After finally cracking the top 10 at a Grand Tour Janez Brajkovic is ready to repeat the feat in 2013, however he has hinted at possible Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana double, forfeiting the Tour de France.
The 28-year-old finished ninth in last year’s Tour de France and led the line for Astana with a consistent performance in the mountains. It was a important ride for the Slovenian who has often flattered to deceive in Grand Tours and despite early promise in his career, has never managed to perform regularly over three weeks.
With Vinenzo Nibali and Jacob Fulgsang joining the team, and Roman Krueziger heading in the opposite direction to Saxo Bank, Astana have spent the off-season juggling their Grand Tour cards. As it stands, Nibali will compete in his home Tour in an attempt to halt Sky’s Grand Tour ambitions. Fuglsang has made regular overtures about the Tour, while Brajkovic has appeared more accommodating.
“In general I would say 2012 was a good season,” he told Cyclingnews.
"I was ninth in the Tour and even though I had a lot of bad luck at the race, I was stronger than the final results. I know it could have been worse but I could have maybe competed for sixth place. It was achievable but my condition wasn’t really good enough to get me any higher.”
“I worked to hard at the start of the season. I wouldn’t say I’d trained too much but I was racing Paris Nice, Catalunya and some other races in between and I wasn’t able to recover. I was burning out all the time. The key point was my crash at the Basque country when I went home with a head concussion. From that moment on though I was getting stronger and stronger all the way to the Tour.”
This year Brajkovic will head to the Giro in a bid to catapult Nibali to the top step. He’ll then assess his form and fitness and decide whether to skip the Tour and aim for the Vuelta, where he’ll hope to replicate his 2012 Tour result.
“We have to be realistic. I’m probably never going to win a Grand Tour but I think that if everything goes perfect and if I have a little bit of luck I could get top five or a podium. You never know. I’m not focussing on the Tour as such, I’m just focusing on doing a Grand Tour for myself. It could be the Vuelta. I don’t want to go to the Tour tired so I’d rather skip the Tour and do the Vuelta if I come out of the Giro tired,” he said.
“I really like the Vuelta. It’s a lot calmer than the Tour and there’s a lot less stress. The weather is perfect and the stages are really nice.”
Nibali’s Giro attempt
Both Nibali and Brajkovic were on hand to witness Sky’s dominance at last year’s Tour. Nibali eventually finished in third and Brajkovic is under no illusion as to what the Italian must do in order to beat Wiggins and the rest of the GC contenders in May.
“We have a really strong team for the Giro. I’ll be there to fully support Vincenzo as much as I can, and hopefully we can win the race. Bottom line and it’s pretty simple, Vincenzo has to drop Wiggins on the climbs as he’ll lose some time in the time trials.”
“My goals are pretty simple. I want to start the season strong and then carry that through with consistent form at the Giro. Then we’ll assess how I’m feeling and plan the second part of my season.”
Armstrong and Bruyneel
Brajkovic moved to Astana in 2011 but for the majority of his career he has ridden under the tutelage of Johan Bruyneel at the Discovery (2005-07), Astana (2009) and RadioShack (2010-11) teams. With the Belgian out of the sport and awaiting his arbitration case at the hands of USADA, Brajkovic weighs in with his own personal opinions on the controversial figure.
“With Johan I can’t say anything bad,” Brajkovic said.
“He’s always been there for me as a manager. Regarding doping, I’ve never heard him talk about it once. I don’t know what else I can say. When I was on Shack and Discovery it was never a conversation we had. Obviously all of this is pretty depressing for the sport, reading it every day. It makes me sad but I think at some stage we need to move on and to make things better. In general cycling is doing a lot to catch dopers and to make the sport cleaner. We should move but I also think we shouldn’t forget what has gone on,” he adds.
And what of Armstrong? The American was handed a life-time ban and stripped of his seven Tour de France titles in the tail-end of 2012 and while a number of ex-teammates testified against him, Brajkovic remains relatively onside with his former leader.
“I’ll tell you honestly. For me he was dedicated and strict. He knew what he wanted. I once read about ‘the look’ but honestly when he gave it you, you’d shit your pants. He wasn’t a bad person, he knew what he wanted and he achieved whatever he wanted. To me personally, he was a nice person and he taught me some valuable lessons. The first time I met him it was in Solvang in 2005 and it was January, and my mother’s birthday. He was riding alongside me and he gave me his phone and I had to phone my mother and wish her happy birthday. I think he’s a nice guy. Other people do thing different and maybe if I was one of those people I’d feel differently.
“I’m not in a position to judge. USADA stripped him and the UCI stripped him. It is what it is.”