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Thursday, July 13, 2006
On Thursday, I couldn't just sit and watch

By Bobby Julich
Special to ESPN.com

How about the Americans?
It was great to see Americans finish 2-3 in Stage 11. The only thing that surprised me Thursday was the performance of another American, George Hincapie. Here's my take on all three riders from Thursday:

Levi Leipheimer
Anyone that knows Levi knows he's a great climber and he was rewarded with a great result. There will be some who will say, "Oh, Levi must be kicking himself over losing so much time in that time trial." But it's the same situation with my early Tour exit: you have to move on, what's done is done. Levi can't change what's happened in previous stages, but he can now make it a race for himself and his Gerolsteiner team. With his strong ride today, his morale is up, his conditioning is strong and his team will stop questioning his ability. They will rally around him now. If he can continue to attack and keep the overall leaders in check, I believe he will contend for the top 5, if not the podium, in Paris.

Floyd Landis
First off, Floyd should sleep in that yellow jersey Thursday night -- he is only the fifth U.S. rider to wear it. He has to be really excited and he is so deserving of the honor. His wins earlier this season have prepared him for the Tour de France and he showed in Stage 11 that he's the strongest in the field. Now, there's a lot of work ahead for the Phonak rider, and the big question is whether he has the team to support the yellow over the next week and a half.

I realized in the past that the yellow jersey can totally change you and your team. Landis is a marked man. But he's in the position he wants to be in. He can be conservative while marking the other 5 or 6 serious contenders. Riders will attack him in the Alps next week, but Landis is not scared of anything. If something does happen where he isn't the overall leader in Paris, it won't be because of nerves. He has nerves of steel.

George Hincapie
I don't know whether George's injury from earlier this season is catching up with him, but it might have hindered his preparation for the Tour de France. It's easy for me to sit here at home and make comments on his performance. I've known George since he was 12 years old and he will go down as one of the most successful riders in the world. I really think it was unfair at this late in his career to put all of this expectation on him. And he didn't pick an easy race to go over the general classification!

When I first heard that he was challenging for a leadership role and the GC, I didn't really believe it. I just don't think it was fair to push him into that. It's like going from 0-to-60 without shifting gears. He is taller and heavier than most of us out there. The fact that he is so successful with such a bigger frame shows you how talented and professional he is.

-- Bobby Julich

When the T-Mobile team made its first big attack with about 51.5 kilometers to go in Thursday's Stage 11, there was a lot of excitement on the road, and here at home. I couldn't sit on the couch and just watch. I had to get on my bike.

For the first time since I crashed out of the Tour de France during last Saturday's time trial, I broke out the turbo trainer and tested it out. My wife Angela helped me set up the trainer, and then, I was up and running.

The hardest part, given my wrist and hip, was literally getting on and off the bike. Remember, I had the wrist surgery and some major road rash on my hip, plus, I think I might have tweaked my adductor muscle a bit. So, when you have to press down and kick your leg over to mount the bike, it's something that's impossible for me not to feel. Those pressure points are still giving me some trouble. Still, I was able to ride for about an hour and it was so therapeutic to get some of the pent-up energy out of my body. I sat in the saddle with my arms at my sides since I can't grip the handlebars yet. But every day, I'll build up my strength and get more movement in my wrist.

My other "test" Thursday wasn't as difficult, but it was still tempting. My family and I went to the store to stock up on food, a task that can take a while, as you could imagine, with a 6½-month pregnant woman, a 4-year-old and a man with a limp! So, I was pretty hungry by time we left. But on the way out, we spotted a McDonald's (yes, we're in Nice!). My wife asked if I wanted anything. Sometimes, you can turn to comfort food like that to help boost morale, but I declined. Of course, I am not an angel. We plan to dine at my favorite Mexican restaurant in town, Texas City (the one I told you about earlier in the Tour). So, I passed another test -- turning down the Big Mac for the burrito. I can say that the latter has gotten me where I am today!

While I can't definitely yet say what my plans are for the rest of this season, I still have some goals. I have to at this point. So my goal is still to shoot for the Tour of Germany, which starts at the beginning of August. I mentioned my goal to Team CSC director Bjarne Riis just after my crash, but I don't want to press the issue right now since he has some other things on his mind, to say the least! But I don't need Riis to push me or motivate me. I have my goal and I am pushing for it!

Back to that T-Mobile push ...

I didn't think it was a bad move. They saw some of the favorites starting to suffer during the climbs and they saw Discovery start to struggle. But I think the T-Mobile riders underestimated their strength at that point. They paid the price by the end of the stage.

I thought Cyril Dessel and his Ag2R team director have to be kicking themselves after Thursday. Dessel missed keeping the yellow jersey by less than 10 seconds. Did he spend too much energy a day earlier on the sprints?

I was happy to see such strong racing out of my Team CSC teammates Carlos Sastre and Frank Schleck. Our team did the best they could with the situation we're in.

And when Thursday's monstrous mountain stage came to a close, there were no real big surprises. I fully expected fellow Americans Floyd Landis and Levi Leipheimer to be among the leading pack and they did not disappoint.

It's was another example of how, in the sport of cycling, you just never know what can happen.

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.