– By Andrew Rogers –
A few weeks back, when asked about this ‘Cali’ boot camp in skin cancer-sizzling Solvang, California, he looked around and laughed, “this is no boot camp, this is vacation, I’m just eating burritos and quaffing vente americanos…
Bobby J (cont.): …and “I’m here to help launch someone else on top of the podium—I can’t tell you who—but my personal ambitions are focused on other races, ya know?” Aand if things go badly here at the Tour of California – “I can STILL eat burritos and quaff vente americanos, then… haul ass back to Nice in 2 weeks for Paris-Nice. “
After the ToC prologue, I ran into Bobby right after his sub-5 minute cruise up Telegraph Hill and, as always, trolling for more food, he was looking at the real tifosi for snacks, cracking, “what’s this? I’m SURE I was promised a meal ticket after the race!”
After the ToC prologue, Bobby J being directed to the nearest buffet?
Fast forward to last day of ToC, February 26th. As we now know, things didn’t go badly for Bobby, who, despite revealing a few days before ToC that he didn’t really have legs for the ToC long haul, he still stepped on the podium just below team CSC favorite, David Zabriskie, and ahead of local lad, Levi, as well as double stage winner, George Hincapie, who were both here for serious business with their goals to bring home the winner’s Gold jersey.
Kinda scary to think Bobby returned to reacquaint himself with the local grub while “vacationing” (read ‘training’) here with Ivan and the whole CSC tribe – a far cry from icy Denmark or strangely congealed Italy (CSC’s prior training camps), yet at the end of the ToC, Bobby came within less than a minute from packing his bags with that jersey to France .
And that’s Bobby, originally from Corpus Christi, Texas, growing up on Rocky Mountain High air, now sharing his time between the mountains in Tahoe and France. A man who, a few years back, was talked out of retirement (like his teammate Giovanni Lombardi) and given a new license to fly – or soar – under the protective wings of CSC’s Director Sportif, Bjarne Riis.
Maybe it’s all that mountain air Bobby’s been living in? Could be, we caught up to Bobby in the lowlands fishing for a break in the levy of his optimistic pragmatism and found one of the most articulate and affable characters this side of the Classics…
Bobby romancing the stone cold microphone.
LIFE IN NICE – Nice!
Pez: You’ve been living in Europe for a while now, how much time do you spend in the States?
Bobby J: Actually, one quarter in the States and about eight months in Europe. [We’re still not sure about the left over month… ed.]
Pez: Also in Girona?
Bobby J: No, in Nice, where the American mafia* started; after around 1998-98 everyone moved to Girona and I can’t understand why they wanted to go there – ok, if you compare France with Spain, sure, but – when I come home I’m 7 km from the airport! I drop off my bags at home, I go to the Mexican restaurant, I’m eating dinner and those guys are still trying to catch a plane to Girona, ya know?
[*American mafia meaning the enclave of American cyclists who live in Girona.]
Pez: Cipollini, I think, still lives down in Monaco, and not that you’d find him in the hills unless he’s tanning poolside, but do you ever see him training?
Bobby J: Believe it or not there’s no way you can train for flats in the cote d‘Azur area, but I did train with Vinokorov every day for about 3 years, but I don’t see him so much anymore because I’m doing intervals, and now that he’s on Liberty Seguros it may be different, but on Telekom, all you did were miles, not many intervals… but last year he said, “gosh, we don’t ride together any more”, and the only time now when we see each other is on a flat road when I’m on one side doing my intervals and he’s behind his pace car waving.
Pez: Like ships in the night, practically – Monte Carlo, that’s a fancy area for a workout.
Bobby J: Yea, there are a lot of others who live there who get to enjoy the tax benefits, but as an American I’m not in that position, so there’s no use; but about eight years ago, my wife and I bought a house in Nice that’s really comfortable, we have a lot of friends, we know all the restaurants…
Pez: Lance lived there for some years before his emigration to Girona: Is your French better than his?
Bobby J: Je pense que oui! (“I think so”, no major trace of Gringo-killing accent applied.)
