It’s now seven years since the last time Slovenia’s Janez Brajkovic (Astana) was an ephemeral leader of the Vuelta a Espana, taking it for just two days in the race’s first week before Italy’s Danilo Di Luca then took over in the top spot. Fast forward to 2013, and the 29-year-old recognised his spell in the race lead after the stage 1 team time trial will probably be equally brief, but he looked to be equally if not more happy at the prospect.
Brajkovic has had a tough year, crashing out in his biggest target of the season, the Tour de France, with a left knee injury in the first week, and he still has no contract for 2014. His spell in the lead in the Vuelta lead puts him back in the limelight in the nick of time. If he was in pain again at a Grand Tour in the Vuelta’s opening team time trial, this time, unlike July, Brajkovic said it was “the kind of pain you want to feel.”
“I wasn’t over the limit when it hurt, I was just on the limit, and for the first time this year I felt good, the kind of pain you like,” the 29-year-old, whose last win was in the Tour of Slovenia last season, said. Despite his strong Vuelta debut, he brushed aside any aspirations at gunning for the overall.
“[Teammate Vincenzo] Nibali is the number one favourite, and the one and only leader on this team,” he said. “I’ll be focussed on supporting him as best as I can even if I’m wearing this jersey tomorrow.
“I’ll pass it to him soon and hopefully he’ll wear it all the way to Madrid.”
The course, he said, was complicated by the strong tailwind “for around 60 percent of the route. It made for a very fast TTT and even when you drafted behind other riders, you couldn’t recover properly because you were going so fast. It was pretty hard.”
Astana, though, were able to complete the course with six riders, and a seventh, Alessandro Vanotti, only lost time in the closing kilometres.
On such a tough, tumultous team time trial course where several strong squads all but fell apart, Brajkovic said he had had no idea that he would end the day in the leader’s jersey.
“Getting the lead is like a dream, though, I was not expecting to win it, there were so many other strong squads here. But we did a really good job and I think we deserve it.”