FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Janez Brajkovic – ninth in the 2012 Tour de France and recently banned 10 months for ingesting a contaminated supplement – has opened up about cycling’s anti-doping system and those “best buddies” he trusted.
The 35-year-old Slovenian, who raced in 2018 with the Adria Mobil Continental team, spent the last six months fighting to prove he accidentally consumed the banned stimulant Methylhexaneamine. The UCI governing body accepted his proof, but still issued him a suspension.
“How am I? That’s a good question,” he told VeloNews. “Not great, but to be honest, I’m happy that it finally got out. I can start dealing with it and not pretend.”
Last April at the Tour of Croatia, an anti-doping test showed that he had Methylhexaneamine is his body. Over the last few months, Brajkovic showed that the company that produced the meal replacement supplement that led to his positive test also made a pre-workout powder containing Methylhexaneamine. Somehow, that contaminated the food supplement and led to Brajkovic’s positive.
Since the news Monday, and his blog post explaining the story, people have reached out in support. Brajkovic won the Critérium du Dauphiné, competed in 11 grand tours, and raced in teams Discovery Channel, RadioShack, Astana, Bahrain-Merida, and United Healthcare – so he knows many people in sport.
“It looked like me admitting it and it was my fault, but I explained it, the facts,” he explained.
“That’s it. Out of all my ‘best buddies,’ especially the Slovenians, there was only rider who sent me a message. In a way, it’s good to see who your real friends are. I don’t blame others, once you are affiliated with a positive rider, people see you as a doper.”
Brajkovic spent his early years racing alongside Lance Armstrong and helped him in the Tour de France. Johan Bruyneel managed those teams and kept the talented climber under his umbrella.
Armstrong and Bruyneel now serve lifetime bans.
“Did Lance Armstrong reach out? Not yet, but Johan Bruyneel did,” Brajkovic said.
Brajkovic’s case involves a contaminated supplement, but in a sport with heightened attention after years of scandals from the Festina Affair to Operación Puerto, any case perks interest and tars everyone with the same brush regardless of guilt or innocence.
Brajkovic had been vigilant over the years knowing cycling’s strict rules. Even a few years ago, he pointed out to the doctor that one supplement they used in the team contained a banned octopamine.
Just the same, he found himself in headlines this week that read, “Janez Brajkovic banned.”
“The human attention span is eight seconds. The most they can do is read the headline, that’s it,” he said.
“I was tested on April 18, my sample goes to Athens, Greece, sits there for two months, then to Germany. In three months, I was done with the product, I had no container, lot number or link. I knew it was going to be hard to prove contamination, but I did all I could. One thing in my favor was that the concentration in the urine was super small, that helped convince them.”
The 143-pound climber was not ready to go into detail on his reasons for taking a meal replacement supplement, but did express his concern for overall athlete health within the sport.
“I’m not prepared to talk about it yet, maybe in the near future,” he said. “It’s a very personal thing. It’s a health-related matter that needs to be addressed in cycling overall, no one cares about health. We do so many tests for drugs, but not about the riders health or how they leave the sport.”
Brajkovic’s blog also briefly touched on other dark and testing times over his last decade racing around the world. Brajkovic rode the Tour de France five times, placing in the top 10 overall in 2012. One of those years, a teammate attacked him.
“Strangled? Yeah!” he said with a laugh. “I’ll talk about it but not now, it’ll look like I’m trying to redirect the attention somewhere else.
“Was it Lance Armstrong? It’s probably not going to benefit me to say this but I’ll be honest, Lance was the only one who respected his teammates if you respected him. He took care of everyone who was working for him, everyone.
“I don’t want the sport to be seen as f—ed up but there are some things that are not acceptable. Bullying by team-mates? Yeah, physical things are nowhere near as painful as psychological things, how they manipulate you and how they treat you.
“In some teams, if you don’t follow their path and start asking questions, proposing something better… That’s the biggest problem with me, I’m not super smart, but I know enough to point out some things that are done are wrong. That was my problem.”
The Tour incident happened during a race day. Brajkovic said he argued with a teammate and it spilled over into the team bus.
“I’m an introvert, I never interact with people but when I see my teammates bullied or abused, I jump in and try to defend them,” Brajkovic said.
“I just said, ‘I’m done with you, I’m not talking with you anymore.’ That was enough to start the choking. And after dinner, I was the bad guy, I had to apologize to everyone. My teammate was just sitting there and quiet.”
It is unclear whether Brajkovic will continue racing after his ban. He will be eligible to return to competition this June. His 10-month ban was backdated to start in August of 2018, when Brajkovic withdrew from racing after receiving the notification of his positive test.