Janez Brajkovic confirmed today at the Critérium du Dauphiné Team RadioShack's reputation of being a team known for its time trial prowess. Following the examples of Chris Horner at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and Tiago Machado at the Circuit de la Sarthe, the 26-year-old Slovenian scored the seventh win of the debut season for Lance Armstrong's outfit in the Critérium du Dauphiné's lengthy individual time trial. In addition to winning the stage, Brajkovic is the Dauphiné's new race leader.
Brajkovic, the reigning Slovenian time trial champion and former U23 world time trial champion, put in a dominant performance as he bested favourite David Millar (Garmin-Transitions) by 26 seconds on the 49km course from Monteux to Sorgues. The route wasn't an easy one with a lot of wind and 33 speed bumps to negotiate, which might have contributed to Brajkovic's handlebar coming loose. The Slovenian opted for a bike change at the top of the only climb of the day, at km 15.5. "I could have carried on with the same bike but I wanted to be sure of my equipment," he told reporters at a post-race press conference.
"After the bike change, I didn't know where I was at," he said. "[RadioShack's directeur sportif] Alain [Gallopin] told me I still I had the best time. I didn't expect to win this race at all. I expected to have a good time trial and I hoped for a top finish.
"It's great to win. I'm more than happy. I've had a pretty good season so far. I made the top 10 at all the races I've taken part in, except Paris-Nice where I finished 11th. I was really tired after the Tour of California, so I took five day's rest but I got sick.
"I didn't know what to expect when I arrived at the Dauphiné. I came fresh and in good form, that's why I've done a very good race so far. Maybe I'll lose the jersey tomorrow but I'll defend it for sure."
Team RadioShack has had several riders suffer crashes at the Dauphiné and is not at full strength. "It's gonna be hard even though we have a good team," Brajkovic said. "We've lost Haimar (Zubeldia, victim of a crash and a broken wrist), it's a big loss. Other guys crashed as well but I'm confident they'll be able to take me to the bottom of the last climb and it'll be up to me to follow the best riders. We'll see if I can do it. These French climbs are unknown to me."
Brajkovic has a 1:41 lead over his former Astana teammate Alberto Contador, who dropped from the race lead to fourth overall after finishing sixth in the time trial. "He is not our enemy," Brajkovic said. "He's a rider among others and he's the best in the world. The Dauphiné isn't the number one race he wants to win. I believe he'll reach his top level at the Tour de France. That leaves a chance to another rider to get glory here."
The Dauphiné might open the door of the Tour de France to Brajkovic for the first time. "I love racing," Brajkovic said. "If I get a start at the Tour de France, it's great, if not, it's not the end of the world and I can always say that I've had a great Dauphiné."
"Jani has a chance to ride the Tour, he's on our list of 15 and he's in good form," said Alain Gallopin. "His last race wasn't Liège-Bastogne-Liège, he has done a lot since. The list is down to 14 because of Sébastien Rosseler's injury. We don't know yet if Zubeldia will recover on time for the Tour. We'll take the decision collectively."