As I have been sick for the last 7 weeks, I almost had to cancel my first big adventure of the season, the 4island race. But, luckily, I found a last minute solution: to team up with Veronika in a mixed team. To race in mixed would be a complete new experience for me, but it was something I was looking forward to, as it seemed great to be the helper in the team. But, would I be strong enough? Would I be able to follow Veronika? To push when needed??
So, some stress in the final days towards the new adria 4island race, but I realized that, even if I would be too weak to race, it would still be a great experience to discover this new area on a bike! 4 days, 4 stages, 4 islands, it sounded so nice! Sure, it was a new organization, not without any experience, but still it was going to be their first stage race and usually new races have some issues, but adventure is the name of the (my) game, so let it come!!
The closer we came to our destination, the island Krk, the more beautiful the area became! Great weather, blue skies over the Adriatic sea with aggressive coastlines, extreme rocky mountains with millions of stones to test our skills on the bikes soon, hmmm J.
Tuesday 18.00h we arrived at the Corinthia hotel. This hotel would be our temperory luxe home for the next days, but it would also be the start and finish of the first stage and it functioned as race office for the first days. The registrations were easily found and immediately I noticed the relaxed but professional atmosphere of the organisationteam! No stress, but more a getting to know eachother feeling. The team was welcoming every participant in a personal way and immediately started looking for optimal service for everybody’s personal situations: incredible!!
After the unpacking, we couldn’t resist any longer and so we went for a short discovery ride, first into the beautiful calm fishing harbor of the town, later up into the mountains and by accident, we jumped onto the official track. After only a km, we arrived at the first trail and we all started smiling: oh yeah, this was going to be heaven! Rough rocky beautiful singletrack climbing up to the ridge, hmmmmm! And the views, magnificent! We had to force ourselves to stop exploring and to turn back to the hotel for dinner and the briefing.
The breefing confirmed the positive atmosphere from the registrations. The orga-team was well prepared, but somehow also gave a relaxed mood to the racers. Everything was cristalclear and we were ready for a relaxed night!
Stage 1: the island Krk: Baska-Baska, 69.5km, 1550hm, 5th place
After a great night in the Corinthia hotel -where to nice staff even allowed us to take our babies (the bikes) to the rooms- and a superbreakfast, we were ready to attack the trails.
10 o clock sharp, we got going. First a neutralized start up to the mainroad, 1 km asphalt and hoppa, up to the dreamtrails. As we were now racing in mixed, we had decided I was going to be the sherpa J. It means I was carying all the equipment for repairs + all the drinks. This also ment I had to stay in 2nd position all the time to be able to see possible troubles. It also allowed Veronika to set the pace and so far, so good. The speed was perfect and I could even have a chat with my friends from Croatia, Serbia etc. After the rocky single through the pineforest, we arrived at a plateau on the top of the hill. Here nature changed drastically! No more vegetation, only rocks, millions of rocks. I guess that’s why the locals call this the moon J. Veronika was going great, and I suddenly realized we were still with the first mixed teams battling for the podium. But with these new conditions, I asked to be carefull and keep the tires in 1 piece , so slowly we had to let go of the first. When we got down from the plateau, we had some recovery on asphalt and a first waterpoint. Here, I had to fill up everything while Roni could continu. Before the top, I rejoined and now we got to a very challenging 6km single track. Oh man, this was tough!! Technical and bumpy killing hands and feet, but with a smile we got to the end in 1 piece. Now, the racetrack became a lot faster. Secondary asphalt roads and good jeeptracks. We were 2hrs into the race and I started to feel the efforts. This was my first +2hr ride in 7weeks and so I was a little scared, but no headaches, no sudden loss of power and so I decided to start doing my job: taking the lead to put Veronika out of the wind. It worked great and we joined a Hungarian men team making a mini 4p peleton. But, after 2.5hrs, we suddenly got into troubles. After a sharp right turn we arrived at a closed fence with a very angry farmer. I tried to climb over, but he pulled me back and started shouting. I explained him it was the racetrack, but this didn’t really convince him in opening the fence. Finally, I decided to switch my garmin 500 to gps mode to see the track. I took some minutes to drive back and forward to be sure I was on the right way to arrive back at the closed fence with already 20people waiting. By now, he understood it was useless to keep discussing and so we opened the fence and continued to race to. make a mistake 500m further. Apparentely, the signs were removed here, but my garmin showed me the right way and 500m further we jumped from the vinegards to checkpoint 2. I quickly informed the guys to run up to solve the situation and we were back in the race after losing 8min. Now, the trails became really beautiful going down to the coastline! Everybody had fun!! before we realized it, we arrived at the last big climb of the day and so I decided to start pushing my teammie. As it is a new thing, it took some time to figure out a good technique, but we managed to get to the top fast J. From here, adventure again on a beautiful xc trail. Too early, we got to the end of the stage with fast jeep tracks all the way down to the beach and our hotel. We took 5th place, more than we ever hoped for and to celebrate we went for a big beer in a local pub in the harbour. What a great day!