Pez: Did you hear Robin Williams being interviewed during the TdF? I was floored – he spoke flawless French – at first, I thought he was imitating Peter Sellers as the Pink Panther, but he was the real deal.
Bobby J: No, I missed that, but he’s a super intelligent guy…I do have to give Lance props for trying, because the French love it when you try, and he speaks a little bit of Italian, French, Spanish and Belgian, so at least he’s making the effort, and here we are living in a foreign land so you have to make the effort – ‘do as the Romans do’ as they say.
Pez: You have fully installed your family here for years, buying a place and learning the language, making friendships with neighbors: In your experience do you feel you’ve been received well as an American living in France?
Bobby J: Absolutely, before Paris-Nice last year I was very lucky to be a part of that society, I mean, the number of people who ride bikes there, well, it’s amazing: From police officers to doctors to people who work in the restaurant industry, everyone’s out, and they know who you are even though I wasn’t trying to do that – and it’s a compliment – but we’re bike racers, so why do we have to hold our head up higher and think we’re God almighty?
Bobby J and Jens Voigt: The one-two comic troupe of CSC, possibly trading beer recipes before attacking the Marin hills.
Bobby J: (cont.) When I go down to a local place and get my hero sandwich, the guy behind the counter doesn’t know who I am, but, I go in there a lot, and then, after I won Paris-Nice, he recognizes me and says, “Hey, you just won Paris-Nice, and you come in here all the time of sandwiches…” and I say, “yea?”. But he can’t believe it and says, “but you’re so…normal”. And I say “thanks, that’s…me… normal!”.
Pez: In his eyes perhaps you are a French Champion, even if you aren’t French?
Bobby J: I’m living in that gray area, I try to mix in, I try to speak French–albeit very poorly – but I’ve lived here eight months of the year since 1997, so…
Pez:…You’re practically a Franco-Americano!
Bobby J: (playfully) Je suis Nicoise”…(“I’m from Nice”).
[Bobby J nonchalantly rolls out with more rapid-fire French, asserting he feels at home.]
Pez: Does anyone around think you’re a native?
Bobby J: I live in an area near Nice with just a few neighbors; we’re not near a coffee shop or a McDonalds or the town square, so they notice things; and, evidently, my accent is very distinctive, because every time I roll in, my neighbors sticks their heads out their door. They know it’s me before they even see me; it’s like waving a white flag when I open my mouth [phonetically mimicking his neighbors]: “Yes, we tawt eet waz you bekozz wee ‘erd zome strange accent oat-zide!”. This is a very close-knit community, so even the taxi drivers – who absolutely RAPE me for 30 euros to go 7kms from the airport – really like to talk to me.
Pez: If the Tour of California is a training weapon for you to defend your Paris-Nice crown, then what are your other goals this season?
Bobby J: My goal isn’t to defend my title in P-N actually…
[he smiles, but I detect he’s giving me the fake].
Bobby J: (cont.) …my goal in the Giro is to take the pink jersey in the time trials, and then give the jersey to Ivan (Basso) and set him up for the GC.
Pez: And how about those nasty uphill finishing mountain stages?
Bobby J: My legs are too old to be going up there at the front but I’m going to do my best to protect Ivan and the team. This year we plan on dominating again, both individually and as a team.
Bobby beginning on ToC’s ITT: Holding onto 3rd place despite the rest of the podium shuffle that day.
Pez: There’s been much ink spilled verging on the “Lance Look”, how he burrows into your head sending you telepathic messages or simply stares others down. Have you and Ivan – or your teammates – designed a private signal like a head nod, a crooked grin, or buzz word thru your earphones signifying “it’s hammer time!” or in Ivan’s case, “forza, dai!”?
Bobby J: No, I wish we had something like that, but honestly, I don’t think we do. Another big difference between Ivan and Lance is that Ivan doesn’t try to intimidate his opponents – and many of them are his friends. There’s no, “hey, you know I’m better than you” attitude, Ivan is a gentleman, and he would never do anything like that to you to demoralize you…he knows there’s a flip side to every coin as he saw in the Giro, so I don’t think he’d ever, you know, give ‘the look’ or pump the fists—he’s a gentleman.
