was that Jens and I would ride hard in the early part of the season, in the ProTour races such as Paris-Nice, Pays-Basque and Criterium International, then take a break. We'd be as good as was possible in the Tour for Ivan, while also using the Tour as build-up for the ProTour races afterwards."
Cyclingnews: First off, well done on your Eneco Tour of Benelux victory. You had lost some time in the prologue and started the final stage 12th overall, 37 seconds back, but won. Did you think the overall victory was beyond you at that point, or were you still optimistic?
Bobby Julich: I was a little nervous, because Verbrugghe is a good rider. He hasn't shown that much in the past year or two, but I know he's a good rider. He holds the record for the fastest prologue ever, after all. That made me a little nervous about losing time to him, but also I had lost time to Erik Dekker and Thomas Dekker by that point - pretty much everyone, really, because on paper the prologue was probably the worst time trial of my career, I think. I was like 90th, or something.
It didn't look too good. But I never lost motivation. I was a little disappointed because it just seemed like the race was working against me, from the prologue and then onto the next day when I lost time. Then I got caught with a break in the peloton and lost another four seconds, and I was also losing basically seconds each day to those guys who were getting time bonuses - Verbrugghe and Erik Dekker.
CN: How did you deal with that?
BJ: I just decided that I was going to concentrate on Saturday and Sunday stages and see what I could do. I felt really good on the Sunday stage but that was the day that they took us the wrong way, and basically cancelled the hardest part of the race. I still attacked near the end of that stage but the guys I was with weren't strong enough; Rabobank and Quick.Step were pulling full gas to bring us back before the finish.
Then, with a dangerous roads, the rain, the cold, I was like, "man, I have such good form now, I just hope that I can use it." So I decided to relax, not stress so much about losing time to these guys with the bonus seconds, and then just go 100% in the time trial. 37 seconds sounds like a lot of time to Verbrugghe but I just had a feeling that I would be able to do it. In fact, I was actually more worried about getting the 24 seconds back on Erik Dekker than 36 on Verbrugghe.
CN: You say that the prologue was your worst time trial ever. Was that all down to the weather, or were you on an off day too?
BJ: No, I felt fantastic. But just couldn't go fast because the conditions were so dangerous. When you are racing in the wet against a guy in the dry, you lose time in three different ways. You lose it going into the turns, then you lose coming out of them, plus you lose it with the extra energy you need to get back up to speed after those corners. You are basically just losing time hand over fist, compared to somebody who is riding the dry. That was the only reason why I was disappointed in the prologue.
CN: Had you expected to come out of the Tour de France so strong?
BJ: Yes, it has been planned since December. The idea was that Jens and I would ride hard in the early part of the season, in the ProTour races such as Paris-Nice, Pays-Basque and Criterium International, then take a break. We'd be as good as was possible in the Tour for Ivan, while also using the Tour as build-up for the ProTour races afterwards.
After all, there is no point in having all your riders 100% focused on the same races, such as the Tour de France - that is what Bjarne was smart about; he looked at the talents of Jens and I and saw that we were guys who could win five to eight-day stage races. Then he looked at the talent of Ivan, who is capable of winning a Grand Tour. So he made the plan and so far we are sticking picture-perfect to that plan that we made back in December.
CN: What was your assessment of the Tour? You did a very good time trial at the end and placed 17th overall - I think that was the same position you finished in 1997?
BJ: Yes, yes. I was 17th in 1997 and then I was 18th in 2001 and 17th this year. So it seems like top 20 in the Tour is well within my reach. But not much more than that anymore, I guess.
CN: But I guess you were happy enough with the race, helping Ivan to second overall?
BJ: Yeah, I wasn't riding for G.C. at all. Ivan was the leader and there were a couple of days where I really felt that it would have been better if I'd gone into the breakaway. It was actually the day that George won; that was the day that I had to sit on my brakes not to get into the breakaway, so I could stay with Ivan. Apart from that day, I felt like I did every stage to the best of my ability.
It is a bit of a bummer because I could have gone in that move and neutralised the danger that Hincapie brought by being in the breakaway. Later on, once they went really hard on the tough climbs try and catch up to the break; I got dropped and wasn't able to help Ivan anyway! So that was the one day in the Tour when I was kind of bummed, but overall I was very, very happy with the way things went. It was definitely my most enjoyable Tour ever. Not the easiest, but the most enjoyable.
CN: Was that down to team spirit, or what was the reason?
