Janez 'Jani' Brajkovic has opened up about eating disorders in the pro peloton on his personal website, revealing that his positive test for the stimulant methylhexaneamine last season was due to it being an undisclosed ingredient in a meal replacement product he took while suffering from bulimia.
Brajkovic was handed a 10-month ban by the UCI for testing positive for methylhexaneamine during the 2018 Tour of Croatia while racing for Continental team Adria Mobil, and he wrote about the incident – and eating orders among riders more generally – in a post titled 'Skeletons in the closet' on his website.
"It's about a poor relationship with food – disordered eating, which became an eating disorder, bulimia," Brajkovic wrote, explaining the theme of his post.
"It happened quickly and, before I knew it, I realised I was not in control anymore. It had me under control, no matter what.
"Ironically it was not about the weight. I was always lean and, if needed, I could lose an extra kilo or two without a problem. I didn't know what was it about at the time, if not the weight. And I didn't know how to fix it."
Regarding his positive test, Brajkovic explained that he informed the UCI of his eating disorder, but felt as though the governing body has not taken the issue seriously.
"I had to tell them, I told the UCI, I told them everything," he wrote. "The whole reason I took that meal replacement was because it was the only thing I could keep in. In that period, there wasn't a day I wouldn't cry before going out for a ride. I was desperate, and everything was dark to me. The thing I loved, I dedicated my whole life to, was being taken away from me.
"I knew I had to give my body at least something, to function. And that was that meal replacement: oats, animal protein, natural flavours… and undisclosed methylhexaneamine, unfortunately.
"The UCI promised their medical department would contact me. It never happened," he continued. "They knew we have a problem, the problem that is ruining people's lives, careers, but they don't want to do anything about it… Nada, zero.
"Well, the sock height seems to be more important, right?" he joked, referring to the UCI rule that sock height can't exceed the halfway point between the ankle and the knee, with some riders' socks being measured by UCI officials at this season's races.
A major problem in the peloton
The problem of eating disorders in the peloton is a major one, writes Brajkovic, who in fact also started his pro career with the KRKA-Adria Mobil team – the same set-up as his 2018 squad – in 2005, before a mid-season move to the Discovery Channel team. He went on to ride for Astana, RadioShack, UnitedHealthcare and Bahrain-Merida, winning the Criterium du Dauphine overall in 2010 and finishing ninth overall at the 2012 Tour de France.
"Every team I've been on – from Continental to Pro Continental to WorldTour – I've had teammates struggling. There were at least five, six with an eating disorder, and many more with disordered-eating behaviours. They were team captains, GT podium finishers, some were just awesome riders, teammates – happy boys if you looked from a third-person perspective.
"Doctors would normally not notice it, because you become really efficient in hiding it. Only the ones who are in the same place [in the same situation] will figure it out. And even if management notices it, usually, they'll ignore it. It's much easier to kick the non-performer out at the end of the season. But if he's riding well, that's fine, too," he wrote.
Brajkovic said that he didn't write the post to get attention to his plight, although he admitted that he is looking to return to racing as soon as he can and has been training hard.
"I'm doing OK, most of the time. Not great, but still, good enough. I wrote this to let everybody know, from hypocrites to people working in cycling, we have a problem. Whether you like it or not, it shouldn't be such a taboo topic.
"Someone who fractures a bone and carries on is seen as a hero," Brajkovic wrote, "but somebody struggling for months, years, with mental issues, eating disorders, addiction, is weak?
"Even now, writing this, it bring tears to my eyes. It shouldn't be like this. This is fixable. I'm not the right person to help, but just a talk with someone who's been through it will help immensely. The load that comes off your chest is indescribable. It gives hope."
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