Throughout the Giro d’Italia, VeloNews will be talking to some of the unsung heroes in the peloton – those riders that battle on each day without the recognition the major GC favorites or sprint stars receive.
Seeing his home fans on the side of the road is a huge morale boost for Slovenian rider Jan Tratnik.
Slovenian cycling is riding high at the moment, but the country’s fan support has long been among the most dedicated in the world. The Giro d’Italia is when they are at their best, with many fans flocking across the border with Italy for a chance to watch the peloton scream by.
Tratnik is one of two Slovenians in the race this year – along with his Bahrain-Victorious teammate Matej Mohoric – and he’s excited for stage 15 when the race dips into his home country.
“There are some moments when you forget about the pain, and fans give you some extra energy,” Tratnik told VeloNews. “When I see Slovenian flags by the road, knowing that they rode far away from home to see the race, it is just amazing.
“Cycling in Slovenia is very popular now and I can see that many people are following it, and everybody knows about the big races. A lot of people watch the Giro, and everybody is excited about it. I’m very grateful for that, because I know I have a lot of support from Slovenia – even if is now harder to watch from the side of the road.
“The race will go into Slovenia this year and I can’t wait. It will be a very special day and, for sure, there will be a lot of Slovenian fans.”
Fans, whether they be Slovenian or otherwise, are often on the lookout for souvenirs to take home from a race. Bidons are usually the primary currency but fans will gladly take anything and some of them are willing to give something in return, as Tratnik found out.
“You get many fans who want to swap a bidon or something else for some gifts. There was this one time that I gave to someone my gloves and he gave me some Belgian beer,” Tratnik said.
From roadside fan to stage-winner
Tratnik was once one of those passionate Slovenian fans on the side of the road, though he doesn’t remember the first time he saw the Giro d’Italia pass by because he was too young. His interest in the race came a little bit later, when he discovered cycling as a passion and started to dream about being among the corsa rosa peloton.
He made his Giro d’Italia debut in 2017 as part of the CCC Sprandi Polkowice team and returned to it in 2020, where he picked up his first grand tour win with a solo attack from the breakaway. The finish town of San Daniele del Friuli was just over an hour away from the Slovenian border.
“I don’t know which year was it, but my parents told me once the Giro d’Italia passed close to the city where I live, in Idrija, and we went watch this race,” Tratnik said. “Actually, I don’t remember anything, because I was so young. Then, later I went to watch the Giro as a fan in 2009. I was already a cyclist by then and had been riding for two years.
“When I started cycling, I often watched the Giro on the television. Of course, at first, my dream was to be on the start line just once. Now I am in my third and last year I won a stage, which made me very happy. This win gave me a lot of confidence for the future, that I’m able to win on the biggest races.
“Those are moments that I will never forget.”
The Giro d’Italia is known for its picturesque scenery, indeed many people will watch it for that alone. However, there are rarely any chances to appreciate the environment you’re in when the peloton is going full speed through villages and up mountains.
However, Tratnik does like to try and take in some of his surroundings as he journeys around Italy.
“Italy is one of my favorite countries because it has so many historic cities, amazing food, and nice places,” Tratnik told VeloNews. “To be able to ride your bike all around Italy is really nice and I enjoy each day. Also, spring is waking up, and nature is just amazing. Normally in the mountains, I suffer, but when you pass some of the legendary climbs with amazing views, it is simply amazing.
“The best moment, though, is when you finish a grand tour. When you cross the finish line for the last stage it is an amazing feeling.”