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Syuk reporting from the Beehive

The 2023 season is already in full swing. I had a busy schedule for the first three months, but it could have been worse. A slightly different program awaits me than what I was used to until now. In the team, we really dedicate ourselves to coming to the races with adequate preparation. Last season I was used to doing the last training camp in January and then racing, racing, racing. This time everything is different. In February I spent more than 3 weeks under a volcano, in Tenerife (El Teide). I know how boring it can be up there because there is nothing to do. We trained a lot, so my time went by very quickly. We spent one-third of the day on the bike and I was already exhausted from the last week. We are talking about the amount of training, which in comparison to the Grand Tour is very similar 🙂 But with great company, despite the bad weather in the first 10 days, we successfully completed the trainings for the first races and the biggest goal of this season, the Giro d’Italia.

After the training camp, I flew directly to Belgium for the Opening Weekend. The weekend was an indication that we had done exceptional winter preparation. Two wins, second and third place. When you see how we all raced well, helped each other, and encouraged each other, you get new motivation and want more. Although it was difficult since I had already been away from home for more than a month, all the effort is paying off. Then some riders fell ill, and the race program had to be adjusted. So, I jumped into the Paris-Nice race.

Probably one of the most stressful one-week races, but I couldn’t wait to go to the start of such a prestigious race with such a strong team. After the first two races in Belgium, I was extremely tired and maybe I didn’t quite come to my senses. The race started near Paris, with not-so-pleasant temperatures and a nervous start. Thank God we all finished the first stage safe and sound. We rode in the front, so we were 100% focused on the team time trial. I love this discipline, but when I looked at our team, I knew it was going to hurt like never before. Current world champion, 2x former world champion, Tour winner… The speed was incredibly high, and we all suffered from start to finish for the win. We succeeded and we were in front of an excellent starting point for the first mountain stage. Jonas tried, but this time Pogačar was stronger. Two flat stages followed, where we aimed high with Olav. After 4th and 2nd place, he also proved that he belongs among the best sprinters and won the 5th stage. Joy again. The next day Mother Nature won. Due to strong winds and storms, the organizers canceled the 6th stage. I think it was the right decision because I know what it’s like when the wind blows over 100 km/h (gusts were up to 130 km/h). The last two stages decided the overall winner of the race. Saturday’s stage, with an uphill finish, is one to forget. I still felt good at the start, but already after the first climb, I felt that something was happening, that something not ordinary is brewing in my body. Breakaway at the front, me in the group, but because of the heat (yes, the Garmin also showed 32°C, almost a 30°C change compared to the first day), I boiled. Typical of the first warm day. I have had problems with this in previous years. I felt extremely bad. The team and I decided that it is better if I go slowly to the finish line in the grupetto. Of course, I wanted to finish the stage, because my girlfriend Urša and my brother Sašo were waiting for me at the finish line. I haven’t seen Urša for more than 1 month and it was a great motivation to finish the stage, although during the stage I thought about quitting because I felt so bad. However, it was worth the effort. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much time, but it’s a great feeling when you see your loved ones after 1 month of hard work. After the stage, all possible thoughts went through my head… but mainly what will happen the next day, because we had another difficult stage. I also know that after a bad day, sooner or later you’ll be back. At least that’s what I believed. And yes, the last stage, which is considered the most difficult one, because it’s rock’n’roll all day. Short stage, last chance for GC, stage chance, breakaway… I went for the breakaway, which meant I recharged well. The stage was, so to speak, one long time trial. All out to the finish line. Or, for me, to the start of the Col d’Eze. The peloton of climbers caught us on the penultimate climb and from there I helped Jonas as much as I could. Jonas finished the stage in second place and third in the GC. Of course, for a Tour winner, he expected more, which is logical, but I think it was still a good start for the team and Jonas. TDF is still far away, and I believe that the story will be different there. Tadej, however, proved once again that he was stronger than the others in this race.

