PEZ sat down to interview Janez Brajkovič at the recent Astana team’s pre season training camp. He’s won the Dauphiné, placed top 10 at the Tour de France and has a lot to say – from using power meters or feeling in training to the differences between the ‘Bruyneel Astana’ and the ‘Vino Astana’, and even a few words about his ex-boss Lance Armstrong.
Janez Brajkovič has had some top results in his career, but he has also had a lot of bad luck, crashing out of the Tour de France not just once but twice in three years. In 2012, the year he didn’t crash, he was 9th in the Tour add to that his brilliant win in the 2010 Critèrium du Dauphiné over Alberto Contador and lots of top ten placings in the hard races and you can see he has the class. So we had lots of things to ask the ex-World champion on his 30th birthday.
PEZ: Happy Birthday Jani.
Janez Brajkovič: Thanks a lot.
PEZ: It’s been 9 years since you were under 23 World time trail champion. Has your career gone the way you would have liked?
Jani: Yea 2004. There have been some ups and downs, but in general I’m happy with what I’ve done so far, but I think there is a lot more to come.
PEZ: What is your role in the Astana team?
Jani: It depends on what my condition will be. I think in this team it’s like if you are strong you will get your chance and if you’re not then you’ll work for the others. I know now that when I’m really strong I’ll get my chances, I’m not worried about not getting my chances.
PEZ: When do you want to be in shape?
Jani: I’ll be in shape for the Giro, I think that’s the first really big goal. I’d like to start the season strong with Tirreno and be strong there and then we will see. If I start well in Tirreno I think mentally it will be much easy to get that extra bit of form for the Giro. I just hope to stay healthy and injury free.
PEZ: Do you know your schedule?
Jani: Yea, I’ll do one or two races in Mallorca and then the Tour of Oman and then I go to a training camp after that in Tenerife and then I’ll come back for the Camaiore, Roma Maxima and Tirreno, after that I’ll do Criterium International, another training camp, Trentino and the Giro.
PEZ: And after the Giro?
Jani: After the Giro we will see how the things are, or I’ll do the Tour of Switzerland or the Tour, so we will see.
PEZ: The Tour is on the table?
PEZ: Would you have done anything differently in your professional career?
Jani: Yea, I’ve been really unlucky for the past three years, obviously I can’t change that. But maybe there have been some moments I was too generous I would say, giving away victories which would now really mean a lot to me, so yea I regret some of those now.
PEZ: Giving them away to team mates or other riders?
Jani: To other riders, obviously I haven’t won so many races that I could afford to do that, but still. In general I’m pretty happy, I’m happy with this team and how they have treated me. The first year it was a little bit different from RadioShack, the language was a small barrier, but once I adapted, I acclimatised, I think things started to go well and I really felt good.
PEZ: But you speak very good English.
Jani: Yea but in this team they mostly speak Italian or Russian, they do speak English but not so much. I like this team we have a good group of riders, good support now with the trainer, with (Paolo) Slongo, and we have another guy who is doing stretching and core exercises with us, so I would say that’s one step up for us. I’m very happy now.
PEZ: You were in the Bruyneel Astana and now you’re in the Vinokourov Astana, is there much difference between the two?
Jani: Mostly it’s just the language, you know the organisation is almost the same, it’s the way things are done in every teams, it’s not something special or something unique or whatever, just the language I would say.
PEZ: You went into the 2013 Tour as a co-leader with Jakob Fuglsang.
Jani: Yes, because I didn’t know where my condition was and I was very open minded and I was ready to do work for Jakob, because obviously he was ready and showed that as well. But then I unfortunately had that crash and that ended my Tour.
PEZ: So you didn’t find out how well you were going?
Jani: Actually I did find out how good I was, there were moments I was really surprised with the sensations, so I think I was on the level of 2012, if not better, it’s a shame, but.
PEZ: Did you watch the Tour afterwards?
