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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.
For Jan Tratnik, there is more to being a professional cyclist than just riding his bike.
The veteran rider from Idrija in Slovenia has been pushing the pedals as a pro for well over a decade for a variety of different teams – from Quick-Step to CCC Sprandi Polkowice to Bahrain-Victorious.
Racing his bike for a living has given Tratnik a world of experiences that he may not have been afforded in another career, something that he’s grasped with both hands.
“I really like that professional sport can give you knowledge of many things. I have learned a lot about life through cycling,” Tratnik told VeloNews. “I have also learned a lot of other things, like languages.
“Before I was a rider, I didn’t speak very good English and now I can speak English and Italian. I also like cycling because you race outside. You see nature, you are in fresh air and you see many new places, countries and cultures. Being a rider gave me the chance to also make many new friends from lots of different countries.”
The life of a professional cyclist does come at a price, though. Being a rider is more than a job, it is a lifestyle that requires you to travel all over the world and spend weeks and months away from your friends and family.
Free time at home is a precious commodity for Tratnik and, with a life spent on the bike, it’s also important to put it away and find other outlets for his boundless energy.
“It is not easy all of the time, because you are a lot of time away from home, but when you come back after a hard race it is super nice,” Tratnik said. “The thing I most appreciate is when I have free time with my girlfriend and friends. I also like cooking and eating, watching movies together with my girlfriend, and just having fun at home. I like to take it easy and have no stress.
“Most days, I also like to do a short run of about four kilometers before breakfast, to activate my body. I also like to do yoga, in summer I enjoy swimming, in winter cross country skiing. I really like to do a lot of sports and not just cycling. For me works perfectly, because spend thousands of hours on the bike, so it is good to switch sports as much as possible.”
Tratnik is currently riding the Giro d’Italia for Bahrain-Victorious, his third appearance at the Italian grand tour. The first half of the race has been something of a rollercoaster for Tratnik and his teammates.
After a hot start to the GC battle, they lost Mikel Landa to a horrible crash on stage 5. Gino Mäder picked up the team’s morale with a solo win from the breakaway the following day.
Matej Mohorič also had to go home before the first rest day had arrived after a high-speed downhill crash that resulted in his bike snapping in two. Meanwhile, Mäder left earlier this week after getting tangled in an early crash on stage 12. It has left the team with just five riders and several empty spots at the dinner table.
“For me personally, those were very bad moments when you see that your teammate was involved in a crash and has to leave the race,” Tratnik said. “I feel very sorry for Mikel, Matej, and Gino, because we all worked hard to come to the Giro d’Italia in the best possible condition. When you need to leave the race before the end, it’s not nice.”
Mohorič was the only other Slovenian at the Giro d’Italia alongside Tratnik and the pair were rooming together at the race. The 26-year-old’s departure means Tratnik now has some extra space to himself, not that he wanted it.
“It is quite strange when your teammates leave early and it is not a nice feeling, because everybody brings something different, like a new joke or new atmosphere in the group. I was rooming with Matej and now I’m alone,” he said.
“It is super nice to have a roommate at a race, because sometimes, after a bad day or when things don’t go perfectly, it is good to speak with someone. For sure, with your roommate, you can find some solution. You can also talk about other things, not just cycling.
“But this is sport, and we need to deal with this. When Gino won a stage it was really something amazing after the ‘DNF’ of Mikel. We really showed that we came on Giro to do something, even if our leader had already left.”