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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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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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Season 2022

Preparations for the upcoming season of 2022 are in full swing. Team Bahrain-Victorious gathered in Altea, Spain, for almost 14 days. After the offseason and ready for new challenges, Jan says:

»Season 2022 is already in full swing. After a long break in October, I started my trainings in November. The first days were hard because my body had to get used to moving again, but training intensity increased slowly, and I made a nice base for more difficult trainings. Like every year, I did lots of other sports during November and December, such as running, hiking, MTB, cross country skiing (if there was snow), and core exercises, which I do every second day. I also focus on breathing exercises and stretching. Both are very important to avoid injuries, especially when you do so much different sports.

I’m currently on a team training camp here in Spain for almost two weeks. We did all the medical checks, had meetings regarding the race program and the upcoming season, met the new guys, and trained well in the sunny weather. Training camp is slowly coming to an end, and when I come back home, I will still do a couple of trainings. I will take an active rest during the holidays because I will attend two more training camps in January and February before racings start. I’m happy with my performance for this time of the year. I’m fully motivated and very excited for the first races to start.”

Photo: Personal Archive & Bettini Photos

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The art of a breakaway

»Accelerations, attacks, breakaways. You probably noticed many times how a smaller group is formed in the race, riding as fast as they can to come to the finish line in front of the peloton. It’s called a breakaway and I see two main scenarios of why it happens. The first one is that a breakaway includes riders who want to prove themselves to their sponsors, who want to be in the center of the attention because this means they appear a lot on the TV. However, such breakaways usually don’t stand much chance. Even stage profile usually suits more to sprinters. It’s not difficult to get in such a breakaway, but there isn’t much chance for success. Riders from smaller teams fight to go in such breakaways because the media coverage means a lot to them. For example, ProContinental teams (or 2nd division teams) who get the wild card to compete on Grand Tours engage in those breakaways. There is no real anxiety at the start because everyone in the peloton knows sprinters’ teams will take over control. It feels like a “rest day” for riders in the peloton, while the ones in front suffer and also spend much more energy compared to the guys in the back. Even though the breakaway puts in so much effort, they usually don’t end up with a stage win or any kind of result. However, that’s not always the case. It has happened before when the peloton miscalculated the circumstances (speed, distance, the gap between, energy levels) and the breakaway made it to the finish. There is always a 1% chance for success and that’s why you do it. For me, this 1% happened at Paris-Nice 2020 (stage 5). I was in a breakaway for more than 200 km, I was left alone at the end, but the peloton was stronger, and they caught me 50 m to the finish line. This stage haunts me even today, but I learned from it. A few months later I won my first Grand Tour stage – from a breakaway. Breakaways are like a kinder surprise – you never know what you’ll get.

The second scenario represents stages “made” for breakaways. On those days, despite all the calculations, breakaway has a high chance for success. It can happen that one team misses the break and then they have to pull in front of the peloton for the whole day if they don’t want to miss their chance for winning. Most often in such cases, everyone in the peloton knows it will be a real battle to break away. Every rider and every team wants to win. The key question is how to get in a winning breakaway. The answer is: very difficult. It’s almost impossible to predict when it will break, at which point on the race, which combination of riders will be “the one” etc. I’ve noticed this year it often happened that the break didn’t go for 60 km, even 80 or 100 km. This means we have to go through 100 km of racing, where riders attack constantly. It’s attack after the attack, but each is neutralized. It can happen there are 15 riders in front, the peloton almost stops and lets them go, but one team misses the opportunity, they start to pull, and one rider starts to pedal faster to move to the break. The peloton doesn’t let him and it’s gruppo compatto again. All this effort for nothing. Point zero again.

If your team tells you the breakaway can’t go out without you, it’s not an easy mission to complete. You have to be lucky, too. If you attack too much, you lose lots of energy and enter the red zone too early. This usually happens at the worst moment. If you’re already tired and the break didn’t go, then again, it’s not easy, even in the peloton, racing at 50 km/h. It depends on the stage profile as well. If you know the stage is 5 km flat and then the first climb, it’s better to wait. If you spend all your energy in the first 5 km and the break doesn’t form, it can happen very quickly that you stay behind on the climb because you can’t follow, you spent too much. In this case, you can say goodbye to a stage win. I see in the last couple of years how the fight to go in the breakaway got tougher. There are days when the attacks just don’t finish. Each team wants to have one rider in the break. To get to this point, attacks sometimes last for an hour or more. Let’s take a look at an example: if attacks go on for an hour it means there is one attack per minute or two – altogether there are more than 30 attacks in the first hour of racing. If you go along each time one attacks, you will spend too much energy and can easily wave goodbye to the finale.

