Thursday, June 20, 2013

Getting To Know: Jan Polanc

I'm going to try to start profiling some more riders, similar to my Silvio Herklotz preview albeit perhaps not as in-depth, in hopes for them to be talked about more while they are still U23s. While some of these guys could definitely use some more publicity in terms of getting a contract, Jan Polanc already has that covered as he is due to transfer to Lampre this summer. In fact, this move has been in the works for over a year and a half, when a verbal commitment was announced in January of 2012.

Polanc (c) with Radenska team manager and former Lampre rider Andrej Hauptman (l) and Guido Bontempi  in October 

Slovenia's cycling scene has seen a boom in the last decade that has made it one of the emerging countries on the pro and U23 scene. Going back a decade, there were only a few established Slovenian pros including riders such as Andrej Hauptman, Uros Murn and Tadej Valjavec (Sava). While there wasn't exactly a bevy of legitimate pro talent in the former Yugoslav Republic, Slovenia began to churn out U23 talent year after year it seemed like. In 2004, Janez Brajkovic (Astana) won the U23 World TT Championship in Verona over a heavily favored Thomas Dekker. After Brajkovic's move to the pros in 2005 with Discovery Channel, more riders began to pop up. Borut Bozic (now Astana) rose through the ranks as eventually went pro with LPR. Grega Bole was a U23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner and eventually turned pro with Lampre in 2010 after a false start with Amica Chips-Knauf. Simon Spilak (now Katusha) won La Côte Picarde and was 4th in Tour de l'Avenir in his final year as a U23 before heading off to Lampre. Note the Slovenia-Lampre connection now. You need more examples of the talent explosions in just the last 6 years? Okay...Kristjan Koren (Cannondale), Marko Kump (Saxo-Tinkoff), Robert Vrecer (Euskaltel), Blaz Jarc (NetApp-Endura), Gregor Gazvoda (Champion System), Jure Kocjan (Euskaltel), Aldo Ilesic (UHC) and Luka Mezgec (Argos-Shimano). If it wasn't for the dumbass Blaz Furdi, who was popped for taking ecstasy (MDMA), there would be another in the higher ranks of the sport.

Lots of love and smiles between Polanc (l) and Tratnik (

These are just the guys who are in the top flight of the sport. Remember Jan Tratnik? He was a darling U23 rider who was dealt bad luck after turning pro (too) early with Quick Step and hasn't been able to get back to his old level yet. Then there is the outstanding U23 and junior talent. Leading the charge is Polanc but is followed by names such as teammate Luka Pibernik and the Sava duo of Mark Dzamastagic and Matej Mohoric, last year's junior world champion. Another name to watch is junior David Per. This is all coming from a country of just over 2 million people.

As you can obviously see now, Polanc isn't an anomaly when it comes to his roots. His father Marko, a trainer and director formerly with continental team Sava and now with Radenska, was a two time winner of the Croatian Istrian Spring Trophy while racing as a Yugoslavian national rider. Starting out riding in his pre-teens, Polanc took to the sport easily and had a natural talent for the sport. Before he hit the junior ranks, he was a prolific winner in his home of Slovenia in youth races. As Polanc continued to develop as a junior, his talent grew right along with him. He won the Slovenian junior RR crown in his first attempt in 2009 in a impressive solo victory.

Polanc blossomed as a 2nd year junior and put in some great performances with top ten overalls in the Peace Race and Trofeo Karlsberg, podium finishes in Italian one-day events and 4th overall along with a stage win in the Giro Internazionale della Lunigiana. His sterling results of the year with a 5th place in the World Championships in Offida, finishing 4th in the elite sprint behind solo Olivier Le Gac. Like many coming out of the junior ranks, Polanc stayed at home with his Radenska squad, which allowed him to ride a versatile schedule of U23 races along with pro races in Slovenia, Central Europe and Italy.

To say that his talent was apparent in just his first U23 year is an understatement. Polanc was making the selections and finishing in elite groups like he had been there for a few years and knew the ropes already. He was top 10 in Italian U23 one day events such as Trofeo Piva Banca and Giro del Belvedere, where he finished in the front groups with riders such as Enrico Battaglin, Sonny Colbrelli, Salvatore Puccio, Georg Preidler and Enrico Barbin, to name just a few of the guys that are now professionals. He was versatile as well as he finished 22nd in his first U23 Ronde van Vlaanderen and then was 5th overall in the Giro della Friuli Venezia Giulia, finishing on the same time as current Ag2r pro Romain Bardet. Polanc capped his year off with an astounding ride in the Giro di Padania queen stage, where he went 11th behind a whole host of previous doping convicts.

In a 2011 interview, Polanc stated that he was "scared to dope". This is a translation from his native Slovene but he was seemingly adamant about his stance on not touching doping products, saying that it is too much of a risk and he could not even imagine the health (which he put first) and career consequences (and embarrassment) that follow.  Granted, it is never okay to fully trust any rider when they say these statements but it is refreshing to hear him at least talk about it, given that he has ridden a fair bit in the toxic Italian amateur scene. Not to absolve him completely, he did say some rather short-sighted things in the same interview where he said that no one his age was interested in doping. Right.