After the stage, I immediately switched my focus to the next race, Milano-Sanremo. After two days of rest, I completed a successful training on the third day and got the feeling that I am slightly better prepared than the week before. I went into the race extremely motivated, especially since we had Wout on the team. Already the winner of the longest race and we aimed to win this year as well. Unfortunately, the race did not go as we expected, but Wout made the most of the day. Plans began to collapse with my fall. The fall happened just before the first key slope – Cipressa. Due to a sign on the road indicating roadworks, the rider of the other team pulled out at the last minute, understandably, he doesn’t want to hit the sign at 50km/h and it was probably a natural instinct to turn into me. Unfortunately, it knocked me to the ground like a button from trousers, as they would say in my hometown. Changing the bike and chasing the peloton. I started the slope at the back. And I know how high the speed is in this part of the race, so it was almost impossible to come back. I was already within 10-15 seconds at the top of Cipressa, but the peloton was too fast. A personal disappointment, but it could be worse. Everything is ok, with a few scratches on the body, and a couple of days of bad sleep. Since the Giro is the main goal of the season, it was necessary to take some rest, since I have been on the drive since January. If I want to be mentally and physically ready, the week after the MSR was a great time to do 8 days without a specific program and ride the bike at will. I rode a bit, enjoyed it and now I’m ready to restart again. Again, I have 3 weeks of training on the Teide scheduled, then straight to Liege-Baston-Liege and then the Giro. I can’t wait, Primož is already in great shape, and I’m really excited to help him to the best of my ability.

Photo: Getty Images, Cor Vos Pro, POO, Personal Archive

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Hello from the beehive!

The new year brings freshness to the cycling world. We have known for a long-time which cyclists remain in the same teams, and which will change colors with the new season, but cycling contracts are tied to the calendar year, so the cyclists can officially show their new colors only from January 1. On New Year’s Day, cycling enthusiasts are excited to follow social networks to catch all the posts of riders in new jerseys. In Syuk’s camp, we were particularly excited this year, because after four years a massive change in the color scale was promised. Since January 1, Tratnik has been an official member of the Team Jumbo-Visma. Based on the first impressions that he wrote about “the bees” for this blog, the 2023 season is going to be a very interesting one and we can’t wait for it to start as well.

“The off-season was calmer this year. I spent it at home, without a holiday under palm trees. I had a lot of trips during the season, and right at the end, there were two more cherries on top of the cake (long trips to Canada and Australia). To be honest, I was only interested in lying on the couch after the season ended. At the mention of airplanes and any kind of travel, I got an allergic reaction 😊 After a good month “off”, which I spent actively on the MTB bike, I was mentally and physically ready to start the new season.

November was dedicated to getting back into the rhythm as soon as possible and slowly raising my fitness. The trainings were low-intensity and in a medium extent. In December, however, we started to raise the bar a little. With the new team, we also spent 12 days at a training camp in Spain. I continued training during the Christmas holidays and suddenly it was the new year when it gets real. 1.1. – new profile photos, this time in yellow-black colors, and officially, the start of the new season. There is no more rest and other obligations. My life is focused on two months of hard work to be ready for the first races. Eat, train, sleep, repeat – something like that.

I start racing at the Opening week in Belgium: Omloop and Kuurne, followed by Strade Bianche, Milano-San Remo, and a stage race across Catalonia. Then I will compete in the Belgian classic Liege-Baston-Liege, where I will activate my legs before the biggest goal of the season – the Giro d’Italia. Everything we do is geared towards the Giro. I want to be 100% ready there to try to win with Primož. We have a strong team, for all terrains, and we are definitely one of the favorites to win. However, we still have a lot of work to do to get there.

I spent 4 seasons with the Bahrain team, that is, from 2019 to 2022. I can say that those were very beautiful years that I will definitely remember. We achieved quite a few nice victories together, as well as defeats, but I also learned the most from the situations. All the experience will come in handy in the future. In 2023, I became a new member of Team  Jumbo Visma. When I found out that the team was interested, I didn’t think much and we reached an agreement very quickly. Watching their progress over the last years, and how each rider improves in his performance, I wanted to experience it myself. I want to become the best version of myself so that once I finish my career, I won’t have anything to blame myself for because I’ve tried everything. That I will know I have reached my maximum. I am firmly convinced that I can make these wishes come true in this team. They provide me with the best equipment and materials. Nutrition is also at the highest level. If I can pull 1-2% from each of these areas, that will be a lot. I also see that the change in environment had a very good effect on my motivation: new people, new culture, new goals, and plans. Everything motivated me even more and I can’t wait for the continuation of training and the first races.

