I missed an opportunity of a lifetime, but I'll race again

Updated: July 10, 2006, 4:42 PM ET
By Bobby Julich | Special to ESPN.com

Moving to the mountains
(Photo: Getty Images)

Over a week into the Tour, riders are starting to get tired. Tuesday will be the last chance for couple of days for riders to go into a breakaway and spoil the sprinters' run at another stage win.

On Wednesday, we move into the Pyrenees. This is the first day where you can separate contenders from pretenders, but it's also not going to be a stage that's very decisive. The last climb comes about 50 kilometers from the finish, so even if you're dropped, you could come back with the help of teammates. Most riders shouldn't lose time to the favorites.

Thursday, however, is a very important day. This was the day Team CSC had originally planned to be super aggressive behind Ivan Basso. The stage finishes uphill, so if you're good, you're good all the way to the finish. If you're in trouble, you don't have any descent or flats to recover. The big time gaps will come here.

Floyd Landis
I think he's in position he wants to be in. At the Dauphiné Libéré, he was good in the time trial, but not in mountains. Hopefully, he's over that and he'll be able to ride well. I don't think he has to attack in the mountains. I think he should wait and see how the race goes during the second day in Pyrenees and let T-Mobile control the race for him. I would suggest he ride very conservatively, especially in Pyrenees. He can try to make a little bit of a difference in the last few days in the Alps. If he has to do any finishing touches, he can do that in the time trial.

Levi Leipheimer
He lost over six minutes in the time trial, which is a lot. He's going to have to be very aggressive from here on out in every stage in the mountains. When I saw Saturday's time trial course, I immediately thought George Hincapie, Landis, Dave Zabriskie and myself would do well. Levi would not be as good because the course didn't suit him. I didn't get to see his ride yet, so I don't know exactly why he did so poorly. I think it would be really difficult for him to win the overall, but he's a climber and he'll be very dangerous in the mountains. Other riders could look at his big-time gap and make the mistake of giving him too much rope in the mountains, so his race is far from over.

George Hincapie, Dave Zabriskie
I think they are both in the same situation. They've worked really hard on their climbing. George has been a big helper in the past, but there's a big different between being a helper and your stage being done with five kilometers left and being a leader who has to attack in those last five kilometers.

A dark horse?
Right now, the race is too close to call. I don't want to put any pressure on him or call too much attention to him or seem like I am saying this because he's on my team, but Carlos Sastre has a very good chance of getting on the podium and maybe even a chance of winning. He had a respectable time trial on a course that's not suited for him because he's such a small climber. There is a Pyrenees finish in Spain, a finish that goes uphill, which will be more motivation for him. If he rides correctly and doesn't have race lead too early, he'll be able to attack at he right time and gain time on important riders. If there's anyone who would be a dark horse in this race, it would be Carlos.

-- Bobby Julich

This is the first time I am checking in with ESPN.com since I crashed out of the Tour de France on Saturday.

I am really kicking myself right now. Every time I close my eyes, realizing that the Tour was so wide open, it was my opportunity of a lifetime, it really was. With everything that went on that day before the crash, the morning, my warm-up, my mental frame of mind, I really thought I was going to accomplish two of my goals, winning the stage and taking the yellow jersey.

That's what hurts the most, not being able to get that ride out. It's stuck inside of me right now. When I am lying on my couch or that hospital bed, that's the most difficult part, still having that energy in my body. That's why, when something like this happens, you wish it was near the finish line, because you know what the outcome would have been. The hardest part is trying to come to grips with "what might have been."

It took me a few minutes to get over the initial shock of the crash. Right out of the start house, my legs were going around by themselves. I had planned to take the first 6-7 kilometers of the race very easy because it was a long time trial and I wanted to build some progression. But not even a kilometer or so into it, the next thing I knew, I was on the ground. I just wanted to press the reset button and start over. It just seemed like a bad dream.

Officials kept yelling at me, "Don't get up, don't get up!" But I told them to get me off to the side of the road so I wouldn't inhibit the next rider coming up behind me. They got me to my feet and I walked it off a bit. Then, I looked down at my hand and it was a half-dollar-sized open wound. I could see all muscles and tendons and bones in my right wrist, and right then and there, I said to myself that this was a little more serious than I thought. If it would have happened closer to the finish, I would have gotten back on my bike, but when you see parts of your hand that you're probably not supposed to see, it changed my thinking dramatically.

What can I say? I have to take responsibility for it, it's my fault. I came into the turn a little bit too fast, and combined with these red pebbles on the side of the road, I felt my bike sliding out. I didn't really hit the brakes or anything because I thought I could ride it out. Then, all of the sudden, it was too much. It reminded me of the Pirelli Tires ad slogan: "Power without control is nothing." I had the power, but maybe I was thinking too far ahead. I wasn't even thinking of that turn, I was thinking about after that turn, of getting things up to full speed. There were some barriers set up, and I couldn't see the full sweep of the turn. When we saw the course in the morning, I was able to see the turns pretty clearly. And without those barriers there, it gives you a much more open view of what you were going around.

