RICHMOND, Va. -- Bobby Julich looks so young, a proverbial Beaver Cleaver, as he sits on his hotel room bed, watching reruns of "Who's the Boss" with his roommate Bob Mionske.
They are both amateurs, riding for USA (Chex-Skittles) against the best pro cyclists in the world. But there is nothing amateurish about either their performances or their dreams.
Yesterday, Mionske took part in a world-class sprint with Motorola veteran Phil Anderson of Australia to end Stage 4 in a photo finish. When tapes were reviewed, Anderson was first by a sliver.
And Julich, who is fourth in the overall standings four days into the Tour Du Pont, was judged the best young racer in the stage, which covered 87 miles from Fredericksburg to Richmond.
Last night, the American amateurs' dream continued, when Nathan Sheafor of Topeka, Kan., won the 35-mile Criterium by four seconds over Motorola's Sean Yates.
"I'm right on the edge," said Mionske, who also missed winning a bronze metal in the 1988 Olympics by a hair. "A lot of people never have the opportunity to be on the edge where I am. I've missed a couple big moments, but I don't have any regrets and I'm not unhappy to finish second. But now, I've kind of done my job and it's up to Bobby and the rest of the team to do theirs."
Last night it was Sheafor and U.S.A. teammate Lance Armstrong (who finished third), but now the big job falls to Julich. He is the one who must lead the way through the Blue Ridge Mountains over the next three days against some of the best climbers in the world.
It is a tall order for a 19-year-old, but Julich doesn't flinch. Yesterday, he was relaxed, laughing heartily at Tony Danza's antics.
"We're young, little amateurs up against the pros," said Julich, smiling. "And it is very difficult with all these guys in this race. But everyone has to climb the mountains. At the beginning of this race I said we could get a stage win and we have. At this point, I'm not counting us out of the overall picture either. We did well racing in Italy just before we came here. Lance [Armstrong] won a race there and when he did that, we knew we could contend here.
"We didn't come here just to ride. We've come to throw our weight around a little bit."
The feeling among the amateurs, as well as the pros, is that the real race begins today with Stage 6, a 105-mile ride through the Blue Ridge Mountains that ends with a 2,900-foot climb over the last 10 miles. "I don't know how I'll feel on this climb," Julich said. "This climb is different from the ones on this tour in past years -- there won't be any coasting down a mountainside to the finish."
This Tour stage ends going uphill. And while it might appear that it will take pure brute strength to make it to the top, Julich said it will take much more than that.
"Guys with brute strength are usually big and heavy and they tend to go up the hill more slowly," he said. "So it's not just strength. It's so many things -- oxygen consumption, vo2 max [lung capacity for oxygen], heart rate, strength-to-weight ratio is probably the single most important thing. But, finally, the strongest person, not the strongest team, will win. When the hammer is down, you only have to count on yourself."
He started racing as a 13-year-old, when his father noticed he wasn't really enjoying the 40-mile family bike ride.
"It's hard to believe I love everything about this sport, that it is my life, considering how I felt about those early rides," said the resident of Glenwood Springs, Colo. "My family would take bike tours. We'd meet all these old people at the local Safeway parking lot and ride 40 miles. It seemed like 80, with all those old people, my parents, my sister. We'd camp and ride back the next day. It seemed forever."
But then his dad took him to the Red Zinger Mini Classic in Denver, which he won. After that, there were national championships in road racing in 1987 and team time trials in 1989 and a first at the 1989 Olympic Festival.
And the rest, as they say, is history. But Julich says he isn't making any specific bold predictions, yet.
"A lot of people expect me to do well, but if I don't have it in the hills, I won't have it and that will be the end of my race," he said. "But I'm going to give it everything I have and I have a really good team working with me, so I think I have a better-than-average chance to do well."
A crowd estimated at 60,000 watched Stage 4 come to an end here and another 30,000 lined the course last night . . . Sheafor won in 1:13:53, Yates was four seconds back and Armstrong was 10 seconds behind.
Anderson, Mionske and 102 other riders were all timed at 3:14:23 on the road race from Fredericksburg.
Jose Recio of SEUR was the first to reach the finish line on the ride into Richmond. He smiled and waved to the crowd, as it screamed at him to keep going. Unbeknownst to Recio, who is 15th overall, there were two more laps to the end of the race.
"He just stopped," said Anderson. "And we gobbled him up."