Glenwood toasts Julich
Bobby Julich held an Olympic medal in his hands in Glenwood Springs last winter. He wore one around his neck Wednesday in Athens, Greece.The 32-year-old Glenwood Springs High School graduate and professional cyclist took third place yesterday in the men’s road time trial. (See related story on page A1.)Julich was among the standouts in a record-setting day for U.S. cyclists, as they took three of the six medals awarded in the men’s and women’s road time trials.Julich’s Olympic medal may be a first for a Glenwood grad.”I don’t know of any other Glenwood student that’s participated in the Olympics,” said Mike Wells, who is the principal at the school and has worked there since 1980.Willa Soncarty, registrar at the Frontier Historical Museum, said she was unable to find any reference to any Glenwood resident ever medaling in the Olympics.”I can’t think of a soul,” agreed Don Vanderhoof, a retired banker and former mayor in Glenwood who grew up in town and is intimately familiar with its history.Jeanne Golay is a Glenwood resident who took sixth in the 1992 Barcelona Summer Games – also in road cycling – shortly after moving to town.”It’s a great day for cycling,” Golay said of the U.S. performances Wednesday. “I wish I could have seen it.”The valley’s ties to Olympic road cycling run even deeper, which explains Julich’s earlier encounter with an Olympic medal. Alexi Grewal of Aspen was a surprise winner in the men’s road race in 1984 in Los Angeles.Julich’s mom, Bernadette, who works for Colorado Mountain College, remembers the moment well. She said the family were at Harvey Gap watching the race on a portable TV, driving around in an effort to get a better reception.
Grewal’s victory inspired 12-year-old Bobby to get into bike racing.But it was another moment involving Grewal last winter that inspired him to try to get on this year’s Olympic team and seek a podium finish.Julich was in town with his wife, Angela, and daughter, Olivia, now nearly two, dining at the Sopris Restaurant south of Glenwood Springs with his mom, who still lives in Glenwood.Kurt Wigger owns the restaurant and is a longtime friend of Julich’s, as Julich used to work for him as a busboy. And Wigger, who used to race himself, helped sponsor Julich in his early racing years.Wigger also used to ride with Grewal. And last year, Grewal loaned his gold medal to Wigger, who would show it to restaurant patrons. So when the Julichs came in to eat, out came the medal.”We passed it around the table. It was just like, ‘Oh my god, the energy, oh my god,'” Bernadette said Wednesday afternoon at her home, between fielding constant phone calls of congratulations and trying to find her son’s race on TV.Wigger remembers Julich’s words that day: “He said, ‘I’m going to bring you another medal.'”At the time, it was saying a lot. Julich wasn’t a cinch by any means to even make the Olympic team. He took third in the 1998 Tour de France, but struggled in recent years. But this year he began riding with a team he has been happy with, CSC, and he has ridden strong. Despite breaking his wrist in this year’s Tour, he finished in fifth place in the final individual time trial.Julich’s successes this year secured him a spot on the Olympic team. But he kept the fact that his wrist was broken secret until the Olympics, so his place on the team would remain secure, Bernadette said.Once it was clear he was going to Athens, a confident local fan base formed behind him.His mom said, “I was expecting a medal since he was first chosen to do it, so I’m really happy for him.”Said Wigger: “I’m not surprised. I told everybody I know he was going to win a medal, I just didn’t know what one.”
Still, he was surprised to hear the news of Julich’s podium finish.”No kidding, no way, oh isn’t that great,” Wigger said. Then he shouted to his staff, “Bobby won the bronze medal!”Charlie Tarver, who owns the Hub of Aspen bike shop, said Julich was riding great heading into the Olympics. And it showed.”I think this is probably the best day of cycling he’s ever had,” he said.Tarver visited Julich in France just after this year’s Tour. Julich used to race for the team sponsored by the shop.”The last race he raced in Aspen, he beat me by about four seconds,” Tarver reminisced Wednesday.Today, the store’s team jerseys have patches on them referring to Julich’s 1998 Tour performance.”We ride with him every day,” Tarver said.Wells, of Glenwood Springs High School, also continues to follow Julich’s career with interest.”I’ve got goose bumps. Wow, that’s very exciting,” he said upon hearing the news.”I’ve been following his career ever since he left, and I talk to his mom regularly about him.”Wells e-mailed Julich with a good-luck message just the other day.
As big as Julich’s Tour finish in 1998 was, “there’s something very special about being an Olympian,” Wells said.He was thrilled that Julich, a 1990 grad, went even further by medaling.”We’re just so proud. What a great accomplishment,” he said. Wells worked closely with Julich during his school years, juggling his schedule so he could train and race while still keeping up with his schooling.”He’s such a quality individual,” Wells said.The school now has a Wall of Pride filled with alumni who have achieved success in sports, politics, art and other fields. It was begun when the school was given a picture of a VeloNews bicycling magazine with Julich’s picture on it.The wall is intended to inspire current students. And cycling enthusiasts hope the medals won by Julich and others Wednesday might help inspire a new generation of cyclists.Tarver also hopes Julich’s medal will motivate him to stick with the sport a bit longer before retiring.”Hopefully it will inspire him for a couple years – we’ll see that boy keep going for a couple of years,” he said.”He’s just a really nice guy. He had a really hard time over the last few years. It’s just great watching him riding all year. He’s done really, really well.”But Wigger figures Julich is driven enough that he probably wishes he had done even better. Then he would have had a different color of medal to bring to the restaurant the next time he’s in town.”He’ll probably say, ‘Kurt, I’m sorry, I went for the gold,’ knowing him.”
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