Without contract, Brajkovic yearning for return to U.S. team

Janez Brajkovic hints that he would like to return to a U.S.-registered team following his injury-plagued season

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BURGOS, Spain (VN) — It’s the time of the year when nerves start ratcheting up. By late August, there’s a growing anxiety within the peloton, at least for anyone without a secured contract for the upcoming season. Most deals are knotted up before the end of the Tour de France.

One of those entering the uncertainty bubble is 30-year-old Janez Brajkovic (Astana). The skinny Slovenian told VeloNews he still does not have a contract for next season.

“I have nothing,” he said. “Honestly, I have nothing so far, so we’ll see. I don’t know. It’s hard.”

Brajkovic admittedly is coming off one of his worse seasons since turning a pro in 2005 with Discovery Channel. He won the world U23 time trial title in 2004, beating the heavily favored Thomas Dekker, a result that led him to join the U.S team.

Brajkovic stayed under the tutelage of now-banned director Johan Bruyneel, first at Discovery Channel, then Astana, and again at RadioShack through 2011. He won the Tour de Georgia in 2007 and the Dauphiné Libéré in 2010.

A move back to Astana in 2012, however, saw Brajkovic struggle to find his place on the team run by Alexander Vinokourov and a mix of Kazakhs, Italians, and Russians.

“I need to find a team where I can be myself, do the races I like, and get the results that I know I am capable of getting,” Brajkovic continued. “Ideally, it would be an American team.”

Brajkovic’s time trialing skills mixed with his birdlike physique allow him to stay close with the pure climbers, earning him a career-best ninth place overall at the 2012 Tour de France.

But the arrival of Vincenzo Nibali, who won the 2014 Tour and who now dominates the team’s GC ambitions, means that Brajkovic has been muscled out of the team hierarchy.

“I really miss those American races, the American mentality,” he said. “I like staying in the States, doing California, Colorado, Utah. I love those races. That’s me. I miss those RadioShack days.”

With Nibali focusing on the Tour, Brajkovic was instead targeting the Giro d’Italia this year. Despite coming into the race with high hopes, he crashed heavily in foul weather in stage 6 through rain and hail on the road to Monte Cassino, the same day that saw Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) crash out as well.

Brajkovic held up his skinny left arm and pointed to the inside of his elbow.

“I shattered my left elbow. This bone was completely flipped back,” he explained. “All the muscle and ligaments in your hand are tied in down there. It took me a long time to be able to flex my fingers. I still cannot fully extend my left pinky finger.”

Dogged by allergies early in the season, coupled with his Giro crash, Brajkovic has barely scored any notable results at all this season, or the valuable UCI points that come with them.

“Luck! I need some luck,” Brajkovic shook his head. “I’ve been really suffering with injuries all season, and I haven’t been able to show what I am capable of. I feel really good now. I hope to be able to get some results in the races that remain.”

Brajkovic did himself a favor Friday, riding to fifth in the decisive mountain stage at the Vuelta a Burgos, putting himself in podium range with two days left in the race. A final-day, 12km time trial Sunday could see him land on the podium for the first time all season.

When asked if he was racing the Vuelta a España, Brajkovic answered, “Uh … Probably not. I am on the reserve list, but we’ll see.”

“It’s been a really hard season for me, with injuries and no results, and I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself,” he continued. “It’s not over yet. There are still a few races to go. Let’s see if I can get some good results. I just need no bad luck.”

If Brajkovic can make his own luck at the final weekend of the Vuelta a Burgos, maybe his fortunes can turn around rather quickly.

An American in France

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