Stage 2: the island Rab, Lopar-Lopar: 61km, 1100 deniv: 1st place!
As today we had to go to another island, life became a little bit more complicated with bringing the bikes to the depot on the previous night and having to be ready for the boat at 8.00 in the morning. This ment some good thinking and organizing (bikes in race ready state, all equipment to race + extra clothes and shoes for after the stage in extra backpack..) but thanks to a flawless team of organizers that was always there to help and answer personal questions, everybody made it in time to our touristboat. These boattrips replaced the racing feeling with tourism ,also taking away the racing edge. So, it was not a negative thing to get some extra time to see the area, to socialize with the other teams, to hear the stories about the islands, to see dolphins etc!! We got to Rab at 9.25 leaving us enough time to change and to make some warming up. At 10.15, we started from the ferry boat (unique experience) and we followed the neutral car for about 1km before jumping on the first trail. As had happened yesterday, the trails became a challenge from the first minute and there was even some walking. Somehow, Veronika was even stronger than yesterday and we joined the first days winning mixed team, bicikel.com , at the top. This must have been motivating as she just passed them and kept on chasing. The track was amazing! Rocky trails all the way from old village to historical towncenters. In moments the views were so stunning that you just had to leave the race-mode and slow down to enjoy everything! A strange experience for me, but I loved it! After the old fortresses in Rab, we got to an interesting trail following the coastline bringing us from 1 hidden beach to the next stunning viewpoint: amazing! Veronika was going super and we already got to 3rd place now. When we got to the faster section of the day, it was a little harder for her, but we slowly got back to our group from yesterday with the hungarians(always funny in stageraces that you always find back the same group day after day to make your own race.). Just before the 2nd waterpoint, we suddenly saw mixed team 2 in front of us and this motivated. Somehow, we had been tourists all day, but now the racers in us woke up and we accelerated, getting in a good fight for 2nd place. Somehow, I wanted to slow down thinking about day 3 and 4, but there was no stopping Veronika and so I also switched to 100%. About 1km before the finish, we finally passed the nervous Slovakian svaty jur team and, to my big surprise, I saw the leaders just ahead. When we arrived at the beach, just 400m before the finish, the leading team with Tania Zakelj and Urban Ferenčak turned around surprised, but being pro’s on a holiday, they didn’t make efforts for a sprint and so we took the win of the day: thank you J.
After the race, we had time to prepare the bikes for stage 3, a nice dinner and beer in the restaurant next to the harbour and even for some time at the beach and see before turning back to Krk, a great experience and only smiling faces around: a pleasure to see!!
Day 3: the island Cres, Merag- osor, 64km, 1580hm: 3rd place
This 3rd race would be the hardest “working”day as logistically it was the most challenging. The bikes were already gone after yesterdays finish, but today we also had to leave our hotel in Baska, packing and leaving the luggage for transport, getting a breakfast and to be ready at 8.00 for a 1.5hr boattrip on a rough sea. As expected, this became a little too much for most of the riders and instead of happy faces, this time a lot of people were sick. I think this was the only point where the organization team must have been a little over-enthousiastic, but then again, if the sea would have been calm, perhaps.. Well, anyway, I heard this will be changed for 2016 proving again the team is learning fast and is willing to make everything as close to perfect as possible: good points!
