When he outshone Alberto Contador at the 2010 Critérium du Dauphiné, it looked as though Janez Brajkovic had arrived as a stage race contender. However, it's been two years since and the early promise he showed in Sorgues and on Alped'Huez has been followed by a trail of frustration and injuries.
Now 28 and with a new start at Astana, Brajkovic believes that he has turned a corner, matured into the role of a team leader - something he perhaps struggled with at RadioShack - and regained his confidence.
In this year's Dauphine, he finished a solid 7th – not the same calibre of performance he showed in 2010, but an indication that his peak form may arrive in July. He followed that up with victory in his home race, the Tour of Slovenia, two weeks before the Tour de France began.
After two days of racing, Brajkovic lies in 14th place, just five seconds off last year's winner Cadel Evans.
"This the Tour," he replied when Cyclingnews asked if this year's race was a pivotal moment in what has so far been a stuttering career.
"I'm on a new team, I'm the leader and the guys are helping to protect me. This is my Tour and I have to be as good as possible and show that I'm capable of riding with the best.
"At the Dauphiné last month, let’s just say I was consistent. I'd just come back from altitude training and I was pretty happy with my condition. But this isn't the Dauphiné and I have to survive the first week here. If things go well I can go top ten here and maybe hope for something a bit more."
On stage one to Seraing, Brajkovic paid close attention when the pace of the peloton picked up, and was close to Wiggins and Evans when the final climb stretched the GC contenders. With a nervous few days to contend with, he was relieved to have navigated the first stage without issue, backing up his solid ride in yesterday's prologue.
"It was very stressful, just like every year at the start of the Tour. Everyone is fresh and nervous. The roads are wide then small and there's so many accelerations and braking. Today we were riding 70kph with the tailwind and coming into the final climb it was totally stretched out.
"It was a good day, though, and for us there weren't many crashes and we survived. I finished with the first group and that's a pleasing result. The legs felt good and I was pretty happy with my prologue time yesterday. So far I've not shown that much form in the TT and the prologue isn't my specialty, but I was up there with some of the main favourites.”
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Daniel Benson is the Editor in Chief at both Cyclingnews.com and BikePerfect.com. Based in the UK, he has worked within cycling for almost 15 years, and he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he has reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he runs the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.
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