TRANSDINARA: A GREAT ADVENTURE TO BE REMEMBERED FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE!
It was still early in the season when Veronika sent me the link to this race, the Trandinara. Hmm, a new 3 day stage race in the south of Croatia on the border with Bosnia, interesting! When I saw the pictures on the site, it only took me 2 seconds to be convinced and I registered even before I sent back my response to Veronika J. Yep, this looked like my kind of heaven! Rough rocky extreme mountains reminding me of my great times in Bulgaria. Sure, I also saw that this was a first edition and after 17y of competition, I know that means adventure… But, does it always have to be a bike-holiday? Sure, sometimes it is good to make the “club med” kind of stage races where you have everything easy: easy trails, perfect organization helping you from the moment you wake up till you go to sleep, no questions, no stress…
But, sometimes, I also feel like an adventure, like finding a physical more extreme challenge where you will also need the mental power to solve the problems that you will encounter during those days. And that’s usually what you will find in first editions of races. As an extra, you will be with a smaller group, giving you the chance to get to know most of them, to become like a family and in families you will help eachother in difficult situations creating very strong new friendships and that’s what I love the most!! So, transdinara, here we come!
When we arrive on Thursday night around 22.00 in Trilj, we still find the people from the organization ready to help us register. We get a personal breefing and answers to all our questions. There is even the possibility to get the latest tracks downloaded to our bike computers, super! Immediately, we feel at home, no stress, just chill and find a spot on the floor in the gym to sleep.
Friday, day 1, Trilj- Sinj, 72km 1800hm
After a good sleep in the sportshall of the school, I wake up early to check the weather. It seems dry, so we could be lucky… Around 7.00, breakfast is ready. It is a little late and a little basic, but it’s more than enough to survive the race. Everybody is calm and so it really feels like a holiday. It is clear that most of the 60 participants have fun on the first spot of their priority-list, only a couple of lost racers are stressing around with a hard look on their faces, but those few are easy to avoid. At 8.30, we are expected on the start and so the adventure starts. Organisation told us that the first kms would be behind the police and so we’re off. The pace is high and I am happy that after 3kms, we turn left into the first off-road section. And from the first meter, I realize that we arrived in my kind of heaven: rocks, rocks and rocks. It’s technical and it’s fun, but not everybody thinks the same way. I see a lot of riders getting into trouble and so I slowly move towards the lead. But, before I get there, I hear my edge500 talk “bip-bip” to me. What’s that? As it is the first time ever for me to use the computer for navigating, it takes me too long to realize that it means we were off the track. When I finally realize it, I call everybody back. Confusion everywhere… Racers never like to turn back as it means you have already lost time and you will only lose more. But, looking back, I notice that we are not alone, I think everybody made the same mistake… I also see Dani and Veronika and so we all go back. Dani thinks to make a shortcut in the direction of the real track (and almost all the other go with him), but I decide to go back all the way to the point where I made the mistake. And, apparently, this was the good choice. Now, I am a little stuck in traffic, but after passing 10 people, I am in the lead.
The trail is crazy good! It’s a narrow rocky bumpy single trough low strong bushes. Signs? What? Nothing, but I can navigate with the computer and so I just have to stay on the line. A couple of kms later, I get out of the jungle into a town. Here I can see the signs start, but it looks like they came from the other direction?? Hmm, I hesitate a lot, but finally I decide to follow the line of the gps + the signs. It has to be correct, I pray… I am speeding on an asphalt road, but no reason to complain here. I can tell you now that we were happy with every asphalt km possible, because once you go off road, it means hard work, real hard work! As I have started the race here still being sick, I am now in a dreamsituation. Nobody around me and so I follow my body signals. From time to time, I feel strange inside, like having a chill and that means slowing down. I expect the others to come back any moment, but I will go easy till then, it’s not a choice, I have to do it to survive this, there will be 2 more days coming after this. I don’t feel great, but I can keep a good ritm. Now looking at the data, I can see that the first 35km was mainly uphill, so that also explained the feeling I guess. The closer we get to the top, the harder the climb becomes. Loose stones, steep gradient, it’s difficult to keep focused and to stay on the bike, but I manage. The nature is great and the weather holds on. A little rain, big wind, but good visibility and so I can enjoy the scenery! Oh yeah, I reach the top and so I am now in for a loooong descent. Somewhere here, I pass the jeep from the mountainrescue, but I don’t realize yet that this means I am in front of the people for the first waterpoint… Luckily for me, I don’t take risks in these adventure raids, I am with a camelbag + bottle, so I am safe for some time… The descent is fast and slippery, but it’s great fun to drift with my RAM fully trough the corners.
