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Victory on the cobbles

Syuk continues to deliver top performances. Tratnik made cycling history by winning the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (OHN) race on the Belgian cobbles, a day after his 34th birthday. Despite spending most of the race in a group that was consistently a minute behind the leaders, he managed to move to the front with a few other riders in the final kilometers. With less than 10 kilometers to go, he launched a solo attack, which only Nils Pollit (UAE Team Emirates) could match from a small group of favourites. They rode to the finish line with a slim lead of 10 seconds, causing a lot of anxiety among Syuk’s fans. In the final sprint, Tratnik was quicker and crossed the finish line with his arms raised high. This is the greatest achievement of his career.

Opening weekend. A real introduction to Belgian classics. There is no better atmosphere than in Belgium. I didn’t train after the Algarve. I was very tired so I only did one short intense training session before leaving for Belgium. Rest seems to work well for me, and I felt rested before OHN. An extremely difficult race. The crosswind made the race even more difficult. As a team, we “opened” the race very early and attacked more than 100 kilometers to the finish line —in crosswind, of course. I managed to be at the front the first time, but the second time I made a mistake myself and paid for it by staying at the back of the peloton. Not a big problem because we had 5 of our riders in the front. Dylan and I just controlled the other teams in the background and conserved our energy in case we ended up racing for the win. It seemed that our early attack was successful because the gap between us and the first group didn’t decrease. However, at one point the advantage started to diminish. I just followed the riders of the other teams and controlled the race. After the last hill, we were all together and everything was still open for victory. The race was difficult, stressful and in such moments, it is difficult to find the right moment to attack. I felt that it was the right moment to attack, because everyone looked at each other for a bit, and I attacked from behind at quite high speed. Nils Pollit followed me. That’s when I saw the chasing group for the last time and knew with 2 kilometers to go that the fight for the win would be between us. I knew that Nils was fast in the sprint, but he covered the last kilometer by himself up to 250 meters to the finish, which gave me a great starting point to sprint and win. Unbelievable. I still can’t find the words. All I know is that we raced fantastically as a team. Had everything under control and even when I was in the front, I couldn’t have done it without such a strong team because I knew the guys in the back had everything under control. A big thanks again to the team! Thanks also to all the fans, friends, and everyone who congratulated me. This is the biggest win of my career, and I am very proud of it.

The second part of the ‘Opening Weekend’ is the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne (K-B-K) race, which was also won by the bees. Wout Van Aert (Team Visma | Lease A Bike) was the first to cross the finish line, and Tratnik did an excellent job as a domestique in the first part of the race.

No time to rest. New day, new race. My whole body was just wrecked from the race the day before. I had no choice but to focus and do my best. This time I took on the role of a domestique and helped the team, as the guys have done for me in the past three weeks. From the start, I covered the break attempts because we wanted to make the race more challenging. When a breakaway was finally formed, I started to control the race. When we entered the hillier part of the race, I kept a very high pace for 20 minutes. Then the others picked up a strong tempo and gave Wout the starting point for an incredible attack. It was a fantastic win by Wout and an impressive ride overall. The opening weekend was once again a great success, with two wins in two days. I must admit that I’m quite tired after this block of races and I’m kind of happy I’m going to altitude training camp to rest a little and prepare for the second part of racing in Belgium, which I can’t wait for. But first, I will take some time to enjoy these successes 😊

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Successful start of the season

Tratnik began the season in style, impressing at the first one-day race in Murcia by securing an excellent 2nd place. During the climb before the finish, Jan attacked from a smaller group of riders and started to close the gap to the race leader, O’Connor (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale Team), who crossed the finish line less than a minute before him. The classic Jean with many gravel sections followed, on which Oier Lazkano (Movistar Team) won. Tratnik finished in third place. The captain of the Bees’ team experienced technical problems, which led to a change in tactics during the race. Syuk took advantage of this situation.