Jani: I did watch the Tour, it wasn’t like I didn’t want to watch the Tour. Of course it was an interesting Tour, but I did feel sad to not be there, that’s normal, life goes on. It was an interesting Tour, it was a very exciting Tour.
PEZ: What has been the high point in your career?
Jani: I would say the Dauphiné (2010), OK beating Contador and others, it wasn’t just beating him, but the condition I had at that point was really, for me, I was really surprised how good I was. But unfortunately I still haven’t figured out what I have to do to get that condition, it’s not like you do this and that and you will be flying, it’s so many other thing that have to go along and right and together, yea the Dauphiné.
2010 Critérium du Dauphiné Stage 6 and Jani holds off Contador on L’Alpe d’Huez.
PEZ: And the lowest point?
Jani: The lowest point, oooof!
PEZ: Didn’t you have contract problems one year?
Jani: That was this year! The team were really understanding, so I can’t say that was the low point. Probably the first part of the season in 2008 I was really bad, highly over trained, but I would say also the first part of 2012 was really rough for me. I thought I was really going well and that turned out to be wrong, the wrong feelings. I was struggling all through the spring and that was mentally really hard for me. I wanted to start well with a new team and everything and things just didn’t come together and I got really concerned and sad and there was a lot of pressure, it was actually it was myself that was putting the pressure on me. So far I wouldn’t say I’ve had any major problems or whatever. Maybe the lowest point of my career would be crashing out of the Tour in 2011, that year I was really, I would say, I was on another level compared to the 2012 Tour. In 2011 I was much stronger and I believe I would probably have been top five that year at that Tour, probably.
PEZ: You will be riding with a new team captain in the Giro (Michele Scarponi).
Jani: Oh Scarponi, he’s a really special guy. He’s really funny, I really like being around him coz he’s always positive, always smiling, always joking and he’s full of positive energy, he really gives you motivation, positive energy and moral, he makes you happy. He’s a good guy.
PEZ: Is that different from some of the others you have ridden with?
Jani: Yea, I can honestly say I have never raced with anyone like Scarponi before. They were funny, they were joking, but also serious at times and I haven’t seen serious Scarponi yet. I believe he will be serious when he’ll have to deliver, but still not too serious.
PEZ: Can you say which leaders you have learned the most from?
Jani: I don’t know, that’s hard to say. I’m not that kind of person who learns from others, I have to try it by myself, but that’s not necessaraly a good thing because I have to try something and fail and then I say ‘OK this doesn’t work’ so I have to do it myself.
PEZ: But can you not learn from watching others?
Jani: Yea, but I still have to test it on myself and then see if it works or if it doesn’t. Everything doesn’t work with every rider, certain things work for me and not with another rider. Of course I have tried a million things, I’ve tried to copy this, copy that and then in the end you realise that the best thing is just to do what you think and you feel is the best and 95% of the time it’s true, it’s just what your body wants, that’s the way to go.
PEZ: Do you work with a power meter?
Jani: Well actually I have every possible device, gadget, recovery tool there is and that’s also not necessarily a good thing as you get over occupied. Trying to recover you do this, you do that, you do stick, you do rollers, you do space legs, you do electric magnetic mat, you do breathing, you do stretching and then the day is over and you are even more tired than when you were after training. What I’ve learned so far is just to find a good balance.
PEZ: So you don’t live by the numbers?
Jani: No not really, they are important but not…just when I have to do something, OK I do this and that, other than that just ride as you feel.
PEZ: Is that the most important advice you would give to a young guy?
Jani: Yea, I mean don’t overdo it, it’s better to do a little bit less than a little bit too much, coz then when you do too much then you’re going to do too much the next day and the next day and its going to be long time to recover from that. So it’s better to do a little less and do quality work.
PEZ: So what’s the big aim for you in cycling?
Jani: Stage races, three week Tours, I find three week races really interesting, they are very stressful, but they have something special. Maybe I’m not a rider who’s going to be on the podium some day, but I want to improve on the 9th place I got in 2012, I’d like to go higher than that, but we’ll see and if we win the Giro with Scarponi I’ll be happy as well. To be part of that victory would be a big thing.