Too early, I am back down, but it feels good, temperature here is a lot higher and that’s better for a sick man. Weather is improving and the nature is pure! No people, no houses, just rocks and some lost cows. I start to feel better and that takes the pressure away. Perhaps I will be able to survive these 3 days in a good way after all . No more big climbs, but a constant up and down now, till we reach a dream single trail. Rocky, technical, slow, exactly like the ones I loved so much in Bulgaria. I fly down with a smile, but I am also thinking about Dani and Veronika on their hardtails, oioioioiiii. Luckily they have put 2.35 tires on , I hope they will have fun instead of suffering… After the single, it’s mainly down and I realize I must also have missed checkpoint nr 2. Now, I am running low on drinks, so, I need to find a solution. And the solution is offering itself within the next kms, we are getting back to the living world and so there are houses. When I see some kids playing, I make a stop to fill the bottle. I arrive in the last part and now it becomes confusing again… I see signs, motorbikes showing me the direction, but the gps is sending me another way!? Hmm, but signs are good? So I decide to go for the signs. The computer tells me how far I am off the course and it seems I stay close, so that’s fine. But the further I go, the further I get from the gps track… Ohooohh, I start to doubt and I even turn back looking for a way to get to the gps track, the only sure way to the finish. As I can’t find a road in the good direction, I finally turn around again and decide to go for the signs. And luckily I did, because only 3kms further, they bring me to the finish, hooorai!! (and the gps track would never pass this finish, ahum…). I am very happy to make it, feel better then at the start this morning, so glad I navigated-guessed correctly all the time. But, it’s not over… I am standing in the fields, where is the school?? Well, just go to the town and look for it J. So, I have another 30-40min of searching to make it to the correct school (the town had 3…). But, organization is very helpful and whatever problem-question you have, they will come up with an answer-solution and that’s the spirit! Why complaining and wining if you can make it all with a smile? I like this!!
So, stage 1 is done, I am even leading with 2.5min and when I see Dani and Veronika (who took 2nd place in team mixed), I see 2 big smiles and so everything is perfect. Now, after an effort in the morning, we have all afternoon for relaxing in the towncenter of Sinj. It’s a beautiful historical center with a lot of places for coffee and beer. Everybody is smiling and so nice! As I told you before: we ended up in heaven!! Holiday!!!
Saturday, day 2: Sinj- Vrlika, 94km 2300hm
Aaahh, getting up at 5.00 today, as we have an early start at 7.00 for the hardest stage of this race. Or so we thought… Apparently, the start was at 7.30, but we didn’t know. Anyway, 5.00 or 5.30, what’s the difference? As we had learned from yesterday, breakfast would be late and so we took our own food (and so did most of the others..) . When the breakfast finally appeared at 6.30, I was ready to go out and to jump on the bike J. Everybody looked happy and ready for some more fun!