BJ: Yes, it was definitely up to the guys that we had on the team and the support that we had there. We were very well taken care of. And it was also...besides the two isolated instances, with Zabriskie and Jens, we really didn't have any other drama like the crashes we had last year. Last year was pretty terrible - I broke my wrist and Carlos fractured some ribs and poor Kurt-Asle Arvesen was in trouble, so this year was much easier to keep the momentum going. And then having Ivan performing so well in the last week was just icing on the cake.
CN: Ivan is obviously flying now as well - he did really well in the Tour of Denmark. Do you notice a change in him this year, mentally?
BJ: I think we have definitely seen the birth of a champion. Okay, the criteriums that he does are one thing but to still be motivated enough to win four out of the six stages in the Tour of Denmark was pretty amazing. With each win I think he is going to learn even more and know what it's like to win, and actually to be hungry to win more. I was really happy to see him riding so well; I just wish he had taken a little bit easier on Jens Voigt because Jens really wanted to win that time trial (laughs).
CN: You have won two ProTour events this year and, in addition, the Criterium International. The Tour of Germany is next for you, so what are your goals there? Can you win the ProTour overall, is it possible?
BJ: To be honest, I'm not really worried about that. I know it's nice having points and all, but Di Luca got so many early on, then took two months off racing. Now he's racing again in races that suit him and picking up points in the one-day events like San Sebastian, Zurich or Lombardy. I don't think he is really catchable. But I am going to the Tour of Germany aiming to do well. My legs feel very, very good. I'm actually starting to get a little bit of a cold since the time trial in Benelux and in the past couple of days it has been kind of bugging me a little bit with stuffed-up sinuses and all that. But as long as I keep my health, I think I can do well at the Tour of Germany.
But to battle for the overall of the ProTour means I have to race all the way to the Tour of Lombardy. That is in the middle of October and I've been racing at training camps since, basically, January. I'm happy with what I already have in the pot. That said, I think I owe it to myself to roll until the wheels fall off because there were four or five years where I didn't get any results, as much as I tried. Okay, I have been racing a lot this year, but there is no reason to stop when you are still good, in my opinion. For me, I'm going to do my best until the wheels come off. As we know, the end of the season can come after the Tour - it's all in your head. Everybody has good condition after the Tour but it is down to who is already thinking about playing golf and watching football games, or who is really thinking about doing what it takes to be successful.
CN: Can you keep things going on to the worlds - bring your current form into the time trial there?
BJ: Ah, it's going to be hard. I have the 10-day Tour of Germany to deal with, first off. I am kind of bummed that a ProTour race in August thinks it has the right to make it 10 days long. It is right before the Vuelta so the guys doing the Vuelta might, in five weeks, do 31 days of racing. That is quite a bit. I think five to eight days is the maximum a ProTour event should be, and 10 days is very long, especially at this time of year.
After that, I have basically two weeks where I am backing off. I'm going to take a week totally off the bike and determine then if I am able to recover a little bit, do the Tour of Poland and the worlds, or if am just clapped-out. Either way, I have had a successful season. But I would really like to give it a nudge in the world championship time trial this year.
CN: Have you seen the course? Is it too flat for your liking, or is it okay?
BJ: I have not seen the course yet but Giovanni Lombardi, who lives in Madrid, told me that he is going to ride it in the next week and let me know. You know, he is definitely an important part of the team, the metre on the road, the captain...whatever you want to call it...he has huge experience. If he says it [the course] is good and I'm feeling great, well then why not? That said, I did well in a flat time trial in Benelux. The Olympics wasn't exactly my sort of course either and I was able to medal there, so I think if you have good form, it doesn't matter. Even if it is a downhill time trial, if you are going well it's worth giving it a shot for a world championship medal.
CN: After that, what will you do to unwind in the winter?
BJ: That is still totally up in the air. My wife and I think about that later...it all depends when I stop my season. Last year I stopped in September and spent a month at altitude, then went down and back to Philadelphia for a month, then back to altitude for the final two months of my off-season. So it was a long off season for me...September to December, that was a lot. But it seemed to have been a pretty good plan.
I am going to make that determination once I officially end my season.
CN: You have a year remaining on your contract with Team CSC?
BJ: Actually, I did have a contract for next year, but Bjarne has since decided to open up the contract and basically make a new one for two more years. It's rewarding me for sticking with him when he was having money problems, and also for doing so well.
I think I definitely have made sacrifices in relation to the results I have been getting, so it's great to get this deal.
CN: Presumably your motivation must be very good? Okay, you are coming to the end of what was a long season and are undoubtedly looking forward to a break, but you'll go into next year with some nice motivation as well.
BJ: Absolutely. But the season isn't over yet. You have to take advantage of good form when you have it; there were four or five years when I was begging to have any sort of a result but I came away with nothing. Like I said before, I'm going to ride this wave out all the way to the beach.