The Winner of Our Liège-Bastogne-Liège Contest: ‘Compared to watching it on TV, I found it unbelievable’

By Frantiska Blazkova

More than a month ago, we put out a call for all die-hard cycling fans: show your love for cycling and what cycling fandom means to you and get creative with it. The prize for the best Instagram post was a 3-day experience at the recent Liège–Bastogne–Liège race with the UCI WorldTeam Alpecin–Deceuninck for the winner and one guest, with all expenses covered. 

And, whew, did you deliver! Jan Zlatnik, a 21-year-old student at the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, is a living proof.

In the winning Instagram post, Jan mentioned: “As a die-hard cycling enthusiast, I’ve yet to witness the thrill of a live race but my love for cycling runs deep.” Turns out the middle part of that sentence was about to change soon.

When choosing his approach, Jan decided to get inspired by the so-called Strava Art where you trace a picture with your GPS computer while cycling, running, swimming, walking, etc. “I wanted something that would set my post apart from the rest and also show my passion for cycling. Pictures of the routes in Strava with the hashtags #LiegeDream and ‘WE LOVE CYCLING’ were my way of showing my support for cycling.” As for the portrait on the bike, Jan explained: “The denim shirt referenced the style of the Alpecin-Deceuninck team jersey this year. I hoped that this original approach and touch of humour would make not only me happy but also the community around the competition.”

As apparent from his Instagram profile, Jan mostly follows road cycling, with his favourite race being the Tour de France “not only because it’s the most important and biggest race of the year, but also because I associate it with the start of the summer holidays.” He also enjoys all spring Classics but adds with a smile that after this weekend, Liège-Bastogne-Liège might be his new favourite. Next on his list of favs is Tadej Pogačar whom he has grown to like mainly because of his surprise win at the 2020 TDF, but Jan also likes to root for the underdogs, “those who are not the top favourites in a given race.”


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Příspěvek sdílený Jan Zlatník (@janzlatnik)

Interestingly (but not uncommonly), Jan’s profound interest in the sport was brought about by difficult times. “I discovered my true passion for cycling during the pandemic when riding a trainer helped me stay fit and mentally balanced. At the same time, I became more interested in professional racing, and today, I don’t miss almost any of it.” He also recalls that his eagerness for cycling started at the age of three when his parents gifted him his first bike – although from a slightly different angle. “My dad will often recall that as a child, I was more fascinated with researching components than the actual riding.”

Speaking of his father, Joseph, the young bike enthusiast chose him as his guest for the three-day Liège–Bastogne–Liège trip, explaining: “He was the one who brought me to cycling. My dad is a big fan of the sport, just like me, so I wanted to share this unforgettable experience with him.” And what a trip it was. Given that Jan and Joseph’s “tour guide” was none other than our inimitable Matt Stephens, they were in for a treat. In the words of Jan himself: “I really appreciated being able to spend the whole weekend with Matt who was extremely nice and helpful. His friendly and open demeanour made every moment enjoyable and I’m very glad I had the chance to get to know him.”

After flying to Brussels on Friday morning, the group boarded a train to Liège where they were able to squeeze in a bit of sightseeing. On Saturday, after being chauffeured to Banneux for breakfast, the father-son duo was bike-fitted, given pro gear to dress up in, and joined the Škoda peloton for the 79-kilometre LBL Challenge. But the real highlight was Sunday – the day of Liège-Bastogne–Liège itself.


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Příspěvek sdílený Jan Zlatník (@janzlatnik)

“Before the start, we had the chance to walk between the teams’ vehicles and even saw the bike of the future winner. During the race, we rode in the car with former pro cyclist Jonathan Hivert who gave us valuable information about professional cycling. We could watch the race right on the course and stopped several times to see the peloton. Before the end of the race, Jonathan drove us back to Liège to watch the finish.” As Jan and Joseph had a train to catch back to Brussels right after Liège-Bastogne–Liège, they watched the finish of Liège-Bastogne–Liège Femmes on Matt’s phone with his pro commentary.

Besides the obviously thrilling race day, Jan had more moments to spotlight: “During the Škoda peloton, my fellow riders helped me fix a puncture on my bike. Also unforgettable was climbing the famous hills of Côte de La Redoute and Côte de la Roche aux Faucons and passing through the crowds of fans at these locations during the race in a VIP vehicle. The close contact with the competitors and the opportunity to see behind the scenes of the race was also great.”

There is no doubt that both Jan and Joseph had the time of their life, surrounded by their favourite sport. Jan was also taken a bit aback by the intensity of the atmosphere, which you simply can’t gauge at home in front of a screen. “What surprised me most was how hectic the race is, and we were ‘only’ watching it. Compared to seeing it on TV, I found it unbelievable. For the organisers, the racers and their team members who are involved in every aspect of the preparation and running of the race, it is even more challenging.”