“What can I say. A great start to the season. Even before I traveled to the first races, I knew I was well prepared because the numbers in trainings were outstanding. I can also say that it was not a plan, but the form came automatically. I trained without overdoing it, which makes me even happier because I avoided overtraining. Both one-day races, Murcia and Jean, were very challenging. I gave my best and there was no more to be done, especially on Jean where Wout’s technical problems changed the tactics a little in the finish. We mitigated the damage and still managed to reach the podium.”

The first stage race of the season was Volta Algarve in Portugal. Tratnik had the chance to compete for a high ranking in the general classification. The race was very exciting, with climbs, a time trial, and sprint finishes, providing plenty of opportunities for success. Syuk performed exceptionally well and finished the race in third place overall, behind the winner Remco Evenepoel (Soudal – Quick Step) and Daniel Martinez (BORA – hansgrohe).

“At the Algarve race, the team allowed me to aim for a good position in the general classification. No one expected anything, not even myself, as it has been several years since I raced for the general classification. But after the second stage, I saw that I could reach high. The key was the time trial stage, where there was no room for mistakes and loss of time. I probably rode one of the best time trials of my career. Maybe 10th place isn’t considered exactly a great result, but I didn’t lose much in seconds to 5th place. This also gave me a lot of motivation to keep the 3rd place and to try to weaken the other teams with attacks in the last stage. Wout sacrificed himself and did an outstanding job putting the other teams under pressure with his attack. Peloton had to work really hard to catch the breakaway. On the last hill, everything depended on me. Get to the finish line as fast as possible. Sepp did a great job of staying with me and covering attacks from other riders. For the last 300m, I did not have the legs to respond to the attack of Remco and Martinez. I had a battle with myself to the finish line.

What can I say, it is an outstanding start to the new season. When I got the chance to be a leader, I took it and I’m glad the team gave me that chance. Thanks for all the help to my teammates who supported me and believed in me. Now there will be a few days of rest and we will see you again in Belgium soon.”

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2024

Well, 2024, the new year is here. A lot has happened since the last post, especially since the last time I checked in was in the off-season, when I really enjoyed my time off the bike, busy with other activities.

Sometime in mid-November I started back with serious and structured training for the 2024 season. I didn’t overdo it, of course, because I knew there was still plenty of time before the first race. I slowly and diligently built up my mileage, but also mixed in some intense intervals, sprints and sometimes longer rides. In December we met the team for the first time at a training camp in Spain. We spent 9 wonderful days there, where we besides training we also had a lot of other obligations. Time flew by during the training camp and it was great to see old and new club members, staff and the whole team together in one place. After successful preparations, we stopped off in the Netherlands for an official presentation of the team, the new sponsors and the new kit. I really like the new jersey because it’s simple and not too colourful. It is definitely visible on the road, which is very important and safe at the moment.

After travelling around Europe, I spent Christmas and New Year in Slovenia. Unfortunately, I got sick right at the time and didn’t have much time to celebrate or socialise. I also had to miss training. Luckily, this forced break was good for me, because in January I saw that I was even better prepared. When I was able to start training again, everything became 100% serious. Training, rest, nutrition and, in general, a lifestyle dedicated to cycling. Daily training sessions now last between 4 and 6 and a half hours, from high intensity to low intensity and long rides. I’ve been running regularly since October and have incorporated running into my training programme. Mainly to strengthen the knee, but also for the soul and a good start to the day.

Now I have a few days at home and then my season starts with the race in Murcia. I continue with the Jaen Classic, Volta Algarve, Omloop Het Nieuswsblad, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, altitude training camp on Teide, E3, Dwars door Vlaanderen, Tour of Flanders and then the grande finale: Giro d’Italia and Tour de France. I also hope to qualify for the Olympic Games. Then, of course, there will be some rest 🙂 .

The racing and preparation programme is extremely busy and, on paper, psychologically difficult. But I was very happy when I found out what I would be racing and I can’t wait to get started. The winter is over, the form is good and I want to test everything in the first races. Until then, hard training and rest.