Breakaways are great for me. I love it when there is action. When the team gives me orders to be in the break, I’m quite nervous, because I never know if I’ll make it, will I be lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. I’m involved in lots of breakaways – to trying win stages or just help my team. It’s always better to have one rider in front because then your team doesn’t have to work so hard back in the peloton.

All I wrote here is very basic and general. It’s difficult to explain the whole dynamics of the breakaways in short because there are so many factors influencing that you just can’t predict all the possible scenarios. It really is an art. I can just say that it’s not that easy to be in the breakaway. You never know what other teams are planning and you can quickly spend too much energy in the beginning.”

Photo: Bettini Photo, Chris Auld Photography

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The domestique – Part 2

“It’s a new day. Let’s say it’s a mountain stage day after a few flat stages. The biggest fear of all riders which are not so good climbers. You might think that riders in grupetto (note: the last bigger group of riders on the race) are lazy or just want to rest. Well, sometimes that’s the case – you want to rest a little bit but that’s rare. Most of the riders in the back are fighting with themselves just to make it to the finish.

Let’s take a look at an example of a stage on the Grand Tour. 180 km and four difficult climbs, one of them starting right at the beginning. A lot of teams want to have a rider in the breakaway and that’s why the tempo is really high. Most of the team captains and good climbers use 70% of their power. Meanwhile, the rest – especially non-climbers are already using 110% of their power and it’s only the beginning. They are suffering and fighting to stay in the race. All those who are left behind on the first climb will have to make it to the finish with a grupetto. The effort they are putting in is as high for them as it is for leaders on the last climb, which means they have to go all out for the next 180 km. Sometimes I find myself in this group too. For example, after a few hard stages or if I was in a breakaway the day before. I can say it is mentally very tough because you never know when the time limit will hit you. You don’t want to go home. You fight with yourself for 180 km and hope that 35 min gap will be enough to stay in the race.

Luckily, I’m not so bad at climbing. I think I even improved in the last few years. I would like to make it clear that each rider, who starts a world tour race is a rider worth all the respect and admiration. A lot of people only see the winners, but we should also pay attention to the riders in the groups behind. These riders are domestiques, who gave it absolutely all in previous stages for their leaders, who brought them bidons, food, clothes, kept them safe from crosswinds, and generally just tried to keep the leaders as fresh as possible. Even though we all know that the next day can be one hell of a stage and we will be fucked, we all do it for the team. Here are also sprinters, lead-out guys, breakaway guys – we shouldn’t forget about them.

There also come days when everything is wrong. When you try to do your best, but you just can’t. You already did 14 stages and then you have a bad day. That is the last thing you want at that moment, especially if it’s a mountain stage. I’m having difficulties settling with the thought that it was just a bad day. I’m disappointed because I couldn’t help my team. I could just simply say “it wasn’t my day”, but I can’t. I feel like I let my team down. I usually feel ok with myself after a few hours when I realize I’m just a human being, who trains 100 hours per month to be ready for a Grand Tour (note: Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, Vuelta Espana). You have to be ok with the fact that sometimes your body has enough, and you just can’t push it over the limit. This isn’t a PlayStation. When those days come, you have to acknowledge it’s a “bad day”, still make it to the finish line in time, go on with the routine involving physiotherapies, dinner, maybe some team meeting, hope for a good sleep, and be ready to race again next day.

After a bad day comes a very difficult and long stage. For example, a 230 km long stage. You are nervous because you don’t know how you will feel. You have to set your alarm at 7:00 in the morning or even earlier. Wake up, still half asleep, your legs hurt, but you make it to the bathroom, where you hope you will be able to wake up more by washing your face with cold water. You roll the curtains and see it’s raining. However, the 230 km long stage is still on and unchanged.

You don’t realize when it happens but suddenly the Grand Tour is almost over and you’re counting the days down. Legs are hurting more and more every day and the tempo is the same or even higher. Each day same tasks, same stress, same fight for positions – 21 stages, each day 5h of full focus. Even just one small corner can cause your team leader a good result. Then there is the last stage. You can feel there is something special in the air. It’s a great relief when you cross the finish line. Then there is a podium ceremony for the first three riders and all the best in different classifications. I see all the riders who made it to the end as winners. I have great respect for all, for winners, climbers, sprinters, and those who are not so good at climbs because I know how hard it is just to be there. To cross the finish line in stage 21 is a great success. This means you made it through a lot of traps, cold weather, sometimes even snow, heat, difficult and narrow roads, corners, descents, and climbs.

I made peace with myself. I can’t win a Grand Tour because I’m not that type of a rider, and I don’t have the right genetics to do it. However, my qualities lie elsewhere. I can do a good time trial and I’m quick on shorter climbs like the ones on Belgium classics. I also know I can be a great domestique. That’s something you usually can’t see on TV, but it can be seen among us, riders. If I can help my team leader to be on the podium, then I’m extremely happy and proud. In the same way, captains are proud of us and grateful for our work. Even if we sometimes cross the finish line 45 minutes behind them, while they are already showered and ready for the next thing. In the end, we shake hands, thanks for your work, good job. I’m all ready and motivated for my work even more.

