The date of the Czech Tour usually overlaps with the time when, according to the International Cycling Union (UCI), one can start talking about new engagements. So when Jan Hirt arrived at the start of the Czech Tour last year for the ninth time, he confirmed a change of jersey.
The first time was in 2014 when he raced for the Czech third division team Etixx, a talent farm for the elite Belgian team Quick-Step. The young riders learned big cycling around the world, and the then 23-year-old racer from Moravian Budějovice indicated that the team was cramped for him.
A month before, he won the jersey for the best climber in the Tour of Slovakia and when the Czech Cycling Tour peloton set off for the peaks of the Jeseníky Mountains, Hirt set off in extreme heat for a result that possibly set him on a new life stage. In the sixth year of the race, he won the queen stage to Šternberk and subsequently signed a contract with the orange, the professional Polish team CCC.
"At that time, this stage was the longest, ending with circuits in Šternberk, and I rode the last two in a breakaway," he recalled. "I valued that victory a lot, I didn't have that many back then. A year earlier I celebrated triumph in the queen stage at the Tour of Azerbaijan, but a victory at home and in such a hard stage, that counts."
Three years later, the riders from CCC arrived in Olomouc with a trio of Czechs: alongside Hirt, who was pinning the start number 11 indicating the team leader on his jersey, also Schlegel and Sisr. Two positions better than the fifth captain finished Slovenian Tratnik in the overall ranking, but another, more crucial matter was being discussed in Haná – by the end of the year, Hirt was supposed to exchange the team's orange for a turquoise originally from the Far East.
That spring he experienced his debut in the Italian Giro and the twelfth place led him to engagement with the Kazakh Astana. "The blue color of the jersey suits my eyes," he joked on his Facebook profile when he could finally confirm the transfer to the first league. What was this journey to the elite club World Tour like? "In one word, long. After all, I'm twenty-six."
After two years under the leadership of Alexander Vinokurov, Hirt moved again: he transferred to the Belgian Intermarché. That was the time when Hirt struggled with a loss of motivation, and the end of his career was also on his mind. However, he mastered the stage race in Oman and at the Giro, his fourth in life, he became the fifth Czech to win a stage in the pink race. The queen one!
After that, he signed a new contract with the team, of which he is still a member, and which he once again commented on in Olomouc. In the „wolf pack“ from Soudal-Quick Step, he became the teammate of the star Evenepoel, Alaphilippe or the fateful Czech colleague Josef Černý.
There was interest across the peloton for the valued climber after last season's dream, reportedly even from Ineos or UAE. However, he knew very well that in such mega teams focused on the overall standings of stage races and with stronger riders, he would get little living space. So after weighing the pros and cons, he nodded to the offer of boss Patrick Lefevere. "Because it's Quick-Step," Hirt gave a terse explanation, but it expressed his admiration for the Belgian team. "I've always told myself that I'd like to try it there someday."
Next year, Hirt is guaranteed work and space for growth in Belgian structures. But who knows, perhaps the wolf pack will spend part of next summer in Moravia, and its climber from Vysočina will be talking about his new cycling future there.