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Off season

Well, it’s over. The end of the 2023 season and the end of the off days 😫😂 Although it is still 2023, preparations for 2024 have already begun. After the last race (Lombardy), I took a 5-week break. It was an active break, I didn’t lay on the couch for 5 weeks. I spent my holidays in Singapore and Japan, combining business and pleasure. I raced the two criteriums in Singapore and Saitama, which are annually organized as the 22nd stage of the Tour de France. My “holiday” in Asia will remain a very nice memory. I saw many new places, met interesting and inspiring people. I am also honored to see so many passionate fans on the other side of the world. The whole criterium organization was superb and I really enjoyed these two events. We still had time to spend some time on our own, sightseeing, enjoying the local foods and hang out.

Taking a quick look at the 2023 season, I have to say that it was full of new challenges, ups and downs. Probably the most successful season for me, although not exactly at the top in terms of results. Successful because I took another step forward in my performance. All the numbers were the highest of my entire career and I took a big step forward in the new team. Maybe I can say that I started this season with a completely different training program. We put more emphasis on nutrition and altitude preparations. All this helped me to progress. From this point of view, I am extremely satisfied with the season.

I was also very unlucky with a knee injury, but I managed to get back in shape in time and was selected for the Vuelta team. May and June were very difficult months mentally because everything fell apart for me before the Giro. But I didn’t give up and instead of feeling sorry for myself, I focused my energy on finding solutions to come back as soon as possible, even stronger, of course. When the doctors told me that the season might be over for me and that the rehabilitation would take too long, I was determined to prove them wrong. During these two months, I put a lot of effort into the entire rehabilitation, training, physiotherapy… but in the end, all the effort paid off. So yeah, the last part of the season went very smoothly. After Il Lombardia, I was maybe a little disappointed because it meant the end of the season (this year I raced a little less 😊), but I saved the motivation for 2024 😜

Preparations for the new season have begun. I’m mentally and physically rested, so I couldn’t wait to start the first training sessions. At the moment, it is in lower facilities, but we will increase the hours and intensity from week to week. Finally, I would like to thank my family, team, all fans and friends for their incredible support throughout the season ✌🏻

Photos: Personal archive

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La Vuelta – week two

Second rest day. I have to say that I am extremely happy about it. It was quite intense racing, especially the last three stages. I took the ITT as an activation before the stages that were coming up. We had a short stage straight after the ITT, with a final short climb, but nothing special happened. The breakaway riders settled for the win and the peloton with the GC riders made it safely and without any shocks to the finish. There I saw that I was still feeling good, as I was always by our team leaders’ side until the finish. Then it was a flat stage where we reached the finish without any problems. After that, we had two extremely difficult stages where we all knew it was going to be hard from start to finish.

The Tourmalet stage was without a meter of flat and from start to finish the pace was extremely high. Unfortunately, Jonas got a puncture on the first long descent, before the Aubisque climb, which is considered a very difficult climb, and we knew the pace would be high on this climb. I had to stop and wait for Jonas on the downhill and bring him back to the main group or to the front of the peloton. It was quite a project because the peloton was stretched out and it was very difficult to get to the front on the descent. Fortunately, the descent had some flat sections, so I was able to overtake the main bunch there and bring Jonas into the first quarter of the peloton by the bottom of the climb. Because I had used quite a bit of energy and because the breakaway hadn’t been worked out yet, I knew that it was going to be very difficult for me on this climb. I kept in contact for 15 minutes and then had an explosion in my legs. I simply had no strength left and I lost contact with the peloton. Nevertheless, job done, Jonas was back in the peloton, and the rest of the guys, especially Robert, did a great job and we finished the stage with Jonas winning, Sepp in second and Primož in third. 100% result for our GC riders.