To conclude, I would like to point out – to make sure you don’t get the wrong impression – team leaders don’t have an easy job as well. They are the strongest in the race and have their own fights. I just wanted to introduce you to how it looks and feels like to be a domestique, behind the scenes, because that’s something I know best. In the end, leaders carry much more responsibility to deliver top results. We are just here to make it easier for them.”

Photo: Bettini Photos

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The domestique – Part 1

“I would like to introduce you to a role of a domestique in the peloton – the way I see it. We all know there can be only one winner in a race, but there is a lot of support from different people behind. I would first like to point out on mechanics – who make sure the bike is functioning well throughout the whole stage/race, soigneurs/physiotherapists – who keep our legs and bodies as fit as possible, medical doctors – who take care of us if we have some illness, chefs – who cook our pasta, nutritionists – who make sure our nutrition is well planned and our glycogen full, coaches – who plan our trainings and performance peaks, sports directors – who decide on tactics and roles in the team, and team management – who take care of all the logistics (quite a difficult job in my opinion), signing riders and staff, and deciding on the race calendar. Keep in mind that was just a brief description. The leader usually has one goal – to finish the race off with the best possible results, while domestiques have to make his job easier.

There are a few types of domestiques: for flat, hilly, or sprint stages. Each has a very important role. Leaders usually trust domestiques and they have to do everything they can so that the leader is as fresh as possible. A small mistake can cost the whole team a good result. Team spirit is very important too. We are all professionals, who know our roles in the team. There is no easy stage in cycling nowadays. A stage might seem easy on paper and you can think to yourself it’s a sprint day. However, real-life cycling is much more complicated than that. For example, in some flat stages, the fight for positions starts already 50 km to the finish. There are stages with nice, wide roads, without roundabouts or technical corners –one can say, without traps. Stages like this are relatively easy and without much stress. The problem is there are only 5% stages like this nowadays. More commonly, we are passing through narrow streets, corners, and roundabouts. The peloton stretches so much that there can be more than 500 m between the first and the last rider. Teams definitely don’t want their riders in the last positions.

If there is a crash or the peloton simply stretches too much, the team should do a lead-out to bring the leader back in the game. That’s not always possible to do because the peloton is racing at 60-65 km/h and you just can’t go faster than that. Therefore, rule number one: keep your leader in the first positions to avoid a crash, side wind troubles, etc. My role in such stages is to keep the leader out of the wind and my work can start as soon as 50 km to the finish line or even earlier. All of that just to keep the leader safe into the last 3 km. Usually, there is no success such as winning the stage in terms of GC contenders, but you have to see the big picture. The fight for positions is unbelievable. Each of the 180 riders in the race wants to be there and you don’t want to lose position, which means you have to ride even faster than they do. We ride very close, you can measure it in a couple of centimeters and there is a lot of contacts. Crashes are inevitable.

Comparing the peloton these days with the peloton a few years ago, I can say I see less respect among the riders. There is much more pressure from the team, sponsors and each wants to do their job 100%. I think we should use our heads more sometimes but with a heart rate over 180 is difficult to think clearly. These flat stages are the most stressful for me because I spend a lot of energy and I have to stay focused not to make any mistakes. In the end, I don’t gain personally, even if the leader is in front. I’m fully aware that if I make a mistake and my team stays behind, it’s my fault.

I can’t think of a leader who wouldn’t say thank you at the end. I think each team leader says it and not just once and not just to the riders, also to the staff. After the stage, if we did everything as was planned, we are happy and excited for a new day. We forget about the struggle and enjoy the hours we have left till sleep time. That is probably around two hours in a bus, driving to the next hotel, followed by a massage, physiotherapy, sometimes even a session with an osteopath. That’s in total approximately two hours of therapies. Dinner is usually around 22:00 in the evening. We never eat alone, always together as a team. We then go to our rooms and try to fall asleep as soon as possible, which is usually very difficult after such late dinner.«

(to be continued)

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Postcard from El Teide

»I’m writing you from El Teide, where I’m building on my performance at an altitude training camp. Altitude, nice weather, and good roads make this destination one of the best in my opinion for preparation. Caruso and Poels are keeping me company here. Also, the staff is here, who make sure the training camp runs smoothy. They take care of our trainings, nutrition, rest and bikes.

Next months will be very busy for me. Right after the altitude training camp, I will travel to the north, where I will race Amstel and Fleche, followed by Romandie, Giro, and Slovenia. There will be a lot of races and traveling in a very short period of time. However, I don’t bother with it. I’m just very excited and can’t wait to pin my number again.”

Photo: Personal Archive