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Domen Novak is a Slovenian cyclist and currently represents the Bahrain Victorious team. At 25, he can be considered a promising young man in international cycling, especially after his great performance at Giro d ’Italia 2020, in which João Almeida finished in 4th place. In this exclusive interview with Portuguese Cycling Magazine, Novak talks about his career, his goals and also about Slovenia as a land of cycling.
Beginning with his career, Novak tells us that it emanated from the “primary goal of losing some weight”, having joined the under-13s of the Adria Mobil team. However, his first two years were difficult. His skills as a cyclist were not enough for competition level, and he was relegated to the role of helping his teammates in preparing their bikes. It was when he became a junior that his new coach, Josip Radakovič, recognized his talent and helped in his development. As an idol, Novak refers “the greatest Slovenian cyclist at the time, Jani Brajkovič”, who won the Critérium du Dauphiné 2010 and finished in the top’10 of the Tour de France 2012.
Novak made his professional debut in 2014, having remained within the structure of Adria Mobil for another three years. During that time, he was a teammate of Primož Roglič and helped him in many races, including many of his first victories. However, despite considering that “everyone (in the team) knew that he was a very strong rider“, Novak acknowledges that “nobody could imagine that he would become the best of all“.
In 2017, Novak headed for the World Tour, signing for the Bahrain Merida team (currently Bahrain Victorious). Once again, he highlights the difficulties in adapting, namely to the greater speed and distance of the races, but also praises the organization at the highest level and “how good care of cyclists is taken”, which particularly surprised him. He shows himself satisfied with his first experience in a Grand Tour, specifically at Vuelta a España, considering it represented a “great learning experience” in his first year as a professional.
Currently in the fifth year within the Bahrain structure, Novak emphasizes the good environment among companions. “I have very good relations with all Slovenians in the team, in particular with Jan Tratnik and Grega Bole“. He justifies the immense Slovenian presence in the team with the skills of Slovenians in carrying out their respective functions, from the riders to the masseuses and mechanics, and the recruitment being facilitated by the fact that the base of the team is located in Slovenia.
In 2020, Primož Roglič and Tadej Pogačar got involved in a legendary battle for glory at the Tour de France. As a Slovenian cyclist and also as a fan, Novak regularly watched the race and admits to being “very proud to be Slovenian” during those three weeks. The last time trial was “nervous and difficult to see, but in the end the strongest rider at the time won the race”, according to the Bahrain cyclist. In short, he considers that the success of Pogačar and also Roglič “influenced the greater respect of other cyclists for Slovenian cyclists“.
At Giro d’Italia, Novak’s goal was to support team leader Pello Bilbao. In that same race, Portuguese cycling experienced the end of João Almeida’s incredible journey as a maglia rosa in Passo dello Stelvio, which Novak considers a “very steep and long” climb. When reviewing this very difficult stage, in which he finished 12th, he is happy to have given everything in the mission of bringing his leader “as close to the front as possible” and reiterates that it was his love for climbing on the bicycle that helped him to overcome the difficulties of the terrain. After a positive assessment of the 2020 season, Novak points as goals for the future to remain healthy and safe, as well as to win a stage in a Grand Tour.
Back to the beginning of the year, Novak competed in Australia and France before the confinement forced him to return home. There he found motivation to train every day, even if he “didn’t know when the races would start again“. Facing the challenge of keeping shape, Novak considers Slovenian roads and trails, as well as good weather, as important allies in safe training practices. In his opinion, Slovenia is a land of cycling because of its natural landscape and the “many places to ride a bike”, conditions that reconcile both loves of Slovenians: “playing sports and spending time in nature”. Finally, the fact that Slovenia is “a very hardworking and also competitive nation” constitutes the fundamental recipe for its success in professional cycling.
The Portuguese Cycling Magazine’s “Terras de Ciclismo” (Lands of Cycling) returns next week, visiting another country on the rise in the international cycling landscape, this time from South America: Ecuador.
Cover Photo: Portuguese Cycling Magazine