So, at 9.45, we got to the new island, Cres. As in yesterdays stage, we got time to change clothes and to make a descent warming-up – bike adjustments – toilet – . and at 10.45 it was time to roll. Well, roll, hmm, a steep uphill after 20m would wake us up the hard way! Immediately, Veronika told me she felt bad. Probably the boattrip messed up her stomach and she had no power. So, it was time for me to see how strong 2 days of training had made me. I could start pushing from the first climb and so I did. It wasn’t much fun for Veronika, but it worked well getting us into 4th place. In the descents we were constantly passes by the 1st day winners, the Bicikel.com team, but they went hard and aggressive, so they made mistakes missing signs and taking wrong ways. But, they were strong and came back time after time. The todays track was larger and also the views were wider, not the exploring feeling from yesterday, but then again, I had to work hard so there was no time to look around too much anyway. Around km 20, we saw team keindl sport in troubles with a flat tire and so we moved to 3rd position. After 25km, we arrived at the first waterpoint and here would start the hardest and longest climb of the day. After filling up all the bottles, I hurried back to Veronika and I started pushing. After this peak, life was going to become easier and so I gave it all! But, everything was not enough as our opponents came back just before the top. As all day, they made an aggressive pass and it happened: a big piece of wood jumped in the guys rearwheel and he was way too late to lock up the wheel so he ripped out a couple of spokes and got a flat. So, now we had some extra time to take the descent slow and safe. I was feeling exhausted and I realized this day was going to be harder than expected but now, all of a sudden, Veronika found back her good legs after 3hrs and she did great! We had a beautiful single with some challenging technical parts and it was just amazing to watch her going through everything so nicely and fast without any mistakes! And so, after a hard day, we had again a beautiful ending getting us into a stong 3rd place in general after 3 stages. Next to the finish in the historical center of Osor, there was food, drinks, great atmosphere and even my car as the organization had been able to bring it over here to make our lives easier! Thank you so much for this! Normally, there was the option to jump in a bus now to get 45km further to our new host town, Losinj, but we took the car so we would have more time to be a tourist J.
Day 4: the island Losinj, mali losinj-mali losinj: 43km 700deniv: 3rd place
The 4th stage was the shortest one and with the bad weather predictions, the organization had not taken any risks and so they had even cut out 10kms making to total at 43kms. In the general classification we were 15min behind 2nd and 15 ahead of the 4th, so, it was going to be a relaxing day in the rain. Rain? Wind? Well, that’s what they told us, but in the morning it wasn’t all that bad with 15degrees and some drizzle. This made the dressing choices hard, but finally we chose for the usual racing setup. After a short ride from the hotel to the center of Mali Losinj, we went for an easy warming up. In most stage races I’ve seen, the stress before the last stage is even higher as everybody can see the end and is willing to risk a lot to make some final moves in the ranking, but not here. Apparentely we were not the only ones who came with a holiday spirit. … So, after some minutes of rolling up and down the center and the harbour, it was time for the final line up. ( Oh, now I could see it, in box 1 the faces were tense. Must have been the freerider team being too happy ;) ). So, last workingday started at 10. Neutralised start through the city and after 5min, the party started. The area was different again from what we had seen so far and the Losinj jungle trails were a nice change! Due to stress around us, it wasn’t completely relaxing, but after 15min, we got into our “zone”. Sure, the nervous Slovakian svaty jurteam was giving us a nice show again, but we decide not to go into it this time. There was nothing to win, and getting back home in 1 piece was the mission. After a beautiful trail along the coastline, suddenly the weather changed. Rain started pooring down and the temperature dropped drastically. So, nothing to do but to work harder to keep warm J. Now, we got into some more rough terrain and here it almost happened. A guy riding alone (so out of the race) suddenly felt the need to try to make a pass on Veronika at an impossible moment and so he hit her. Luckily, my teammie has golden reflexes and she managed just to stay on the wheels, oefffff. Some kms further I had the chance to have a chat with the guy after a steep technical climb and he apologized nicely, so, all good. I felt Veronika was getting more tired, and so I backed off a little on the singles, pushed some more where possible. Somehow, we must have been fast enough, because once again, in the last kms, we got back to the team in 2nd and sure, it got them nervous J. We had 3kms left and after looking at Veronika for a second, we understood eachother without words: let’s play!! And so we did, maximum effort and back to the wheels of the Slovakians. By now, we got to the center of the city again and into traffic on wet stones, so I decided to end the game here and take 3rd, great job, big fun!!
A unique experience? Yep, I haven’t been racing in places as rough and tough as this before.. Extreme mountains against appealing beaches and beautiful historical old centers, a world of contrasts…
A dreamstart to mtb 2015 season? Yes, for sure! Personally, I have found back my health after 7 miserable weeks, but this can be a great first test for every racer, it can be a final trainingcamp for others and it ‘s for sure a beautiful bike adventure holiday for most! The organization pulled off a stunt by offering an almost flawless first edition and so I have all confidence that this race will evolve further into a famous and succesfull stagerace in the next years. Sure, things can be made easier, better, but I heard already their ideas for the next edition and if this one was great, the next one will be splendid!! Keep your eyes open for it next spring, I can’t wait.
A big thanks to the smart, charming, flexible people of the organization for this great adventure and a new life experience that I will be thinking about for a while with a big smile!
See you all at the Plitvice marathon soon for a beer!