Of course, my role here will be a little different and I will be a domestique most of the time, but I have no problems with that because the team spirit and the awareness that all members of the team are responsible for the victories is very strongly present. I really can’t wait to get started and see where I can go.”

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When quitting is not an option

It was a very successful season but with a bit of an aftertaste. I can say that I am extremely satisfied because I proved that I could race and fight with the best in the biggest one-day classics. The World Championship hurt. I have learned in my career that you should never give up. In 2013, I almost put the bike in the corner, but then I persisted, believing that I would succeed one day and after a few years, I came back to the world tour level. I will also persevere, believe and train now to achieve a top result in the future. Now that my head is clear, I channeled all my anger into motivation, which has grown even more after this season.

Looking back, I’m proud of how my career turned out. Up, up, up, then a cold shower and slowly making my way back up. Next year, I am racing for Team Jumbo Visma. I believe that I will hone all my weaknesses, have the best support in terms of equipment, coaching, nutrition, and materials, and I really can’t wait to see where it will take me.

I probably wouldn’t have gotten to this point without some people who helped me in the most challenging moments. When I no longer knew what to do with myself. To those who didn’t turn their backs on me and believed in me – you know who you are. The list is long, but I have to mention a few of you. Miran Kavaš, with whom we started training again and building step by step my physical and mental abilities. Dejan Bajt, who recommended me to the Amplatz BMC team, so that I even had a team for 2014, otherwise I would have been without it. Team CCC because they opened the door to professional cycling for me again. Team Bahrain Victorious, in which I established my place in the world tour. I learned a lot in those 4 years with them and I’m grateful for the experience. Especially, for all the support they gave me. To all my friends, with whom we have been together since childhood and who have supported me since the beginning of my career. To the family. Idrija. And Urša. We went through some difficult times, but we both believed, saw the light at the end of the tunnel, persevered together and we made it.

The season is over, the new one will start soon. I will be “already” 33 years old, but I don’t think of it as old. I believe if you think about it, you’re making yourself old. As long as the legs are good, and the head is in place, anything is possible. If you persist and believe. I’m going on a new journey. Such that I believe will be successful and I can’t wait for it all to begin.

I would like to thank everyone who followed me and cheered me on during difficult and beautiful moments. I will do my best to continue enjoying cycling together.

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Video interview: Ups & Downs

Last November, in the off-season we filmed a call for a charity purpose. After the filming, we ended up talking about Tratnik’s career and the camera remained turned on. We touch on the beginnings of his career, the (too) quick transfer to the professional team Quickstep, the period that followed in which he had to rebuild himself back from zero, the near victory in the stage of the Paris-Nice, the victory in the “Slovenian” stage of the Giro d’Italia, the Tokyo Olympics and we conclude with how professional cycling is today.

There is lots of material, the past season has been very exciting. Maybe we will film something this year too 😉

PS: English subtitles are available (thank you Ines!).

Filmed by: Danijel Čančarević

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The Canadian double

The race calendar led riders to Canada in the past week – to the Grand Prix of Quebec and Montreal. Those were the last races for Tratnik this season with Team Bahrain Victorious and he honored that with a combative ride in Quebec. In the end it was Cosnefroy Benoir (AG2R Citroen Team), who won the race. Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) was the first to cross the finish line in Montreal a couple of days later.

»I’m coming home tired, but happy. Profile-wise, the race in Quebec was better for me and it would be better to wait for the finale than to attack in the middle of the race and try to make it harder for others. Still, my solid performance motivated me for the next race in Montreal. I knew it would be more difficult because it was longer and had more attitude meters. Unfortunately, I wasn’t strong enough to fight for the first positions in the last climb. I gave it my all, but the race was just too difficult for me. I’m still happy with my performance. Next on the menu is to travel to Australia for World Championship. I feel good and hope I can finish the season well.«

Photo: Sprint Cycling

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One-day races in August

If you don’t race on La Vuelta, then your August schedule consists of one-day races. After the European Championship Jan raced in Hamburg at the BEMER Cyclassics and in Plouay at the Bretagne Classic. Marco Haller (BORA – Hansgrohe) won the BEMER Cyclassics in a bunch sprint. Tratnik’s racing was compromised by a bunch crash, in which he luckily wasn’t involved but the damage was done anyway.

