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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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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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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

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Tour of Slovenia & “Syuk’s corner”

The 28th edition of the Tour of Slovenia finished last Sunday in Novo mesto. In just five days, the peloton covered quite a substantial part of Slovenia ranging from Nova Gorica, Rogaška Slatina, Celje, Velika Planina, and Novo mesto. Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) won the race, while Tratnik’s team mate Domen Novak (Team Bahrain Victorious) was third in the general classification. The most important goal for Jan was to get back to racing and help his team to achieve some good results.

»After more than a month I’m back at racing. Till the last minute the team and I weren’t really sure if I’m ready or not. Eventually, the pain in my wrist was not an issue anymore and we decided I can race the Tour of Slovenia. My main goal was to get back to the racing rhythm as soon as possible and help my team achieve some good results. I can say, I did a few mistakes during the race because after one month I didn’t know how good I am. All in all, I’m happy with my performance. As a team, we were very active during the race by starting a few attacks, which sometimes ended up unsuccessful. Nevertheless, we trained well and made the race more exciting. I’m happy I finished the race and improved my performance.

I saw a lot of fans throughout the race, which makes me very happy. It shows how cycling is growing in Slovenia. I would like to thank everybody for such warm support, especially my friends and family from Idrija, who did an amazing job organizing the “Syuk’s corner”. It was a little strange to race on the home roads because usually I ride there on the edge of the road, but this time we had the whole road for ourselves. It was a really special day that I will remember forever. I knew my friends and family are waiting for me at the “Syuk’s corner”, which got me to be a little emotional and I really wanted to ride there in the first position.

My energy is now focused on National Championship in the individual time trial. I hope I can recover well from the Tour of Slovenia and do a good race on Thursday.”

Photo: Matic Ozebek

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A Giro to forget

Giro d’Italia started the previous week and the Grande Partenza was hosted in Budapest this year. The first stage finished uphill, the second was the individual time trial in the streets of Budapest and the last one was a sprint stage. Tratnik was involved in a crash, just a few kilometers from the finish line in the first stage. However, he finished the stage and also did the ITT the next day, but then, unfortunately, had to abandon the race in the third stage due to the enormous pain in his wrist. X-rays show he has a broken wrist and thus Giro ended way too early for him. He is out of racing for a few weeks to heal and will come back even stronger.

“Unfortunately, Giro ended way too soon for me. The consequences of the crash in the first stage are too severe to continue. X-rays show I have a broken wrist (scaphoid) and my hand is not useful. I tried to do the ITT and hope for the best, but my wrist got swollen through the night, I didn’t sleep at all, and I knew it will be a tough day. I still tried and did my best, but the pain was too much. I don’t have any strength in my arm, I’m not even capable to pull the brakes and hold the handlebar properly. By continuing I would only risk another crash, which could have been even worse.

It was very difficult to step off the bike and abandon the race because I put so much effort into preparations for this Giro. Also, my legs felt great the first day. However, I know it was the right decision because there will be plenty of races. My goal now is to heal as soon as possible to come back even stronger. I wish all the best to my team, and I believe they will succeed in the end.”

Photo: Chris Auld Photography, Sprint Cycling Agency

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Call for rest days

Another Belgian classic was on the schedule today, the Brabantse Pijl. However, the racing conditions were not ideal as most of the time was raining and the road was very slippery. After 200 kilometers of racing, Magnus Sheffield (INEOS Grenadiers) was the first to cross the finish line. Quite a number of riders didn’t finish the race, Tratnik among them.

“I simply didn’t feel good today. After Amstel Gold Race I was very tired and obviously, I didn’t fully recover. The rain made the legs even stiffer and when we came to the final laps, I just couldn’t follow the best riders. Instead of keeping up with the best, I was losing positions. I didn’t have the right power and energy and that’s why I quickly lost contact with the peloton. I’m not disappointed because I gave it all and the first part of the season was very successful. I’m going back home now to rest and recover. After that, I’m focusing on Giro d’Italia.”

Also, the fans are focusing on Giro d’Italia. We created a special limited-edition shirt “Grande Syuk” for that occasion. You can order it in the shop and support Jan on Giro. The race will also lead the riders through Slovenia and that’s something we are really looking forward to.

Photo: Sprint Cycling Agency, Luc Claessen (Getty Images)