His 17th place at the Critérium du Dauphiné prologue on Sunday confirmed that defending champion Janez Brajkovic may not have come to the Alpine stage race with the aim of repeating his 2010 feat. Instead, the RadioShack rider and his team have chosen to put all odds on the Tour de France this year, where the young Slovenian has ambitious objectives.
"I didn't want to take any risks," Brajkovic told L'Equipe after the prologue yesterday, where he finished 14 seconds down on winner Lars Boom (Rabobank). "I felt good but I didn't want to give everything like I did last year. I'm already thinking of the Tour de France."
In 2010, the 27-year-old had placed second behind Alberto Contador in the opening prologue, at the peak of his form. He then joined Lance Armstrong in the team for the Tour, but his performances declined as his strong spring season took a toll, and he eventually finished only in 43rd place. But his overall victory in the Dauphiné has given him more confidence to truly test himself in a Grand Tour.
"It would be too pretentious to say that I aim for a podium placing on the Champs-Elysées," Brajkovic announced. "It would be more reasonable to say that a top five placing is possible."
After finishing seventh in both Paris-Nice and the Tour de Romandie this spring, the Slovenian is slowly coming up to his peak form - exactly what is intended by his RadioShack team. "This is a rider who has very short phases of form and the challenge is to get him to a 100 percent at the Tour - not before," explained directeur sportif Alain Gallopin to Velochrono. "But even without being in top condition, he brought in good placings in Paris-Nice and in the Tour de Romandie, so we can expect that from him here in the Dauphiné, too."
Brajkovic himself, a dedicated and meticulous rider, vowed to not leave anything to chance in his build-up to the Tour. "My aim this week is to follow the best riders and gauge my form compared to them in the time trial and in the mountains," Brajkovic said. "The Dauphiné takes place in my preparation phase and it is important that I get some conclusive testing done here."
The question will be how long Brajkovic's peak form can stretch out during a strenuous three-week race, how good he recovers. "It's true, we don't have any refences yet for him on a Grand Tour," Gallopin admitted. "His slender stature [1,77m; 57kg] will certainly keep him from being on top for very long because he has less resistance than Alberto Contador or Andy Schleck. But if in the last week of the Tour, he is in the shape that he was in the Dauphiné 2010, then some guys will have to worry."