The next day was no easier. From the start there were attacks and by the first climb, a breakaway group had formed. We wanted to control the race ourselves, but the UAE took the stage into their own hands. They dictated a high pace on the first climb, where I felt great, easily keeping in touch with the first 40 riders, but a technical failure on the descent stopped me. The spoke on my wheel broke and I had to stop and wait for the car to change the bike. As there were many groups of cyclists, the car was not behind us either. I knew I wouldn’t see the first group again as I was too far behind. The team did a great job again and we were all happy, including myself, because I could see that I was feeling great, I just needed some luck to stay longer with the first group.

The last stage before the day off was very much in the escapees’ favor and we knew there would be many attacks. But we didn’t think there would be so many. There were a lot of attacks, GC riders were attacking us, and it was far from an easy stage. We worked very well with the team, taking turns to cover the breakaways and keeping everything under control, so to speak. The breakaway again accounted for the win, and we made it to the finish safely and without any problems. Tired, but happy, because we made it to the second rest day. I took the rest day again calmly, had a good sleep, and did a 1h30min recovery with a few short intervals to keep the body alert. Then rest and prepare for the new week, where it will be decided who will win this Vuelta. So far, I feel great, we are getting along great as a team, we have everything under control and I can’t wait for the new week.

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La Vuelta – week 1

A well-deserved day off has finally arrived. I must say that the first nine stages were very difficult and unpredictable, but I enjoyed every kilometer of the race. We experienced everything. Sun, rain, storms, slippery roads, and wind. We overcame all obstacles together and achieved our goals by the first rest day. Sepp is deservedly in the leader’s jersey, while Primož and Jonas are also at the top.

The team time trial was really stressful. Slippery roads, darkness, and high speeds. There were also some dangerous corners and we were driving at the limit the whole time. It is especially difficult because you have to follow the teammate in front and trust. You have to take a lot of responsibility yourself, so you don’t take the corner too fast. Everything went great, unfortunately, Jonas had a flat tire and we had to wait for him. In the end, we were just happy to make it through the finish line in one piece.

I myself am extremely satisfied with the level I’m at. Everything is going as I planned. More than great actually, considering that a few months ago I couldn’t even walk, let alone think about racing. I’m not very tired, but a day off will come in very handy. Very difficult stages are coming and a lot of work and effort will be required. I hope the weather will be better in the next stages.

My main job here is to take care of Jonas and Primož. I carry water bottles, take care of positioning before the key moments of the race, and try to be with them as long as possible. Sometimes I stay with them for a long time, and sometimes I spend a lot of energy already at the beginning of the race, so it’s difficult to be there in the final. The atmosphere in the team is excellent. We get along really well and everyone does a great job. This can also be seen in our results. I really enjoy racing and it all helps me feel great during the race. I really enjoy it.

Yesterday’s stage was very stressful. We knew it was going to be windy and as a team, we decided not to wait and we launched the action immediately. It’s always better to be ahead than chasing behind. Given that the terrain was hilly, all of our domestiques spent a lot of energy to ensure that our leaders were at the forefront and that they are still in the game for the red shirt. A nervous day, but a successful one for our team.

The days at the race are otherwise quite busy and end late in the evening. First thing in the morning, I drink coffee, then I have my breakfast, and soon the transfer with the team bus to the start follows. Transfers to the start and after the stage are long. Between an hour and an hour and a half. So, we spend three hours a day on the bus. Before the race, we have a team meeting on the bus. After the race, shower, and transfer to the hotel. Then massage and a late dinner, usually between nine and half past ten. We don’t have much time for other things. I usually start watching some movie/series to fall asleep.

In the coming week, there are already very difficult stages on the schedule. I will ride the time trial tomorrow easy to gather and save as much energy as possible to help our leaders in the following days. It’s definitely going to be a tough week, but to be honest, I can’t wait. As long as it’s sunny, it will be a great week. 😎

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Vamos!

