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Janez Brajkovič will round out Bahrain – Merida’s climber ranks after penning a deal to join the new team for 2017, the team announced Wednesday.
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The 32-year-old returns to the WorldTour after racing two seasons with UnitedHealthcare, and will provide additional help for team captain Vincenzo Nibali in the deep mountains.
“This is a unique opportunity for me to ride again in the highest class,” Brajkovič said in a team release. “I am determined to prove that I still belong in professional cycling, and I’m very motivated and also optimistic about the next season. My priority now is to give 100 percent to the team, help Nibali and other teammates, and also prove to myself that I am still capable of good results.”
A pro since 2005, the birdlike Slovenian has had an up-and-down career marked by impressive results, including ninth at the 2012 Tour de France, as well as questions about his durability in the elite peloton after being hit by illnesses and injuries.
A winner of the U23 world time trial title in 2004 (beating pre-race favorite Thomas Dekker), he turned pro with Discovery Channel the following season. He’s won six pro races, including the overall at the 2010 Critérium du Dauphiné where he beat Alberto Contador and Tejay van Garderen.
He hasn’t raced a grand tour since withdrawing from the 2014 Giro d’Italia, but the team is expecting Brajkovič to help Nibali in the mountains as well as lead in one-week stage races across the calendar.
“Jani has definitely much more to show and he will be an important member of the team and important help to other riders of Bahrain, specially at the grand tours,” a press release said.
Bahrain – Merida now counts 27 riders on its roster. Including Nibali, the team signed Ion Izagirre, Giovanni Visconti, and Kanstantsin Siutsou to help in the grand tours. Joaquim Rodríguez is also joining, in large part to bring his valued UCI points to the table, and isn’t expected to be a major factor on the bike, if he races at all.
Veterans Heinrich Haussler, Enrico Gasparotto, and Ramunas Navardauskas will step in the classics, with Sonny Colbrelli will lead in the sprints.
The team will make its debut at the Santos Tour Down Under in January.