Last years’ first edition of Hardcro did amaze me enough to get signed up for editon two. The race starts in the very south east of Croatia, check point one is the most western point, namely Savudrija on the peninsula of Istria. From there the riders shall manage to reach check point 02, which represents the most northern point of Croatia. Sveti Martin na Muri, just next to Slovenia and Hungary. Managed to get to here, it is almost only one long and flat stretch until the racer reach the finish line just in front of the river Danube in Ilok, a little East of Vukovar. This is only a rough description of the race circus. Most important rule is not to cross any border but one, as the most southeastern point is an enklave surrounded by Bosnia and Herzigovina. For this passage it is clearly described which border control to use. At this point I learnt a lot last year, knowledge which I could immediately use to adjust my route planning for last tears TCR.
Well, enough said about the race, first things first. Manage to get to Molunat and manage to get back home, everything in a smooth way. For last year I planned arrival and departure in a long term. By the day of departure it was only stress, as I did nit hear my alarm clock, secondly the public transport ‘at night’ was so crowded it did not accept my bikebox, finally overcome all these, the plan c (a bus to the airport) did not accept my bikebox, as well, although I reserved for two big suitcases. Long story short, I managed to get to the starting line, but the stress was a lot of extra energy wasted, just due to the lack of service. The return was similar, therefore this year thing shall be differently.
Just a week before the start I did not decide how to make it to Molunat. In my head many options flew around nonstop. Finally I decided to ride to the start from home. As some cycling gear was ordered very late I waited another day and arranged to start from Innsbruck, without the need of racing down and arrive fully exhausted.
I had a short stopover in Munich to have a coffee with a good friend. From here I took the bus -who carries a separate bike trailer-. Due to serious traffic jams it arrived 2 1/2 hrs late and my plans were already calling for readjustments. No matter what will come, I gonna ride down to Molunat, I said to myself.
Making good progress on the road, shortly before entering Kreuzbergpass/ Passo Monte Croce, dangerously looking dark clouds appeared behind of me. As it started to rain around 2230, I decided to find a shelter as long as it was raining. So I stopped at a hotel and waited for more than two hours, trying to sleep a little but I actually failed, as the small lobby wasn’t the place to feel comfortable enough to get some proper sleep. One of the guests showed me his forecast with an even bigger cloud and thunderstrom areal heading to where I stopped. So I decided to get out of this as soon as possible. When the strokes were gone and the rain got a little less, I moved on. Even I got wet and the next descend was not far. Whatsoever, at some point in the early morning I was too tired to continue, only riders mode, not race mode. So I finally found a shelter behind a small Italian chappel in a small village just next to the river. I took a good sleep and decided to get up as the sun kissed my face. What a wonderful morning. Blue sky, birds singing, water was running down the small river just next to me. Tried to dry my leg and arm warmers and headed on to find some Italian breakfast. Around four hours later I decided to stop next to a busy road, close before Udine. Had two caffè and three or four pieces of sweet pasta. Now nothing could happen to me anymore. Still a great day, I remembered this road from last years tcr and I had some strong showers on it, heading into the same direction. From Udine I made a little turn to Trieste as I wanted to check some building along the old harbour. On my way there I met a guy from Slovenia on his bike, heading down to Pula. We chatted a while, we talked about bike packing and that he loves to taylor his very own stuff as his family was in a similar business. This is what I was looking for. All our sewing machines failed to do that job, now there might he a way to get things solved. He was happy to join to the old port of Trieste, and we speeded up quite a bit. Had some Pizza together and then he moved further south and I tried to get up the hills back onto my track loosing another worthy minutes, as I wanted to pay a short visit to Stefano. This guy has a small but very excellently selected sports shop in Bisovizza. He safed my life when my achilles were hurting so much and I could not find any compression socks that I could wear in my bike shoes. After seeing his shop by chance, I jumped in almost as my last chance. We talked for a while, he showed my some black options and I told him that I will die in his sock if I was wearing black heading further into the heat. After a good while, he went into his personal stock and gifted me one pair of his very own socks. Later we went for an espresso and he showed me an excellent place for diner where I rested for hours as I met Camille from the tcr media crew there.