But I am not trying to find an excuse. I go 100 percent in time trials, I take risks in every time trial I do. Numerous times I've taken turns too fast and almost paid the price. I'm the first one to criticize going that fast around a turn so early in a race. It looked really stupid because it happened so early in the race, but it could happen at any turn in any time trial. I've definitely pushed the limit, and that's why when you're on the limit, the line is very thin. Of course, I have regrets and wished I could have taken that time and gone a little slower, but that's not what I do.

I was taken to a hospital and my doctor told me this wasn't just a walk in the park. A scan showed a microfissure crack in the scaphoid bone. It was non-displaced, but it's a bone that received very little blood flow and it's such a small bone that it can die very easily. So, my doctor said that if we didn't handle it the right way, it could not only affect my career, but my overall quality of life. We all know how much we use our hands in everyday actions.

There was no skin graft, but I had surgery to improve my joint mobility, cut off the dead skin and stitch the wound together with about 15-20 outside stitches. I am wearing a removable splint until the skin heals over the next 7-8 days. Then, there is a possibility of a cast. I don't know if I am going to go with that recommendation. It's hard to ride a bike with a cast. I tried to do it in 2004 and it eventually forced me to end my season early because it was too much of a hassle -- you can't shift and brake the bike with a cast. I plan on seeing another specialist and seeing what my options are.

The hand is really swollen and I also have normal road rash on my left hip and ribs and elbow, so I am limping a bit. I am back in Nice, France, trying to move around as much as possible. I am going a little stir crazy here by myself before my family arrives Tuesday. It's not so easy trying to do menial tasks with one hand; I'm finding different ways to open peanut butter jars, I'll tell you that! I am hoping to get back on the turbo trainer in a few days. I want to come back from this as soon as possible.

It's tough to be patient at a time like this, but experience has shown me that you need to take the time to let your body heal. It's also not easy for me to sleep, I have so much energy. I can only sleep for an hour or so before waking up and thinking, "I have to go out and see the time trial course." Then, I roll over and see the wounds and realize there's no time trial today, pal.

I haven't seen the crash yet. My 4-year-old daughter was devastated. When she crashes on her bike, my wife and I brush her off and say, "Get back on your bike, you're OK!" So, when I spoke to her the night of the crash, she said "Daddy, you fell off your bike today, so you get back on and go again!" I had to tell her that I couldn't because I had some "boo-boos." She started crying and it broke my heart. I am very appreciative of my wife's support. Angela has had to deal with the stress of this and packing for a big trip, all while seven months pregnant. During the Tour, you're surrounded by so many people, 24 hours a day, you just look forward to going into your room and being by yourself and reading a book, but now I'm looking forward to being with my family.

I hope to watch the crash so I can learn from it. I analyze all my time trials, the good and the bad, and this one is no different. I'd like to see what went wrong. It happened so fast, obviously speed was a big problem. I can't changed what happened, but I can learn from my mistakes and move on.

I know some have compared this crash to the one I suffered in 1999 [Julich crashed in a Tour time trial, fracturing his left elbow and breaking two ribs], but it's so different. I had a lot of self doubt after the 1999 incident. I kept saying to myself, "Did I really deserve to be on the podium in 1998? Was it only because a lot of the top riders weren't there?" That really messed with me mentally. But now, I don't have those self doubts. I've taken a race-to-race approach the past few years and it's really paid off for me. It's been unbelievable. I've gotten so much out of those past few years and proved to myself that I am one of the best natural cyclists in the world and that I deserve to be at the level I am at now. That's my biggest accomplishment as a cyclist -- actually realizing that no matter what happens, I've proved to myself that I am one of the best. That's all I really care about, not the commentary or opinions.

I don't want to pigeonhole myself and say I am coming back [to the Tour de France] in 2007. It sounds cliché, but since my 2004 season, I've learned to take to day by day. With that attitude, I've been able to do almost everything I wanted to do. When you focus too much on one race, especially the Tour, you start to make excuses for yourself. "Oh, I'm not on form in February," or "I'm not at my race weight in April because I have two more months to get there." It becomes an excuse not to achieve in the present. I don't have many years left as I'll turn 35 in November, so I am not going to pick out one race and try to redeem myself. I am going to redeem myself to myself by just enjoying the racing over the next few years.

After the next few weeks, I'll decide what's next. I won't rule out our national championships in early September and I'll talk to the Team CSC directors and see what I should do. I won't miss the birth of my daughter for a bike race, that's out of the question, but I realize I do have a job and obligations and I want to race again.

So, to the many people who have called or sent e-mails, I want to thank you for all the well wishes. Although I am out of the Tour, I will continue to give my take on the race, so I hope you'll continue to check in!

Bobby Julich, a member of Team CSC, will be providing an exclusive diary for ESPN.com throughout the Tour de France. The American has been a professional cyclist since 1992. He finished third overall in the 1998 Tour de France and won last year's Paris-Nice race. For more information on Bobby, check out http://www.bobbyjulich.com.

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