“After European Championship I very quickly refocused as new races and challenges were on the horizon. I traveled to Hamburg where I was aiming at some good results. The first part of the race was relatively calm until we made it to the finishing circuit. The speed increased significantly, and you could feel the tension and stress in the peloton because of the narrow roads and positioning before the climbs, which caused a bunch crash. Luckily, I wasn’t involved but I lost contact with the leading riders. A little later on, I managed to get back to the first group, but I spent a lot of energy doing that and was not able to follow the best ones on the last climb. Nevertheless, I’m happier to finish the race without new bruises and in one piece.”

A week later, Tratnik traveled northwest of France to race a 255 km long one-day race known as the Bretagne Classic. Jan made the race very exciting with a breakaway, solo ride, and several attacks. Unfortunately, he was caught just a few kilometers from the finish. Wout van Aert (Jumbo Visma) won the race from a small group sprint.  

»Bretagne Classic was on my mind as a special goal for the second part of the season. Also, the team made me the team captain. I seized the given opportunity and decided to attack 70 km to the finish where the terrain became more difficult. There were quite a few riders in the break, but the peloton had us on 30-40 seconds all the time. I had to speed up to avoid being caught early. Later on, in the race, I was solo in front of the break and saw two riders approaching. I decided to wait for them and continue together because we were much stronger if we worked together. The closer we got to the finish line, the more I believed I can win it. Unfortunately, I was caught 4 km to the finish. I attacked one more but was caught after some time. Still, I didn’t give up. I wanted to sprint but had some bad luck there as well. I speeded up from behind, but the group moved to the right and closed my line to the finish. Nevertheless, I’m extremely happy with my performance because it gives me lots of motivation for upcoming races in Canada.”

Photo: Sprint Cycling

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European Championship

Münich hosted this year’s European Championship in cycling. Riders competed in the individual time trial on a dynamic, 24 km long route. Jan Tratnik and Matic Žumer rode for Slovenian National Team. Tratnik had a bad day after a long season and finished 13th one minute and 41 seconds behind the winner of the day – Stephan Bissegger (Switzerland).

»I have to admit this was not what I wanted today. I somehow managed to race solidly in the first part but the second part was a disaster. I’m disappointed but that’s life. I would probably be even more disappointed if I had stayed at home and watched the race on TV. I did my best but didn’t have the right power. Nevertheless, I’ve had worse days. It seems like I’m not in the best shape because my condition changes daily. I hope I will be able to continue the season more successfully.”

The road race took place on Sunday and the Slovenian national team finished 6th with Luka Mezgec. Fabio Jakobsen (the Netherlands) won the 207 km long race in a bunch sprint. Tratnik was working for the team in the last part of the race.

“European championship ended as expected – with a bunch sprint. I tried to go in a breakaway 110 km to the finish because I didn’t want a controlled race. However, the other teams were too organized and didn’t allow for surprises. We worked very well together as a team. We knew we should bring Luka in front, but we didn’t have a lead-out team. We still managed to bring Luka in front in the final laps. That was important because the final laps were very technical, and you could save a lot of energy if you stayed in front. If we compare ourselves with other teams, the rest had their lead-out teams and since we didn’t, I think Luka did amazing finishing 6th.”

Photo: Sprint Cycling & Christof Stache/AFP & Kolesarska zveza Slovenija & Personal Achieve

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Tour after Tour in numbers

This was my second Tour and seventh Grand Tour. I didn’t have the ideal preparations for racing on Tour because, after my crash in Giro, there was a big question mark over my race calendar and my physical condition. Due to the different illnesses and injuries of my teammates, I got my place on the team for the Tour. And I’m very grateful and proud of it. However, I’m not particularly happy with my performance because I wasn’t there in any of the winning breakaways and I only managed a solid result on the ITT. I’m still looking for answers to questions like “what did I do wrong”. Tour is the biggest race and preparations for it start as early as in May (or even earlier). I found I will race very last minute, and I didn’t have the right time to prepare for it. Also, because of my Giro injury, I couldn’t do any altitude training camp, which (I found later on) is an absolute must for me to be well prepared for a Grand Tour. I also had very little time to prepare myself mentally for the biggest race of the season. Before the Tour started, I believed everything can go smoothly but I soon realized then the race was extremely tough, and it won’t get any easier. Without the right preparation, bad days keep happening, affecting your motivation and focus. For illustration and out of my own curiosity I gathered some data which describe the circumstances we raced in. Enjoy 😊

6. stage: Binche – Longwy: Very tough stages. Breakaway after breakaway for 1h45min (or 87 km), average speed 49 km/h, average watts 279, 360/NP (avg.).

