The Slovenia Times

Future Uncertain



Slovenia has been a force to be reckoned with in professional cycling for over a decade and, at one stage, we had as many as eight cyclists taking part in the Giro. However, until the arrival of Tadej Valjavec and Jani Brajkovič, they were mainly second fiddlesbit players. Valjavec was the first one to make his markhistory when, in 2004, he was appointed thecaptain of the Phonak team for the Giro and finishing 9th overall. Brajkovič, a former junior world time trial champion, came to the fore after joining the now defunct Lance Armstrong's Discovery Channel team and winning last year's US Tour of Georgia.

This year, the Slovene phalanx has been joined by Simon Špilak, a rookie member of the Italian Lampre team, who surprised all and sundry by finishing 9th in the Tour of Flandres classic, the best ever result by a Slovene cyclist.

While Valjavec was 8th in another cycling classic, between the Tyrrhenian and Adriatic coasts, his general circumstances for this year are largely unclear. He has switched to the French team AG2R but even Valjavec does not know what his position within the team is. He will take part in both the Giro and the Tour but the question is whether he will be captain or not, which is his only realistic chance of challenging for top honours. Captain or not, he could become the first Slovene to win a single stage. He came closest in 2005 when he was second in one of the most difficult stages and he may well be able to capitalise on the exclusion of a number of former heavyweights of professional cycling.

Jani Brajkovič's situation is more dire. Together with Johan Bruyneel, his widely-acclaimed coach from Discovery Channel, he joined the star-studded team of Astana last year only to find out later that the team has been excluded from this year's Giro and Tour. These two races are "invitation only" and the respective organising committees felt that they needed to distance themselves from Astana due to its links with the doping scandal, despite accepting that the individual cyclists are "clean".

The list of other Slovenian professional cyclists includes Matej Mugerli (Liquigas, Italy), Gorazd Štangelj (Lampre, Italy) and Jure Golčer (LPR Brakes, Switzerland).

Too Much Stress for Nose

Tomaž Nose, last year's winner of the Tour of Slovenia, has decided to call it a day, at least for now. After being accused of doping, stripped of the win and later cleared, he said that the process had taken its toll: "I have no motivation nor will to spend even an hour, let alone five, on the bike. I am psychologically down but I hope that the determination will come back. Whether it will be in one month or one year, I can't say, but I haven't had the final word yet," said the 26-year-old from Novo mesto.


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