Sometimes a report is all about the racing action – the struggle for the lead, the sprint finish, the mechanical and human dramas. But on this occasion I find myself wanting to write something of a sales pitch.
This is a race that has it all – amazing scenery, post-race swimming in the sea, superb trails, good weather (or at least it should have…), Italian-style gelato, good value accommodation and food. If you hadn’t thought of Croatia as a racing location yet, please consider it put on your list.
As I was riding the final descent, I was reflecting to myself that this was probably the most technical marathon I have raced. Said descent drops almost continously from over 1000m to the beach in the last 16km. It went through phases: first, a slippy, slidey off-camber forest root-fest of the kind that was a bit of a shock on the Med, but perhaps not surprising given the torrential downpours on the eve of the race. Then into more forest dirt, but with baby-head rocks mixed in, plus a good bit of exposure down a small valley to a small river. Next phase – after a rude final kick on a hot gravel fire-road, out briefly onto the road before two stretches of uneven rock steps, totalling I would guess a couple of vertical hundred metres. The term arm-pump doesn’t really begin to describe it. That was then followed by a totally disorienting run of swoopy singletrack with roots and tree-stumps mixed in, all buried somewhere on the hillside that plays host to Lovran, the start / finish town. Finally out onto the tarmac for an exhausted finish. It was pure concentration from start to finish, and I was pleased to get away with only one minor lie-down, a spot of Euro-triangling on the off-camber stuff and a minor walk down the most scary bit of unrideable slippery rock steps.
Are you interested yet?
The rest of the course wasn’t quite as dramatic, but also included a lot of Cape Epic-esque loose rock, a highly entertaining dried-up riverbed trail, and a dirty great big starting climb, from sea-level up to the stop of the Ucka national park, 1000m higher.
As with many of these races, the great thing about this one is that it takes you somewhere that you probably wouldn’t go otherwise. Yes, Croatia is a well-known holiday destination, but mainly for Game of Thrones-favoured Dubrovnik and the Dalmatian islands in the south. Lovran and Ucka are on the Istrian peninsula – top left, next to Slovenia, closest to Italy, in case your geography is as unclear as mine was. It’s a rugged area, with rocks galore, and vertiginous clifftop roads, dipping down to gravelly beaches and the perfect azure Med. Plus for us a cracking hotel, at 400m above sea level, just where the course left the tarmac for the first gravel. Perched above the sea, it was originally a playground for Austro-Hungarian aristocracy, before being burned down by its bonkers owner, and has been recently and lovingly restored by its new owners. Hotel Draga di Lovrana – look it up on Google Streetview and you’ll see quite how amazing a spot it’s in.
As for the racing itself, Tiago Ferreira of Team Protek won the men’s race in his ultimate Euro yellow and pink kit, from a decent field including German champion Robert Mennen. Krystyna Konvisarova took the women’s race.
For Subaru-MarathonMTB.com, I was somewhat exasperated to come 21st, an agonising one place away from my objective. I did the tarmac climb in about 23rd, lost a couple of places on the unrideable steep muddy bit higher up, before taking back a couple on the intermediate climbs and another on the final descent – he looked truly bewildered at the rocks… It turns out I was quite lucky to finish where I did – on washing my bike courtesy of the local fire crew and their rather effective “jet-wash”, I found an outer chain plate had all but detached itself – I’m not sure how the chain was still making it through the derailleur.