12. stage: Briançon – L’Alpe d’Huez: Crazy! What an atmosphere. Sweat and alcohol in the air. Vive le Tour 😊

15. stage: Rodez – Carcassonne: Extremely hot stage. Average temperature 40°C, max. temperature 45°C.

16. stage: Carcassonne – Foix: Another hot stage with high humidity too (average temperature 37 ° C, max. temperature 41°C.

18. etapa: Lourdes – Hautacam: 4036 vertical meters. The winner needed 4 hours to finish the stage. I rode 4h 35min. Average watts for the disco group that day were 254/ 299 NP (avg). The time limit was 40 min.

21. stage: Paris La Defense – Paris (Champs-Elysees): Coffee ride to Champs-Elysees. For the first hour and 50 minutes (or first 50 km), we had an average speed of 27,8 km/h.

The highest speed achieved on stage 9: 96 km/h.

Below is a graph of my max. heart rate during all stages. As you can see, rest days are much needed/wanted 😊

Photo: Sprint Cycling, Poci’s Pix, Personal Archive

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9 down, 12 to go 

One-third of the Tour de France is in the books and it was an exciting one. We witnessed rainy conditions in the opening ITT, fear from echelons, racing on legendary Roubaix cobbles, thrilling sprint finales, and a taste of mountain stages, which indicates we will enjoy some exciting performances next week in the Alps. Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) is currently leading in the general classification. Three minutes and forty seconds behind is Damiano Caruso, the best-situated rider from Team Bahrain Victorious. Tratnik is in the role of a domestique.

»”First week” is done and dusted. The first stages were super-fast, and it feels like the second rest day came quite quickly – much needed. I’m happy with how we race but I was mostly in the role of a domestique. Unfortunately, we lost Jack who crashed in stage 5. I was quite lucky in terms of crashes. I only sprained my middle finger. Except for being swollen is all good and I can race normally.

I tried to go in a breakaway in some stages but there were too many teams interested in catching the break or sprinting in the finale, so it wasn’t really successful. However, I’m happy with how I feel. I didn’t feel 100% at the beginning but I think I’m getting better and better each day. I spent the rest day very easily. I went on a short training to stretch my legs, rest the whole day and not think about the race. A brutal week is coming, it’s going to be tough, but I’m looking forward to it. Also, because of the many Slovenian fans who started gathering along the roads.”

Photo: Chris Auld, Personal Archive

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National championship & TdF announcement

The national championship individual time trial took place yesterday in Karteljevo near Novo mesto. Jan Tratnik (Team Bahrain Victorious) won the title again on a 28.8 kilometers long route with some uphill and downhill sections. Thus, he will proudly wear the national champion jersey on ITTs one more year. His team mate, Matej Mohorič was second and Jan Polanc (UAE Team Emirates) finished third.

»I’m extremely happy to defend the title. It was a tight battle with Matej until the finish line but I somehow managed to squeeze out the needed power to secure the win. I had good legs, I feel my performance is back on track and I also liked the route. I actually really enjoyed the race.”

Next week on Friday, the 1st of July we mark the beginning of the most prestigious three-week race, the Tour de France. In these days, the teams are releasing their line-ups of riders who will fight for the yellow jersey. Team Bahrain Victorious just announced their line-up of riders who will race on the Tour de France, including Jan Tratnik.

“I’m very proud and grateful to my team, which selected me for the Tour de France. I didn’t know what the decision would be until the last minute. Nevertheless, after my Giro crash, I refocused all my energy and training on Tour, hoping I would be selected. I can say the preparation period was very successful, my wrist is ok now and I think I’m ready for Tour. It’s true, Tour is a race on the next level and you need time to prepare not just physically but also mentally. I didn’t have that much time to do the latter, but I still believe I made the needed shift in my mind and I’m ready for it. I’m very excited and can’t wait for it to start.”

Photo: & Team Bahrain Victorious