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Jan Tratnik on returning to top level cycling with CCC Sprandi Polkowice

Jan Tratnik is one of the most successful riders that has ever ridden for Polkowice-based squad. The winner of Volta Limburg Classic, GC ofTour of Slovakia, TTs at CCC Tour – Grody Piastowskie and Coppi e Bartali, as well as 10th rider of 2017 world championships in TT ends his “orange journey” as he moves to Bahrain-Merida in 2019. In an interview with cccsport.eu, he talks about those two years spent at CCC Sprandi Polkowice, how he has changed as a person and a rider throughout that time and how he was able to solve his problems which hampered his improvement earlier in his professional career. 

What was the best memory you had from those two season? 

For me, every time when I saw how my teammates are working for me was special. It was nice to see how they pull, how they take care of me. I will also always remember how sport directors believed and put trust in me. They gave me a chance and one moment that sticks out the most is when I was selected for the 100th edition of Giro d’Italia.

There isn’t one particular moment, but I would like to thank all the fans, including all Polish ones, who supported me. I always felt welcomed in Poland and that meant a lot.

Which success claimed on the road do you value do most from those two seasons?

For sure I will not forget Volta Limburg Classic. We set up a plan, we stuck to it, everything went perfect and in the end we won. But I must say that I value every victory. Over those two years we managed to get some nice results and I will remember all of them.

When you did your first time trial in Giro and you finished 11th, you were quite surprised with that result and it seemed like you hadn’t known what were you capable of in TT before that stage. Was it a game changer for you? Did it give you the confidence to help you turn from a good time trialist to a great one?

Yes, I believe so. I still remember when I spoke with Piotr Wadecki, whether I should go all in or go easily and save some energy for next stages. He didn’t put any pressure and left final decision to me. Somewhere in the back of my head I thought that I must try. So I decided 15 minutes before the start that I will go full gas in the first part and then I will see how I feel. I did only 5-minute warm up, was almost late for my start but after I rolled off the start ramp I just enjoyed my ride. I felt perfect, had great legs and in the end I realized that I can time trial too.

If I didn’t try that day, I still wouldn’t know how good time trialist I can become. I wouldn’t have prepared in such details to TTs and I wouldn’t have taken those good results that I was able to take. I was 10th in Bergen in last year’s world championships, so I can say that yes,  2017 Giro d’Italia changed my life.

You were also often part of a team that did very well in TTT. Can you describe what made this squad so strong in those team time trials?

Yes, I did many TTTs with CCC Sprandi Polkowice. Basically every time we raced, we were successful. We had many good individual time trialists on the roster and every single one was always giving 120%. In race against the clock you need to believe in yourself and push your body to the limit. If you can not suffer with yourself, you cannot do good TT. The reason why we did well in TTT, is the fact that we stuck together, we supported each other and everybody wanted what’s best for the team. What also played an important role in our success in races against the clock was the aero testing we had conducted on the track and in the wind tunnel before the season. That helped us find the most optimal and efficient position on a bike.

Did you change something about your training, preparation, your mindset, after joining CCC Sprandi Polkowice, which helped you develop as a rider?

Yes, I changed a lot. I became more relaxed. When I think about myself from 3-5 years ago, I was stressing out about everything too much. About diet, kilograms, training, results… But at CCC Sprandi Polkowice I changed my approach. There was no pressure. Every time when I didn’t do a good result, there was no panic or pointing fingers. Sport directors were very understanding. They often calmed me down saying, “don’t worry, it’s just one race. You will bounce back”. And that helped me relax, enjoy training and races. I was friend with everybody and I could talk with everybody. That helped me a lot.

When you go to a race you have to concentrate on giving maximum effort and in the end it is what it is. Every time when the race is nearing its end, I tell myself – “Jan, if you give 100%, you give what you can, you can’t blame yourself”. So even if my effort didn’t translate into top places, I was still happy, since I gave it all.

You’ve mentioned one day that you had your ups-and-downs in your career before joining the “orange squad”. Do you want to talk about it? What was causing your problems and how were you able to solve them at CCC Sprandi Polkowice?

In the past I had many hard years in my career. I made a huge step forward early in my younger years. I took up cycling when I was 18 years old, and when I was 20 I already signed my first World Tour contract. Until then everything went smoothly. But after signing professional contract I destroyed myself. I had some big healthy issues – mostly concerning food and eating. I lost almost 8-10kg in muscles. I was also mentally sick. Everything collapsed. My body was weak, had no power in my legs… All I was thinking of was food and kilograms. I was too fixated about my diet and weight – that wasn’t cycling anymore. It was like a vicious circle from which I couldn’t escape. All those problems followed me for the next 3-4 years. In 2014 I almost finished my career. Then I decided to try one more time, but the last time. I raced for free. In 2014 I finally solved all my problems with diet. Thanks to my girlfriend Urša, family and my friends, who support me 100%. Urša knew my problems from beginning and she helped me throughout that journey. I wouldn’t have been able to come out of that dark place if it wasn’t for her. Thanks to her I’m still a cyclist. Otherwise I don’t know what would have happened if she wasn’t there for me in those difficult times.

After 2014 everything started to improve. I fell in love with cycling again, felt much stronger, gained 10kg – from 57 to 68kg – started to win small races which gave me confidence and I was finally happy with who I was. From 2014 to 2016 I recorded many good results, but nobody wanted to sign me. Finally I got a call from Piotr Wadecki and that made me the happiest man on earth at that time. I still remember when we did tests in Polkowice and next day we inked a contract.

So, I fought to come back to professional level for more than 5 years, but I believed in myself, I believed I have a chance and every time I fully committed. In the end, I showed that in life it’s important to fight till the end. Just never give up. If you give your best, you will get back to the top.

What will you miss the most about this team?

I will miss everything. It was wonderful 2 seasons together, which I will never forget. These 2 years will stay in my memory for my entire life.

I would like to thank, Mr Dariusz Milek, who gave me this opportunity to join his team. Piotr Wadecki, who called me 2 years ago and supported me along the way. I could always talk to him and he always listened attentively to what I had to say. Huge thanks also to all the other sport directors, masseurs, mechanics, physiotherapists, doctor and teammates, who were riding beside me and helping me in races. Even though our paths are splitting now, I believe that in the future they will cross again at the World Tour level.