With ‘swagger back,’ good things happening for Glenwood’s Julich | AspenTimes.com

With ‘swagger back,’ good things happening for Glenwood’s Julich

Frank LitskyThe New York Times

PHILADELPHIA – In 1998, when he was 26, Bobby Julich finished third overall in the Tour de France.That should have touched off a career in the mold of Lance Armstrong, Julich’s former teammate. Instead, for years Julich was a professional disaster.”It was the best thing and the worst thing at the same time,” Julich said Friday in an interview. “Financially, it turned out great, but it fast-tracked me to things I couldn’t handle. It ruined my life for five years. I didn’t have a game plan, I didn’t have the support I needed. And when you have doubt, your competitors are going to see it.”From 1999 to 2003, Julich, a native of Glenwood Springs, was an underachieving American on three European teams. Then, in 2004, he joined the Danish-based team CSC and its director, Bjorne Riis, who won the Tour de France in 1996.When he signed Julich, Riis told Bicycling magazine: “He’s a great athlete, a big engine. What interested me was the chance to take a guy who everybody thought was finished and make him a good rider again.”Finally, Julich said, he had a leader who provided advice and support.”Bjorne treated me like a man, not a child,” Julich said. “Before, I had no one to help me or advise me. That’s not very productive in sports. I realize that once you get your swagger back, good things will happen.”The good things started quickly. In last summer’s Athens Olympics, Julich won the bronze medal in the road time trial. Two months ago, he became the first American to win the weeklong Paris-to-Nice race, whose previous winners included such cycling icons as Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx and Miguel Indurain. This year, Julich and George Hincapie are tied for eighth place on the new international pro tour, the highest of any Americans.On Sunday, Julich planned to race in the 21st U.S. professional championship, a 156-mile race mostly through Fairmont Park. Next are the Tour of Switzerland, June 11-19; and the Tour de France, July 2-24.”Now I’m where I want to be,” Julich said. “I have more legs left, and more goals. I want to win a national championship. I want to win a stage and wear yellow in the Tour de France. I have another Olympics in me.”Julich has rebounded in a big way.”From 1999 to 2003 I was in a slump,” he said. “Some slumps last a week. Mine was four or five years. I wasn’t accomplishing what I wanted to. I was always there, but I just couldn’t make it to the next level.”Fortunately, I never lost confidence in myself. Something inside was saying, ‘It’s not over yet.’ I could have retired as a stereotypical sour athlete, and almost did a few times, but something always led me back on the bike. It’s who I am.”At 5-foot-11 and 154 pounds, Julich is not physically imposing, and he once lacked self-confidence.”When I finished third in the Tour in 1998 I wasn’t ready for the podium,” he said. “That was the year some top riders were barred because of drugs, and if everyone was in the race maybe I would have been top 10, but not podium. In the years that followed, I was trying too hard to replicate a result I didn’t know how I got in the first place.”Now he enjoys his work, and his place in cycling history is secure.”He’s one of the greatest American riders ever,” said Davis Phinney, who won Tour de France stages in 1986 and 1987. “Except for Lance Armstrong and Greg LeMond, no other American has been on the final podium of the Tour. It’s a very sweet story that he found his way back.”Julich appreciates his turnaround.”I could have given up, but I didn’t fail,” he said. “It didn’t ruin me. That’s what I’m most proud of. Now I’m old enough to enjoy the ride.”