Jani Brajkovič has revealed his ongoing struggles with an eating disorder and his desperate hope of returning to racing.
Slovenian Brajkovič was banned for 10 months earlier this year after testing positive because of a contaminated food supplement, which he said was the only nourishment he was able to stomach because of the disorder.
In an emotional blog post on his website, the 35-year-old revealed his long-term and ongoing struggle with bulimia, saying that eating disorders are ignored in professional cycling.
‘Never gone completely’
Brajkovič, a top-10 finisher at the Tour de France said: “It’s about what I’ve been dealing with throughout my career, on and off, but never gone completely.
“It’s about poor relationship with food, disordered eating which became an eating disorder, bulimia. It happened quickly and before I knew it, I realised I was not in control anymore. It had me under control, no matter what.
“Being such a taboo topic, I couldn’t just tell someone and ask for help. I learned to live with it, hoping I was going to be okay.
“Every team I’ve been on, from Continental to Pro Continental to WorldTour, I’ve had team-mates struggling. There were at least five or six, with an eating disorder, many more with disordered eating behaviours. They were team captains, Grand Tour podium finishers, some were just awesome riders, team-mates, happy boys if seen from third person perspective.”
He added: “The shame, embarrassment and the feeling of being a failure is indescribable.
“Even if management notices it, usually, they’ll ignore it. It’s much easier to kick the non-performer out at the end of the season, but if he’s riding well that’s fine too.”
After starting his pro career in 2005, Brajkovič has ridden for Discovery Channel, Astana, Radioshack, UnitedHealthcare and spent a season with Bahrain-Merida in 2017, before joining Slovenian Continental team Adria Mobil last season.
Brajkovič said he had kept his bulimia hidden, but a positive test in July 2018 was the decisive moment for the winner of the Critérium du Dauphiné in 2010.
After testing positive for the stimulant methylhexaneamine which was present in a dietary supplement, Brajkovič explained to the UCI that he had taken the contaminated product because the meal replacement powder he used was the only thing his bulimia would allow him to keep down.
Cycling’s governing body accepted his explanation, banning Brajkovič for 10 months and back-dating the suspension which ended on June 1, 2019.
Brajkovič said he had been promised by the UCI that their medical department would contact him, which never happened, and that his team had been understanding and had intended to take him back after his suspension, which also hasn’t happened.
He said: “All my darkest confessions, everything I told [the team], was spun in a way to fit [their] reasons to drop me. That hurt. It hurt more than anything else so far.”
Despite the blows, Brajkovič is determined to return to racing, having contacted the national team in the hope of riding Tour of Slovenia and even offering to pay for himself to ride the Tour of Utah.
“As long as you get up after falling down, you’re not a failure,” he said.
“This is why I want to race. Cycling is me, we’re inseparable. I’m aware there will be a time to stop, and I have a plan for the future, but this is not the time.
“I’ve been riding better than any time in the past seven years. I’ve ridden 26,000km since January. Riding gives me freedom, the best solutions come while out riding.”
Return to racing
Brajkovič has returned to the peloton twice since the end of his ban, at the Slovenian National Championships in late June where he finished ninth and at the GP Kranj in Slovenia on August 4, where he finished 22nd while racing without a team.
But he says there is more to his hope than just racing for himself, he also hopes to uncover the extent of eating disorders in professional cycling.
“This shouldn’t just be about me,” he added.
“It should be about others as well. I didn’t write this piece to get attention or get others feeling sorry for me. I’m doing okay, most of the time, not great, but still good enough.
“I wrote this to let everybody know, from the hypocrites to the people working in cycling, we have a problem. Whether you like it or not, it shouldn’t be such a taboo topic.
“Someone who fractures a bone and carries on is seen as a hero, but somebody struggling for months, years, with mental issues, eating disorders, or addiction, is weak?”