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EDITIONS
Tour de France Saturday, 25 July, 1998, 13:09 GMT 14:09 UK
The Tour's surprise package
Julich with race leader Ullrich
Bobby Julich is not far away from Jan Ullrich and the coveted yellow jersey
Leaving aside any doping substances that may have been discovered by police, American Bobby Julich is the surprise package of the Tour de France.

Incredibly the 26-year-old from Glenwood Springs, Colorado, has a real chance of finishing on the podium - or just possibly winning the race - in only his second Tour de France.

So far everything has been going right for Julich who was ranked 106th before the tour began and was not among the favourites.

"You have to believe in yourself, which I do. You have to believe in your team, which I do. Luck is a big part of this sport, " explained Julich, who rides for Cofidis.

From finishing the Tour de France last year in a creditable 17th position, he has come on to the extent that when Italian Francesco Casagrande crashed on the 10th stage, he naturally assumed the role of team leader.

He can also be assured of support from his teammates who have performed strongly where others have shown signs of faltering.

After 12 stages Julich lies second, just over a minute behind overall leader and winner last year, Jan Ullrich of Germany.

Girlfriend hugs Bobby Julrich before the 8th stage
A hug from girlfriend before the 8th stage
"I've prepared the whole year for this," Julich said.

"I only thought about this race. I never lost my confidence, even when I was having problems with sickness and injuries. I just wanted to do the races - not over-do it, not show my cards too early - and come to the Tour fresh.

"I've done what I wanted to do: stay out of trouble the first week, do a good time trial the second week and see what happens. Anything can happen in the end."

Improvement

His improvement has been remarkable. He became a professional in 1992 and made steady progress until making it onto the Tour de France 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," Julich said.

"This year I feel much calmer. I've learnt a lot. I don't feel any more stress."

As a child Julich wanted to be a downhill ski racer.

"I asked my father for a pair of skis one day, and he told me only if I trained for skiing in the off-season, too. That's when I started riding.

"My father was doing triathlons at the time, so I just followed him like a son follows his father."

His hero was American Tour winner Greg Lamond.

" 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."

Ironically Telekom team chief Walter Godefroot wanted Julich to work for Ullrich's Telekom team. Julich turned down the offer and is now the German's leading rival.

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