Back in 2013, in the months leading to the race season, neither Tanja Žakelj of any of the team members joined under the Unior name, now Unior-Sinter Factory Racing, had any idea of the incredible story that we started and the results that we’ll achieve. Now, after a decade of racing together, Tanja will put on a new team jersey, but will stay connected with the Cycling club Rajd that manages the only Slovenian professional MTB team.
2013 race season started with a big surprise. Tanja Žakelj, at the time already an established competitor with excellent results in the junior ranks and top-15 World Cup results as an elite rider, signed for the DH teamUnior Tools Team, created in 2010. But the unexpected cooperation immediately brought results and victories on the first C1/C2 events of the season… that was just warming up. First World Cup race of the season took place in Albstadt and Tanja shocked everyone with 4th place and started a wave of euphoria. A week later in Nové Město na Moravě Tanja won an epic battle with Maya Wloszczowska and took her first World Cup victory! This was also first victory on this level for Slovenia as well. The streak continued with the victory in Val di Sole and first place on the European Champs! Later in the season she took 5th on the World Champs and crowned the season with World Cup overall victory! Dreams came true, the history was made.
Tanja Žakelj: “I still have fresh memories about the talk Tine and I had that winter in Ajdovščina, when we were both racing enduro for the fun of it. He offered me a place on the team and thus enable me a continuation of my, already a very successful sports career. I’m grateful to many people that helped shaped my sports path and the way it developed. All triumphs, but mostly people around me, will always stay with me in the nicest memories.”
Synergy brought results that didn’t stop with the end of first, super successful season. In 2014 Tanja defended the European title and visited World Cup podium on several occasions. Next big milestone happened with the race on the Olympic Games in Brazil. Tanja was 13th, which was the only result that Tanja didn’t manage to improve with the Unior’s factory team; she was 10th in London, in the last season before joining the team.
Fast forward to 2022, to another incredible season in which Tanja came back to the very top of the World Cup racing. She took several top-10 results, again doing things in her own way. All this success also brought new opportunity and Tanja grab it with both hands. She will race for the new professional team in 2023 and beyond, but will stay a member of the Cycling club Rajd.
Tanja Žakelj: “At the end of the 2022 season I had a chance to sign for the new team, after consideration and initial talks I decided to make a change. The strongest argument for the change was a fact that I have a chance to be part of the team that is 100% focused on Olympic cross-country and nothing else. At the same time, I’m glad to see XCO developing in Rajd as well. I wish us all and each of us the very best and to get the most out of the conditions, experiences and knowledge that we have.”
Tine Mahkovec, Team Director and President of the Cycling Club Rajd: “We will be eternally grateful to Tanja for putting the team and the club on the global map and pushing the level of the sport in Slovenia to the next level.
Over the years we created strong friendship, which will surely remain for years to come. We are happy that, despite everything, Tanja remains a part of Rajd. With her help we will develop new top competitors and start many more projects.”
Grega Stopar, Unior-Sinter Factory Racing Team Manger: “We have had many excellent competitors in the team over the years, but Tanja stands out in many ways. Not only because for the most part she was our only competitor in Olympic cross-country, but because with her diligence and determination, as well as with forethought, she built a success story and taught us a lot along the way. We traveled the world together and experienced many beautiful things, and also defeats – which in Tanja’s case meant results that many only dream of. She taught a lot, especially that you should never give up. After several hundred races together, I still vividly remember how I waited for her in the finish arena on that rainy Sunday in the Czech Republic, when Tanja stepped on the top of the World Cup winner’s podium for the first time and took us all to new heights. In that moment, our lives also changed, and for that I will be forever grateful to her.”
Tanja’s decade long history with Unior’s factory team resulted in several great victories, she helped change the style of XCO racing, took countless national titles and most of all proved that everything is possible. But for sure she won’t stop here and with Paris 2024 on the mind we wish her all the best in the future!
Tanja, stay true to yourself!
Photos by: Matt Delorme, Klemen Humar, Keith Valentine, Grega Stopar, team archive