7.30, we ride out of the center behind the police and onto yesterdays track. Same roads, opposite direction and I take first place. I even lose the others, but as the next kms are flat roads, I wait the peloton. Now, I get a little frustrated, because nobody wants to drive in first position for the wind. The few “lost racers”are playing their games and so there is nothing I can do but to wait the first hill to get it over with. But, even before that, adventure comes back to us. The police on the motorbike tells us to climb up the road to the right, but the immediate “bipbip”tells me he is wrong. I tell the guys in the first group, no one reacts, so I slow down to get back to the police. “Nono, straight” he says, but I convince him (and the group) to turn around. After the police checked on the radio, he also comes back… Fun J. The next kms are still a roadrace and I don’t like the atmosphere, as if I am the enemy… Perfect time to let the group go and to take a piss-stop. When I get back, the climb of the day starts and Tomaz, the guy in 2nd place, thinks it’s time for attacking. He must be an ex-roadie, because of the way he rides: Never 1m in the wind, never working but attacking in every occasion 20sec at full, then to check. If someone can hold on, he goes on the brakes etc etc. But ok, I feel strong enough to play the game. And sooner or later, rock heaven will come to us to finish this show J. But, when I accelerate to follow him on 1 of the attacks, I hear a crack in the transmission. I immediately know what it is… Oh no! It is the bearing of the rearhub behind the freehub. Its broken or breaking…. It will mean the wheel will be dancing, making it impossible for the freehub to roll and so I’ll have to keep on pedaling all day to survive. Sure, as long as we are climbing, no problem, but how am I going to make a 20km long descent while pedaling? And, if not enough, with the bearing broken, a lot of pressure comes to the other bearings and if 1 of them goes too, it’s game over… L. We get on top of the asphalt road and we dive in into a plateau on gravel against a hug wind. Only 3 persons left, Tomaz, Vincent (a nice swiss guy) and me. After some kms, the real work starts: steep rocky climbs and it only takes 1min to lose the others. But I am stressed, the sounds from the disintegrating bearing is terrible and I fear to break it completely in the middle of nowhere. What should I do? To quit here and now? To try to make it but with the chance of killing it far from the living world?? Hm, I try to go easy and I decide to try to make it to the top where there is a hut and a jeep. On the small descents that we get from time to time, I see how difficult it is to drive down pedaling. I takes only 1sec without pedalling and the chain is slamming everywhere eventually taking out a part of my xx rear derrailers carbon cage… Game over? No, not yet, I can get the chain back in and I can continue. Even with all these troubles, I still manage to pull away from the others and I reach the top a couple of minutes ahaid. Again, I wonder to quit, but the people encourage me to try to make it and so I do. It’s insanely difficult to drive down on the rock pedaling and braking all at once, but I make it. The longer it takes, the better I get and I even start to believe in my chances to survive! The upperpart is super rough! Big rocks and some seriously adventurous trails in high grass making it impossible to see what’s coming… Fully rules!!! And, if not enough, from time to time I hear the bipbip telling me where NOT to go J. Signs where poor and I felt sorry for those without gps!
Also the Maxxis ikons had a hard day, because there is no soft way when you are pedaling down! (and they are afraid of the signs that we are now driving trough minefields, really!!)More praying every km J. After 20kms descent, I suddenly realize I need to eat and drink as well, because it’s not over! Somehow, I manage to do it and when I reach the valley, I can feel the power coming back. And I need it, because now another 15kms of fast flat roads are waiting me. I concentrate on my distance and I know that every km I make is one less to walk -if the bike gives up… But the machine has strong spirit and brings me safe to the line! Waaaw, you can’t imagine how happy I was to see the finish! And surprised too! Why didn’t the other catch me?? Even more, I waited over 13min before the second guy –Tomaz- arrived, incredible! First I thought all day long that my adventure was over, now it seemed I had a good chance on winning the race!
And, when in troubles, that’s when your new family will be helping you! When the first men-team arrived, it seemed that one of the racers was a mechanic and that his uncle (also racer here) had a bikeshop close. So, we took out the broken part and checked the bearing that survived for the size needed. They would go home and try to find it for me. But, unfortunately, they didn’t have it in stock… But, having no bike, I was waiting a long time on the finish (6km from school) and so I had the chance to talk to everyone and finally I found 2 Italian guys who had a fitting spare wheel in their car. Sure, the car was still at this mornings start, but having a big family, also this problem was solved and by 18.00hr, I had a clean race ready bike with a beautiful new !!carbon!! rearwheel. Thanks a lot to everybody who helped me! Also big thanks to my taxi-driver J who took me to the school!
