Doping scandal taints cyclist raised in Glenwood
He was one of the last great bicyclists of his era not to have been linked to performance-enhancing drugs.
Better yet, he was a product of western Colorado, having grown up in Glenwood Springs and graduated from high school there in 1990.
But now, 2004 Olympic medalist and 1998 Tour de France podium finisher Bobby Julich has joined the ever-growing list of pros to admit having used banned substances while competing in the 1990s and early 2000s.
It’s news that comes as a disappointment to his fans in the Glenwood Springs area. But many of them say it also says more about the depth of the drug problem in the sport at that time than it does about Julich.
“It was just an unfortunate period for the sport of cycling,” said Bill Sommers of Silt, who has gotten chances to ride with Julich, still competes in races himself and has a son who races.
He said Julich’s admission “was the honorable thing to do.”
“I don’t view him differently than I did. I think he’s a class act and he’s a great rider,” Sommers said.
Julich made his admission and issued an apology in a letter last week on the Cycling News website. He said he used a substance known as EPO from 1996-98, including during his third-place Tour finish. The retired racer quit his coaching position Thursday with Team Sky.
His admission comes amid an exploding doping scandal implicating part-time Aspen resident Lance Armstrong and numerous other teammates, and leading to Armstrong’s loss of his seven Tour titles. Julich was on Armstrong teams from 1995-97.
Julich said his wife discovered his doping during the 1998 Tour.
“I knew that it was wrong, but over those two years, the attitude surrounding the use of EPO in the (cycling) peloton was so casual and accepted that I personally lost perspective of the gravity of the situation,” he said in an Associated Press article.
He said he eventually decided to race clean rather than worrying what others were doing. He contends he didn’t dope when he won a bronze medal in the Olympic time trial in Athens. He was upgraded in August from bronze to silver in that race after American Tyler Hamilton admitted doping and lost his gold medal.
When Julich medaled in the Olympics, it was thought to be the first such achievement ever for a Glenwood Springs High School graduate. Garfield County commissioners declared a Bobby Julich Day the next year, when a public reception was held for him when he returned to the area to visit family and friends. A Wall of Pride honoring standout graduates at Glenwood Springs High School was begun when it received a picture of a VeloNews bicycle racing magazine with Julich’s picture on it.
Julich’s time as a student there predates current principal Paul Freeman’s arrival to the school, but he said it’s his firm impression from others that Julich is an “outstanding person, notwithstanding his involvement with drugs.” He believes those who know him will continue to hold him in high regard and be sorry about his current circumstances.
“It was an endemic problem,” Freeman said of the drug use when Julich raced, “and it’s very easy to see how young riders were entrapped in that culture.”
Walt Brown is a Glenwood Springs attorney who had befriended Julich while Julich was growing up and eventually became a cycling fan who rode in Julich’s team bus during the 2005 Tour de France. He said he wondered recently whether Julich might have doped because of the alleged teamwide type of use surrounding the Armstrong allegations.
“You add it all up and it sure was a mess for that sport,” he said.
He said the news about Julich was disappointing and likely will tarnish his cycling reputation and legacy, as has happened to other riders.
But he said the revelation wouldn’t interfere with their friendship.
“I felt he was a great guy and I still do. I’d still back him on anything he’d want to do,” Brown said.
He hopes others will do the same.
“He’s a young guy who made a mistake and he’s paying for it now,” Brown said.
Julich, who once trained on local roads, has since visited with young, up-and-coming Glenwood-area cyclists to encourage the sport’s next generation.
“He was very gracious, very kind,” Sommers said.
Max, Bill Sommers’ 15-year-old son, met Julich once when he was quite young.
“It was a great experience,” he said.
He said learning of Julich’s doping was a surprise, but he thinks that during that era, using banned dugs “was basically the thing to do, I think.”
He thinks Julich and some other cyclists doped “just to be able to compete with all the other people who were competing at that time” while on drugs.
He credits teams for working hard to prevent doping now, and is hopeful that if he ever has the chance to compete professionally, the sport will be clean, or close to it.
Max said he isn’t a big fan of Armstrong because he’s denied doping for so long, and he thinks Julich was wise to come clean.
“He’s definitely a role model. I definitely look up to him even with his confession. I still don’t think any differently of him as a person or as a rider,” Max said.
Julich said in his statement, “To this new generation of young riders; I hope that you will learn from the past and avoid the mistakes many of us have made. It is up to your generation to insure that the issues of the past do not affect your future. I am truly sorry that you all are dealing with something that you had no part in creating.”
Julich’s mother, Bernadette, who still lives in Glenwood Springs, declined to comment when reached by phone Friday.