After a successful and intense training camp in Tignes, the time has come to (finally) finish training, focus on recovery, and turn all my focus to the races. Only 4 days after the training camp, I traveled to Spain, to the Burgos race. To be honest, I was quite nervous as it had been a while since I last raced. Nervous in terms of whether I would still know how to ride in the peloton 😊 The fear was in vain, and I quickly fell into a rhythm. Everything is different after such a long break, especially compared to starting a new season after a long break. After such an accident as I experienced, you always think the worst afterward. Vuelta Burgos served me as a kind of test and final preparation to improve my form. I had some swings in my performance. In the first, the TTT stage, and in the fourth, I felt more than great. In the third and last stage, I still felt that I needed some rhythm before the so-called (new) main goal of the season – the Vuelta a Espana. I gave my best in every stage and pushed my body to the limit so that it could get used to the racing rhythm and the heat. At the same time, I focused all my efforts on helping Primož win the race.

At the race, I felt like a kid who got his first bike. Many times I thought of the words of doctors and physiotherapists when they said that rehabilitation would be long. Three months ago I got back on the bike for the first time. I felt pain in my knee for quite some time and it was difficult to do the training. Looking back now, I don’t think it was as hard as it seemed at the beginning. I put in a lot of effort, I believed that I could come back this year, and right now everything is paying off. I will be at the start of the Vuelta, where I will do everything in my power to help my team in winning the third grand tour this season.

Just being at the start is a big achievement for me. The team is extremely strong and the fact that I was selected in this Vuelta team tells me a lot about the team’s trust in me. I am very grateful to be back. In the end, it will be what it will be. If I cross the finish line and know that I did everything in my power, I will be happy. I’m already happy now that I can pin the number and spin the pedals in Barcelona. Vamos!

Photo: Cor Vos, Ziklix Photo

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Postcard from Tignes

Preparations in Tignes are going well. We have fun with the boys and train really hard. Even over 30 hours a week, everything from high-intensity training to long rides, even for 7 hours. The weather is kind to us, we are lucky that we only have rain on our days off, which doesn’t interfere with our plans regarding preparation and planning of trainings.

The first week was difficult, as the body had to acclimatize to the high altitude. But I survived and I can feel myself progressing day by day. The last training sessions were already an excellent indicator that the form is not far from the best. It will take some work, but I still have some time to get to 100%. The days pass quickly, and most of the time we train, so there is not much energy left for the rest of our free time. The team perfectly takes care of all the necessary regeneration, from massages to deliciously prepared meals. So, we can really focus only on training. I’m already a little tired, but there’s not much left until the end of the training camp. After these preparations, it will be necessary to rest well and recover, because soon it will be time for the first race after the injury and that is the Vuelta Burgos 😎

I remember after the pre-Giro accident, I told myself to take this injury as motivation to try to get back to racing as soon as possible. It is becoming a reality. There were hard days lying on the couch and then physiotherapy and training, both in the gym and on the bike – but all the hard work is paying off now. I learned a lot from this situation and became even stronger mentally. We will be able to see how ready I am very soon. I can’t wait! To be honest, I’m also a bit tired of all the training. It’s really time to pin the number back 🤝🤗

Photos: Personal Archive and Team Jumbo Visma

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Back in the saddle

Hey, how! It’s been a while since the last post. It’s time to fill you in on what’s been happening 😎

Until June 7th, I was killing time on the rollers. But finally, the day came when I could hit the road again. It felt like a breath of fresh air, literally! It only took me a month to go from drowning in a sweat on the rollers to enjoying the open air on my bike. I immediately got extra motivation and that week I trained twice a day, sometimes even three times. I mainly used the rollers to warm up, then hit the road for one or two hours.

Alongside my rides, I also had strength training and physiotherapy three times a week. It kind of took me two-thirds of June to get used to riding with a knee that wasn’t quite 100%, but seeing that every day was a huge improvement, I woke up every morning hungry for more progress. Sure, there were days when my knee would swell up a bit and I’d feel some pain, but with rest, ice, and the amazing regenerative powers of the body, I was ready to train again the next day.