Veronika and Dani had lost some time with a puncture, but, all was forgotten easy when we found a beer and the bean-soup-goulash the organizers provided, njam njam! So, after all, a great day! Just needed a better longer sleep now for the last part of the race
Oh, and small example of the quality of the organizers: after they learned that it was hard for the riders to find the school from the finish, today there are signs all the way, super, fast learning, love it!
Sunday, day 3: Vrlika-Knin, 51km 800hm
Sunday would be relaxing day, start at 10h, or no, 9.00, oh no, let’s do it at 8.00 … You better keep focused here, or you will miss it J. After 1 difficult night in an opera hall (yes, it seems all bikers love beans!), the next thing is a traffic jam to the toilets J. But once those small problems are gone, it’s time again to enjoy the holiday. Again our own breakfast from the local supermarket 1hr before the official breakfast at 7.00, and all the time in the world to have some social time + a coffee on the center of the town next to the start, super!
8.00, time to go. As the same police motorbiker is there, the other bikers joke that I am the guide today, they will only listen to me J. But, the joke becomes a lot funnier when after 100m I realize the gps track starts in the opposite direction, hilarious!! So, I call the group back and with good mood we start stage 3. No stress today, just fun. The first kms are through some fields, then a small nervous climb and into the beautiful nature. Today, instead of climbing on the mountains, we are following a beautiful valley with great looks around on the rocky hills. As the track is quite easy, we have time to enjoy it! It seems that the others also are more in holiday-mood and so we go slow. The perfect ending to a great adventure. But, it wasn’t over yet, around km30, we reach a river and as the road is following this river 50m higher, we get gorgeous views on the game of the water. Even a super waterfall is there! When we leave the river, we get back to business. The only 3km long climb of the day… When I see the angle, I decide to shift to the small ring and… I lose the chain. Trying to be fast, I am really slow and I lose 30 sec before I can jump on. Ok, njama stress, time to accelerate and yep, the legs still go for it. I can catch back our group and I can even go to 1st position. Only Tomaz is following and in the next fast slippery descent, he has a hard time J. But after this we are back in the flat fields and so we go easy together. Only in the last 2 km, when we arrive in the centre of Knin, the speed goes up again as we expect a sprint finish. But I am surprised by the location: the finish is at the castle dominating this valley on the top of a mountain and so, when Tomaz gives a strong attack, I decide to let go and just roll in safely!.
Dani and Veronika have a good time and it seems Dani finally got into racing mode and so they arrive just a couple of minutes from 1st spot looking very happy! Now its time again for our favorite recovery drink on the most beautiful location and for some final quality time with the group, sad to end…
Voila, too early, our adventure ends, but that’s how it goes in life. No complaining, only good memories and those are priceless!!
It was a first edition made by people with limited experience with organizing mtb stage-races, but it was done by people with the heart in the right spot and who also realized the priorities:
- Safety: there was a great collaboration with mountain rescue teams, jeeps everywhere and even a helicopter ready 20 minutes away (that’s what they said, nobody had to test it.)
- Atmosphere: People were super nice and the smiles were always there! The group was fantastic and organizers integrated with the riders, 1 big family! It’s something other bigger races can only be jalous of…
- Quick learning, adjusting: Sure, as it was new to them, there were some problems, but the whole orga-team was always listening and quick in making changes-improvements, we couldn’t ask for more… I am sure they are already thinking now for changes in 2015 edition!
So, organizers did a great job, the nature was incredible (hard, but oh-so-beautiful), the weather helped us survive, the towns were friendly and beautiful, the people amazing, the riders like family with the same common passion,….., I think this race is a “must do” for all adventure–mtb lovers!! I am looking forward to 2015!
Report je napisao Wouter Cleppe (Belgija), pobjednik 1. i 2. etape TDM i ukupni pobjednik u INDIVIDUAL MEN kategoriji.
Fotografije u prilogu: Denis Peroš i Našimir Corneretto
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