By Charlie Melk
Those of you who have read any of my previous articles at the Daily Peloton
the past few months know that I have been getting pretty fed up with the
extended frigidity that most often comes with trying to get in shape in the
northern Midwestern US during February and March. It happens every year, but I never
get used to it. Well, I’m happy to report that we have had an entire week in a
row now of actual spring-like temperatures and even some clear skies
to complement the warmth. This might not sound like much to those of you in the
Sun Belt, but I finally got in my first 200 mile week this season, and it feels
A good portion of those 200 miles happened yesterday morning, when fifteen of
us got together at 9am for the first real group ride of 2004. The plan, I
thought, was to go out and ride a nice and easy 60-70 miles. That’s what “they”
said it was going to be. I’m sure you all know who “they” are. Now, for me
“nice and easy” equals “FLAT and SLOW,” because this is very close to my actual
condition at the moment—FAT and SLOW.
Well, as so often happens, it all started off nice and easy, but ten miles
into the ride some over-achiever at the front (yes, I was wheel-sucking at the
back) turned off of the nice flat road right along the Mississippi River and
into the bluffs—Mohawk Valley Road to be exact—doesn’t exactly sound nice and
easy anymore, does it? I think my exact quote when I saw us turning onto “that
road” was, “Oh, I don’t like the looks of this at all.” Unbeknownst to me at
this point, Mohawk Valley Road would be climb number one of four for the day.
So, I slogged my wheezing carcass up number one with all the grace of
an obese elephant riding a unicycle (only a very slight exaggeration).
Number two was better for me—a consistent mellow grade with a bit of a
tailwind. I actually started feeling good. Number three, also known as
“The Elevator Shaft,” wasn’t even too horrible, even when one of my friends,
whose computer has a gradient function, told me that it was pretty much 15% all
the way up for a little bit more than a mile. Keep in mind that he told me this
at the top of the climb! Number four was long and steep, and it was one
of those dastardly climbs that has two or three trick endings. But if you keep
pedaling, eventually you will reach the top, right? And, small victory, I
wasn’t even the last person to get there. Last of all—surprise of surprises—I
didn’t even bonk, which was my secret fear all day—bonus.
That first group ride of the year is always telling—and this year it told me
that I’m farther along than I thought I was. It’s good to be pleasantly
surprised. It’s also nice to be able to compare the kind of riding I do, as a
mere mortal, to the kind of riding that is going on in the professional peloton
right now, even inspirational—all of us probably do it to some extent—maybe
because there are more similarities than differences.
The first “in-person” confluence of these two worlds in my own life occurred
over 13 years ago at the 1990 National Cyclocross Championships, which were
held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I had always gazed in wonder at the pictures of
Roland Liboton and Adri Van Der Poel in Winning Magazine, duking it out
in the mud and snow of Holland and Belgium, and thought that it wasn’t so
different from the mud and snow of Wisconsin. Whereas the Tour de France seemed
so distant and otherworldly, cyclocross was something that I thought I
might be able to understand right away—it seemed like part of my world. So
when I heard that the national championships were going to be held so close to
home, I knew that I had to be there.
The thing that most stuck in my mind from that experience was watching Bobby
Julich thrash the junior field thoroughly and completely. I was standing just
past the mud bog and service area and just before the stairs that the riders had
to run up the side of a steep hill every lap. Let me tell you—no one that day,
whether junior or senior, made running up those stairs or plowing through that
mud look any easier than Bobby J. did.
Bobby Julich. Courtesy
Not much later in his career, he would go on to improve vastly on that
result, and a host of other prestigious junior wins, by compiling a résumé that
led a lot of us to believe that he was the next great stage race hope to emerge
from the U.S. since Andy Hampsten and Greg Lemond, including a 5th on GC at the
Tour Dupont as a first year senior in 1991 and 7th overall a few years later, a
win at Criterium International in 1998, 9th overall at the Vuelta a España, and
the crowning jewel—his 3rd overall at the Tour de France in 1998, when he was
always at the front on every critical mountain stage and time trialed like a man
But in a career of ups and downs, Bobby seemed to lose the plot, and he never
seemed to get back to his former level after the 1998 Tour. It was frustrating
to watch his results from week to week and year to year. The guy was always
between 20th and 30th, which showed that the legs were there, but he never
seemed to be able to get back the winning mentality—he’d lost his edge.
I read his journals, and he talked about morale a lot. He talked about
having “great morale” a lot, but when you talk about it as much as he did
without any results to back it up, it sounds a lot more like someone trying to
talk himself into feeling confident rather than someone who actually feels that
way. Thinking and talking about morale is good to a point, but it makes you
wonder which action predicates the other. All other things being equal, as the
head goes so do the legs.
Well, it may be hasty to declare this folks, but I do believe that Bobby J.
has found his groove again, with both his head and his legs seemingly in perfect
synch. It has been a long and uncertain road, but the move to CSC this year has
apparently been very good for him, as his 4th overall at Critérium
International, 3rd overall at Paris-Nice, and 8th overall at the Tour
Méditerranéen, suggests. In his own words:
“Since my arrival at CSC, I
honestly felt like I had found something special. After the first training
camp, I figured that it couldn't get better from there, but the truth is that
each day it does get better. All the members of the team do their job with
passion and that makes it a real pleasure to be part of this team. Things are
going well right now and I am really looking forward to the rest of the
It makes me think that we might be seeing quite a bit more of Mr. Julich come
April in the Dodge Tour de Georgia; in June, at the Wachovia Series; and
hopefully in July, at the Tour de France. It also makes me think that Chris
Horner won’t find winning quite so easy next month. Is anyone else as happy
about that as I am?
Welcome back, Bobby. You’ve got a lot of us wondering how much better it can
get now too.