After having a nice and warm welcome with Stefano who -surprisingly- immediately remembered me and even my name, we talked for a while and I told him that I need to carry on as another race was waiting.
Heading over to Slovenia and laterly into Croatia. I caught some good rain, again. Getting into Rijeka it was still wet, I wanted to have a short look to the old part of the harbour as well. After I took some nice pictures and wanted to get back on my route, I slowly turned around a really wet corner with some old tram rails. These rails had been standing so high about the road surface that I planned to jump over them, unfortunately I did not rais the bar high enough and slipped. In the middle of Rijeka on the middle of the road. Nothing serious, road surface was full of water so I mostly slided over the road. No damage to bike and clothes, only my elbow, shoulder and upper leg. After I relaxed for a bit, I continued as far as I could to still make it to the start before the end of registration time, which was Sunday 1300. I was in the late night climbs outside of nowhere, only surrounded by wild horses on the road and silence. I remembered a wall where I had to rest because of strong bora winds during last summer. I wanted to reached that wall as I remembered the surface to be acceptable for a short sleep. I made it to that wall, unpacked my sleeping bag ate some dried figes and feel asleep. After around 90mins I woke up as I was almost blown away at the exact same spot as last year. At this moment I was so angry about my own stupidity, but it did not help anything. I put my bike fully down on the floor so there was no risk of damage to the bike. Then I pulled out my mini bivy and turned the head out of the wind, fixed myself more or less and tried to get some more rest. After two more hours I gave up and slowly packed my stuff together as also dark clouds were showing up again. Ride on and get your ass out of that situation. Said, done. I knocked at some random door to refill my empty water bottles and made my way into Otocac. Here I had a little breakfast and a coffee. What a start of the day. It got hotter and hotter, the climbs got longer and longer, finally I reached Gracac and knew this climb and the descend to Knin will last for around 40kms. Directly after Knin it got uphill pretty stiff, followed by smaller but amazingly beautiful hills and villages. Pretty much dead villages, no life, no people. I pedaled and pedaled thinking about until where I could make it to arrive in time, as I -as mostly- lost quite some time on the road. In Sinj I stopped at a bakery and I had to laugh out load as the woman in the bakery still remembered me from two previous visits and she immediately talked to me in German. The world so really small, and there moments are what it makes such trips so special and unique. Equipped with pizzas, cheese burek and meat burek, I headed on to make the last climbs of the days I thought. I had quite well, had a longer dinner rest watching the sun going down and had the first longer conversation with my wife since I left.
As the sun was down it got cold, I added leg warmers and arm warmers and went on. Down and up and up and up and up, a little down and up again. It was so tiring as the climbing had been really really steep. Zigg zagg was my only option to make it without getting off the bike which was never an option. Finally there was a long and straight descend towards Vrgorac. I fell asleep on the bike, woke up again and knew I have to stop quickly. Seeing the clock tower from Vrgorac I knew this was going to be my stop for the next hours. 170kms to go until reaching my finish line. Around 0530 I got up and chased down the hill. Collected a quick coffee and a little food. I headed onto the coastal road after crossing two beautiful valleys. Up and down again in the burning sun. My last stop was shortly before Molunat as I was running out of time. Resupplied myself with sandwiches, joghurt drinks, bananas. Suddenly Ian and Caroline showed up in the shop. We said hello and they took my stuff to the camp with their car so I could finish my chase towards the end. Hills up and down again, supported by the siren of a fire truck (hardcro support car showed up behind me). I was chasing as the clock was ticking. At 1300 I threw my passport on the registration table in front of Kronel and asked if I was still in time. As he said, no worries. I had to jump into the refreshing sea, before signing into the race! So perfectly on time. In between I had some doubts, my wife already looked up for some busses to shorten the trip and make it there on time. Legs were strong enough, same as my will to make it there. Now let’s get some refueling and some good rest, hopefully. Resting was impossible until 0100 in the morning, so many people to talk to, familiar ones, new ones. But that is what we are living for. Lovin’ it!