PEZ: And then win the Tour with Vincenzo?
Jani: Yea that would be great.
PEZ: So you are happy riding for someone else?
Jani: Yea I have no problems at all.
PEZ: Would you ride more for one team leaders more than another?
Jani: Yea, there are people you would go as far as you can for them and other people you go: “That’s my job, I’ll do this and that’s enough.” I think it’s how you see that rider, your relationship, how he treats you, that is really important. If you feel he really takes care of you, he likes you and listens to you and gives you something in exchange I think that’s the recipe to go with. Then you will trust him and you’ll do everything you can for him. Sometimes you think if you are not the best friend with a guy, but there some moments you see they really care about you and they want the best things for you.
For example…OK let’s talk about Lance: he was really an occupied person and he was not super accessible, he was on another level you know. But sometimes you would see he really cared about you and that matters a lot. Let’s not talk about what he did wrong, because we cannot say he didn’t do anything wrong, or what he did or what he didn’t do, but as a person he really cared about his riders, it wasn’t like: “you’re paid, you have to do this job” it wasn’t like that, maybe some people say so, but I didn’t get that impression.
PEZ: That’s not the picture that has been painted.
Jani: Yea he did things, he did things wrong, but I think he treated his guys really well, I might be wrong, but he treated me really well.
PEZ: Do you think he has been treated correctly?
Jani: I was just thinking about this the other day on a training ride. OK it makes sense all his sponsors leaving him, but if you think how much those sponsors gained, they might have paid him ten million dollars in his career, but they gained two hundred million, so that’s not really fair. I’m not into sponsorship business; I’m just a bike rider who just likes to ride his bike. But if you think about it, let’s take Trek: Trek, I think, without him would not have a Trek Factory Racing team today, maybe they would but probably they wouldn’t be where there are today. I don’t know the solution how to deal with this, but it’s not really fair.
PEZ: The sponsor thing is one thing, but being banned from doing anything for ever, for the rest of his life, compared to the normal two years.
Jani: Of course there has to be some punishment or whatever. I think we put too much effort into the past and not focussing on the future. We now know what was going on, OK so let’s focus on the future and make sure it doesn’t happen again and let’s try to save cycling and let cycling grow.
PEZ: I think you are probably the same as nearly everyone else; Journalists and riders, you’ve just had enough.
Jani: Exactly, now people are coming out with books and films and this and that; “25 years ago he told me this or that.” It’s enough. I think we have started to turn the page now.
PEZ: OK I have to ask you a serious question. What do you think about Chris Baldwin’s (Astana team press guy) beard?
Jani: I said to him over a week ago “what is it with this beard, man, you got to shave,” but he said “it’s very ‘in’ these days”. This morning I said “Chris I have a wish, today is my birthday so could you do something for me,” yea sure, just shave please this is just not right. Maybe for a month for Movember, you do it for a month then it’s over, but it’s not right for cycling. There was Zabriskie he turned up with a big moustache and then there was Pozzatto, but his isn’t much of a moustache. No it shouldn’t be allowed in cycling.
PEZ: You remember in the old communist day’s some of the Russian amateur riders had big beards, you probably weren’t born then?
Jani: Yea, but you remember in that movie, the guy in American Flyer with the big beard and the helmet of a construction worker. It’s a good movie. Big beard, he was the bad guy, yea beards are evil.
PEZ: You said you read PezCyclingNews and look at the Daily Distractions, so in all the places you’ve been in the World where are the best looking women?
Jani: I would say Estonia, by far. I went there in 2004 for the European championships in Otepää. 90% of girls were 175 to 180 (5’8” to 5’10”), long hair, blonde and skinny. You need to go there to photograph podium girls.
Happy birthday to Jani and let’s hope he can get the form he had in the 2010 Critérium du Dauphiné and not crash in the Tour again. Maybe he should grow a beard? Well maybe not.