America's new LeMond
Julich is this year's tour suprise
Posted: Wednesday July 22, 1998 06:04 PM
PLATEAU DE BEILLE, France (CNN/SI) -- Although this year's Tour de France has labored under the shadow of a drug scandal, one man has broken free and has shone in the first week, his name Bobby Julich of America.
Julich who was largely unknown prior to the race is now the name on everybody's lips. Julich is currently in second-place, lying just one minute, 11 seconds behind overall leader Jan Ullrich of Germany.
The young American once dreamed of emulating compatriots Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong in making cycling a popular sport in the United States and it appears the 26-year-old from Glenwood Springs, Colorado may be the man to do so.
Julich has been a worthy performer, taking third place in the demanding 58-kilometers time trial won by Ullrich in Correze last week before climbing with the best in the two mountain stages in the Pyrenees.
Julich performance in last year's tour perked the interest of Telekom team chief Wlater Godefroot.
He saw in this all-rounder, at ease on flat roads as well as in the climbs, an ideal lieutenant to Ullrich. Julich turned down the offer and is now the German's leading rival.
If the American decided to stay with French team Cofidis, it is only out of loyalty for a group who took him on board after he had struggled for years to find a job in the peloton.
In 1993, Julich was out of work. A cycling part-timer, he trained on his own and had to ask his banker to lend him money before entering races.
At the time, nobody would bet on his chances except his school-teaching fiancee, who decided to teach him not to give up.
"When I was a kid, I tried all the traditional American sports like baseball, football or skiing but I finally took up cycling," he said.
The choice owed a lot to his father, a triathlete, who took him when he went training.
"The first time I went riding with my dad, I told myself this is it, it's great," he said.
"There also was Greg LeMond, who was an example for me. I must have been 10 or 12 and I was watching him on television. At first I could not believe he was an American with such a name. But then I saw the flag beside his name on the bike."
Julich, who also comes from the same state as former Giro d'Italia (Tour of Italy) winner Andy Hampsten, lost no time trying to become a professional rider.
Like most Americans, he turned profession while riding for Motorola, staying with them for two seasons in 1995 and 1996 before being spotted by talent scout Cyrille Guimard for his Cofidis team.
Guimard launched him on the tour in 1997.
"Last year I was too impressed. During the race I would think about too many things, little technical details about my bike or feeding and I could not focus on what I had to do," he said.
"This year I feel much calmer. I've learnt a lot. I don't feel any more stress."
Julich started the tour as a teammate for Italian Francesco Casagrande, who was sixth last year, but when his leader gave up after a crash, he was compelled to follow fresh ambitions.
"My aim this season is to do better than the last. Maybe in the top 10 or, why not, top five," he said.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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