Back with Radenska for 2012, Polanc extended his success and was yet again a constant presence in the top 20 of nearly every race he contested. 9th in ZSSDI, 9th in Piva Banca, 17th at U23 Flanders, 13th in La Côte Picarde, 11th in ZLM Tour, 11th overall in the Istrian Spring Trophy...and that is just up until the middle of April. Granted, Polanc had bad races as well. He had to pull out of the Toscana-Terra di Ciclismo and on the queen stage of the Friuli Venezia Giulia stage race, he was outgunned big time and came in 10th on a course that was tailor-made for him. Polanc suffered (and still does to an extent) when the pace gets too high going into mountains and is still trying to work on pack positioning skills to limit this. He admitted that he was not good when the pace went over 50 km/h when he first entered the U23 ranks.

Polanc began to enter bigger races but his results were not always stellar. After a win in the Slovenian U23 TT, Polanc won the white jersey in the Tour of Slovenia but was a level under the climbers on the big mountain stages and finished 17th overall. His maiden Tour de l'Avenir was not what he was hoping for. The self-admitted Tour (de France) fanatic was facing some big competition and was only able to post two top-10 finishes (6th in the transition stage 3 and 10th on the uphill finish at Les Saisies) and was not at his best when the hill pointed upward but he was still able to post a 12th overall. This lit a spark underneath him for the rest of the season.

Polanc went 2nd overall in the Okolo Jiznich Tour in the lead-up to the World Championships in Valkenburg. Loving the selective course, Polanc attacked in the finale but had to settle for 12th in the bunch finish. While his season had been good up to that point, he was missing a signature win. Polanc would find success at the last possible second. Attacking deep in the finale of the Piccolo Giro di Lombardia, Polanc was able to pull out a gap on an elite selection of riders including Davide Villella and Enrico Barbin to take a win that would seal his move to Lampre-Merida.

Photo: Piccolo Giro di Lombardia website
The official announcement of Polanc's move to Lampre-Merida seems natural in a way. If you look up the list at the rant about the riches of Slovenian talent, you will notice many names that were once Lampre riders. Valjavec, Spilak, Gorazd Stangelj, Grega Bole and most importantly, Andrej Hauptman are all Slovenians that have ridden for Lampre in the past. Hauptman was the broker in the deal between the team and Polanc and what was at first a verbal commitment, it turned into an official deal that would see Polanc join the Italian squad, which received a big sponsor commitment from Merida bikes around the same time of the announcement. It is still unclear whether this is a stagiaire-to-pro move or if Polanc will ride under a full contract starting in August, similar to riders in recent years such as Fabio Aru (Astana) and Matteo Trentin (OPQS).

2013 has been about one thing for for the win. I can find you five riders that get as many top 10's as Polanc but are nowhere near the talent. He started off early with two 4th place finishes in Istria but his spring was merely a buildup for the stage racing season. On the 4th stage of the Friuli Venezia Giulia, Polanc raced Riccardo Zoidl and Daniele Dall'Oste to the summit of of the Matajur, a mountain which straddles Italy and Slovenia. His timing could not have been better...

Polanc went on to take his first overall stage race victory as a U23 and seemingly matured from a nearly-there rider to one that was primed for GC racing. Polanc and many other GC favorites were marked out of the decisive GC breakaway at the U23 Peace Race but Polanc was easily the best of the rest, distancing rival teammates Julian Alaphilippe and Patrick Konrad by 12 seconds on the uphill finish in Jesenik.

Polanc's latest feature was his performance at his home race, the Tour of Slovenia. Polanc was interviewed pre-race and said that he had high hopes for the race, perhaps going high on GC and maybe going after the KOM jersey. He had not been doing any time trial training but he knew the queen stage route very well. It is quite easy to say that any expectations that were had pre-race were blown out of the water. After a solid prologue for 20th, Polanc made the front echelon on the downhill run into Visnja Gora. Sitting pretty for a high GC ranking, Polanc was on familiar roads on the queen stage to the summit at Vrsic. While the Croat Radoslav Rogina pulled away towards the summit, it was Polanc who came across the line in 2nd, beating out names like Sinkewitz, Atapuma and all of his future Lampre teammates after accelerating in the final kilometer. Polanc finished the race in 2nd overall and blew out the competition for the young rider's jersey.

I would not pigeonhole Jan Polanc as a climber and pure GC guy. Polanc definitely needs to show improvement against the clock if he ever wants to race in the front of his dream race, the Tour de France. I would call Polanc a mix between two well-known Slovenians, Simon Spilak and Janez Brajkovic. Polanc has shown proficiency in the classics, which he shares with Spilak, and has a GC capability that is similar to Brajkovic. Polanc is not the TTer that Brajkovic is and will have to consistently improve yearly if he wants to get to Spilak's currently level of riding. In any case, it will be another Slovene you will want to watch when the screws are turned and the racing gets deliciously agonizing.

Jan Polanc

  • May 6th, 1992
  • Ljubljana, Slovenia
  • Team: Radenska (will join Lampre-Merida in August)
  • Favorite Race: Tour de France
  • Biggest Results: 1st, Giro della Friuli Venezia Giulia GC and stage 4; 2012 Piccolo Giro di Lombardia; 5th, 2010 Junior World RR, Offida
  • Strengths: Climbing; Rouleur-ability; GC riding
  • Weaknesses: High-speed run-ins to climbs; long TTs
  • Where will he be in 5 years? How the hell should I know.

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