I’m very grateful that my body healed up so quickly. But from there on out, it was all up on to me and the effort I put into training and rehab. I started very serious training in the last ten days of June. No obstacles, no limits on time or intensity. Sure, sometimes after an interval training, I would still feel pain in my knee, but there was never a step back. I trained 25 hours/week on the bike and another 3 hours in the gym. So, I have already completed a large amount of training and now I needed a chill week to rest before I go to the altitude preparations in Tignes.

As for my race program, I still don’t know 100% where I will be competing, but I really want to be at the start of the Vuelta. There is still some time before then and I believe that I will be ready. I’m really missing the races right now. It’s been way too long since I last pinned on my race number.

Finally, thanks once again to my family, team, fans, friends, and everyone who stood by me and helped me in my quick rehabilitation. I believe that we will see each other again this year at some race. Vamos! 😎🕺

Photos: My camera roll

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From bicycle to couch

Well, it’s been a while since the last blog. After Milan-Sanremo, I had a week “off”. Just easy riding, no more than 2h30min, without effort and just recharging the batteries before the new training camp kicked off. And just like that, the week was over and I was already packing for Teide. Of course, I packed too much. The weather was much better than the first time on the mountain and we didn’t see any snow 🙂 Shorts, short jerseys, and lots of sunscreen. Three weeks of hard training. Four, five, six, and even seven hours. Sleep, food, rest, and counting down the days until the Giro.

Before Giro, I stopped in Liege. After very successful and hard preparations, I wanted to test my form and went to Liege-Bastogne-Liege very motivated. A breakaway was quickly formed and until Bastogne we mostly had the wind in our chests, so the race was quite calm and controlled. But when we turned back towards Liege, it started. High speed, stress, and positioning before crucial climbs. Some previous editions of LBL have often ended with an early attack and a strong group of riders making it to the finish. This time I wanted to make the race hard myself. Unfortunately, I made it difficult for myself 🙂 In this attack, I thought that several teams would decide to try to isolate QuickStep and Remco. Unfortunately, everyone was waiting for his attack. We all knew where it would happen. Once I was in front there was no more braking. Just head down and full gas. I caught the breakaway group and continued my pace. Little did I know that this attack would end without a successful result. They caught me on Radutte, a few hundred meters below the summit. Nonetheless, I had to get to the finish line. I was extremely happy with the form, but yes, I could have chosen a different tactic. Despite everything, I was satisfied, because I confirmed that I am ready for the Giro. After the LBL, I had a few more days of rest, and some short training sessions to somehow recharge the best as possible after the difficult block of training camp and the race.

Then it was time to go to the Giro. Extremely excited and couldn’t wait for the Grande Partenza. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a Grande Nightmare for me. I won’t write anymore about what happened, how it looked, because to be honest, I don’t want to remember anymore and I’m trying to put this terrible day behind me.

I’m at home now. Surgery done and feeling useful 🙂 I spend most of my time lying down. I do some knee exercises, some light stretching and that’s it. I have three destinations. One is a sofa, the other one is the bed and the third is a slightly adapted seat at the table. Just in case if someone comes to say hi. Otherwise, horizontal position. I shouldn’t put any weight on my legs for at least a few more weeks. I think I’m having a good time all together, but it’s definitely not easy. Every now and then everything falls apart in my head, but I always get to the point where I know deep down that everything will be ok in the end. Now I just have to be patient and “enjoy” the days off.

The first 14 days after the surgery were crucial for me to rest completely. Because of the wound after the surgery, I had to be really careful to prevent any infections. I was useless. After 2 weeks I was given the green light to have the stitches removed. The wound has healed nicely and now the rehabilitation can really begin. The exercises, stretching,… strength exercises will have to wait a little longer because I can’t burden my leg with extra weight. Even if there is no physical training, it is undoubtedly very good mental training.

On this occasion, I would like to thank everyone once again for the encouraging words and I hope that soon I will be able to publish a new blog, where I will already write about training and preparation for new races.

Photo: Personal Archive