TELLURIDE, Colorado (VN) — Tom Danielson, Tejay van Garderen and Taylor Phinney are all riders with strong Colorado ties that are in the Four Corners this weekend to kick off the 2012 USA Pro Challenge.
But another man, Jani Brajkovic (Astana), is launching into what could well be described as his home-away-from-home race.
“I do spend a lot of time here; the people are so nice and they treat me very well,” Brajkovic told VeloNews on Sunday outside his dormitory on the Fort Lewis College campus. “This is definitely my second favorite race of the year, behind the Tour de France.”
Brajkovic, ninth in the Tour after crashing hard the day before the final time trial, spends a good deal of time in Boulder, training alone and working with his coach, Dirk Friel, and physiologist Iñigo San Millan. The Slovenian enters the Pro Challenge with his eyes on a top-five overall result and tipped another of his Colorado cohorts as the top favorite.
“I have to be realistic and honest. I don’t think I can win the race,” he said when asked about his goals in Colorado this week.
“This race will go down to the seconds, and for me, I would have to have at least 40 seconds to Tejay (before the final time trial), because he is the number one favorite.”
Brajkovic, 28, has seen van Garderen develop at the sport’s top level. In 2010, it was Brajkovic that won the Critérium du Dauphiné when the American was third overall, behind Alberto Contador. In the 2012 Tour, Brajkovic chased van Garderen’s teammate Cadel Evans for sixth overall — one place behind the American — before his untimely crash erased any hope of moving up on GC.
“It’s too late now, but I can say that crash cost me sixth,” he said.
Still, ninth was Brajkovic’s career-best grand-tour result. It came a year after he crashed out of the race with a broken collarbone and concussion, but it’s nowhere near his ceiling, he said.
“My focus is on the grand tours,” he said. “I am capable of a top five for sure (next year).”
To do that, Brajkovic said, he must improve his Achilles heel: his time trialing. He lost 2:26 to Bradley Wiggins in the stage 9 TT in this year’s Tour, ceding 1:20 to van Garderen. To do so, the Astana leader wants to increase the amount of work he puts into training efforts, like finding the ideal balance between power and drag and getting a time trial bike to train on at home.
“At RadioShack (during 2010-11), I had a TT bike at home and definitely spent more time TT bike training and that’s why I was maybe faster,” he said.
Brajkovic was eighth in the stage 8 time trial in the 2011 Vuelta a España and fifth in the Grenoble TT at the Dauphiné two months earlier. In fact, Brajkovic took command of the 2010 Dauphiné after winning the third-stage ITT in Sorgues.
In a week, he’ll face another test against the clock, this time in downtown Denver. And though he has spent almost six months in Boulder in recent years, Brajkovic doesn’t know how van Garderen, Danielson and the other Boulder-based pros will fare in the penultimate-stage showdown on Flagstaff Mountain.
“I always train by myself. I don’t know why,” he said. “I like to do what I want, not what other guys want. When you ride with a group, you draft a lot of the time and it’s much easier. I just like to put my head down and chase the numbers on my SRM.”
Brajkovic trained on stage 6’s finish climb during a camp earlier this year and knows the numbers he’s capable of on the 6.9km Flagstaff ascent. He’ll hope to be there, alone, on the front of the race, chasing numbers on his SRM above his adopted second hometown of Boulder.