[It’s hard to believe such gentlemen can be drip-dried from those CSC legendary wet winter trenches on land and sea. But Bjarne’ ‘viking kamps’ foster deep kinsmanship, not grudges or pneumonia. That, coupled with his philosophical tetes-a-tetes are akin to a Tony Robbins’ hot coal-carpet experience—and Bobby THANKED BS Christiansen, Bjarne’ drill sargeant, after last year’s Paris-Nice palmare].
IT DOESN’T RAIN ON US
Pez: So what goes thru your minds in that freezing Danish Viking huddle before you begin the year? Do you all have some kind of prayer or mantra or round table ‘Kumbaya’ to send out to the cycling God (who probably looks and acts like Bjarne in white) to ensure that you’ll kick ass in ‘06?
Bobby J: I think the key is that there is a silent confidence in us; one of the best things – I’ll never forget it when it’s pissing raining and snow and cold–and Bjarne tells us: “It doesn’t rain on us”… and everyone looks at each other [pregnant pause here]…and we feel what he’s saying. So amongst ourselves we let that affect us, we WANT to ‘get the job done’. And so now, even when Bjarne isn’t there, and it’s miserable, our war cry that “It doesn’t snow or rain on us” is internalized.
The last minute huddle before the stage.
Pez: That’s a powerful affirmation! Confirmed by massive, shared suffering on land and sea before the hard rain undoubtably will fall on you all during new the season. So no one uses, “who’s holding the snake?” as another CSC team-bonding phrase?
Bobby J: (incredulous, laughing): “Who’s holding the snake?”
Pez: (laughing): I don’t mean it in any other way, but didn’t it happen in boot camp where the newbies are initiated by holding a snake in the woods?
Bobby J: NO! no! I’ve read that stuff about our boot camps from a certain magazine, but we don’t do that crazy shit, were a team and we respect each other AND we have a lot of fun, but as far as that gimmicky stuff, no. Take one look at Bjarne and how he is and you see why we don’t need that. But those little sayings we have? From time to time, it means a lot…it could mean that ‘it doesn’t snow on us’…cause, you know, it snows on us quite a bit in Denmark.
Pez: And when it does, it doesn’t matter because you’ve been thru it…like no other team.
Bobby J: (with slow passion):IT DOES NOT SNOW OR RAIN ON US! When you take that into the pitching rainstorm, it is something different. I mean we’ve been in the bush and its been raining, pouring and snowing on us without much protection but our wits and teamwork. There’s no doubt in my mind that those days in the bush bonded us much closer and given us the strategies to work as a team in any racing situation.
Pez: Sounds like you guys don’t need an angel over your heads to succeed in the snow. Did BJarne tell you how difficult boot camp would be before you came over?
Bobby J: He warned us, but coming over here (to California) was also tough for the European riders… I don’t think even Bjarne knows how jet lag would affect them in California. All those guys laughed when Christian, or David or I complained about jet lag coming over for training camp in Denmark, but now they very much know the feeling. When all of a sudden they realize, “hey, my cell phone doesn’t work over here”, or their family isn’t in their pocket nearby, it feels a little uncomfortable. It’s the other side of the world for some of them, just like it is for us. The good thing is that when we all have to go away from our families, we do appreciate our time away by being with each other, because we are a big family here…we’re brothers here – and having fun.
Pez: Cycling’s band of brothers: No attitudes, no stare-downs, and no circus show around the bus (though I’ve heard inside it, David Z. is a clutch impersonator!): ‘Bon chance’ with your ‘06 CSC season, Bobby!
Bobby J: (grinning): Merci! After all, it doesn’t rain or snow on us!
[Certainly not here in sunny California—We hope he’ll weather the storm well during Paris-Nice.]
P.S. Hindsight, after Bobby surprises even himself and takes the prologue in Paris-Nice 06’, he has set himself up to repeat his ’05 victory—either way after the race, he can ride his bike home and save the 30 Euro taxi ride; I wouldn’t doubt that cafй sandwich clerk is making Bobby his own version of a hero sandwich for him the next time he swings by.