BOSNIA – MONTENEGRO
Ride Stats: 153.3 miles – 12:55: Moving Time – 5:24 stopped 18,631ft Elevation 11.9 mph avg
5am, packed up ready to ride at the top of a summit and ready to ride. It’s cool, misty and chucking it down……the party line is closing in, this is a grin and bear it morning. This part of Bosnia is quite remote, sparsely populated and almost a different country to the North (now Montenergo?) The M20 road is a great display of engineering with many long bright tunnels, one which even summits a col in the middle of it. The GPS lost signals here probably cuts off about 4 miles off todays total. I ponder that sleeping in here is possible as some even have laybys constructed, the thunder from the lorries grabs your attention, I’m glad traffic is light at this hour.
Despite the climbing and rain progress is good, mainly because I cant find anywhere to preform the morning ritual and it’s essential to keep moving to stay warm. Finally after 3 hours at Gako there’s a shortcut that cuts out 4 miles, but I stick to the M20 and get rewarded with a well stocked garage and an astounding bathroom. It is a full wet room with shower, on a warmer morning this would have been jumped on. No coffee, and I’m finding it hard to get rid of my Mark’s its very cheap here, Cold Nescafe in a can is becoming quite a passion. Keen to push on food can wait until the border.
Bileca the border town comes about 11am. With 50 marks ( about £18) to spend, it was an ideal spot for a big feed. One bar looked popular and people were leaving with meat in bags so I attempted to order food. The menu held no clues, much pointing and gesturing you choose for a hungry cyclist, I was not sure anything would appear.
The staggering beautifull lady came up trumps. Lamb and chips salad and nice bread, good coffees and coke. It was still under 10 Marks so I gave her double as a tip, by the look on her face it was a few days wages. The stop was too long at 1.5 hours, garages are always quicker, but it was warming up and was a good time to dry out and strip off ready for a hot drop to sea level. My feet remained mouldy, smelly and wet. For reference Bosnia could have been done on 40 Marks (£15) comfortably.
Into Macedonia the border was slow and the road quality dropped to poor immediately, traffic very light. Once again a huge downpour, this time it was welcome in the oppressive heat. The first sights of Kotor bay and the Adriatic sea blew me away, descending feeling like a hairdryer was on full in my face more so. Riding round the bay why did I not expect it to be this touristy, it was heaving and fighting through the traffic in 35 degsC not pleasant. An Ice cream stop was proving hard to find, Lovencon climb was waiting and this was not an ideal time to start the ascent.
Without doubt pictures from this climb from previous TCR years was one of the key reasons I entered this race. It didn’t disappoint, stunning views from almost every hairpin, not a tricky climb but I was in no hurry. My race could end here I would be a very happy man. As the first 25 hairpins unfolded (according to a strava segment) I started to suffer more than at any point on the whole ride. The legs were OK so I just put it down to overheating, despite many stops I could not shake the spiralling struggling feeling. In the end I stripped off and rode naked from the waist up which really did help, but CP4 at the Restoran Nevjesta Jadrana could not come soon enough.
A truly stunning place, and I feel privileged to have ridden my bike here.
This was the calmest checkpoint yet as riders are more strung out. The two Kate’s more brilliant volunteers didn’t have the luxury of Wi-Fi so didn’t know who was approaching, but were full of tales of James Hayden’s demise here due to a failing neck. attempts to tape him up to try and support his head just didn’t work and he scratched shortly after. – Precautionary batteries change in tracker and the shock of hearing I was now in 22nd place WOW, and who had got here 30 mins before me Team 190.
Over a celebratory beer, I ate a big bowl of Spaghetti Bolognaise with one hand and a Burger and chips with the other, we swapped stories of Bosnia. Todays mileage was low at 123 miles so far with that big slow climb, none of us considered what lay ahead though, the summit challenge. Despite the lack of checkpoint Mike Hall had made it compulsory to ride to the summit as part of the parcours, a further climb of 800 metres in the fading light.
This climb was more comfortable in the cooling air, the views of the lit up bay stunning, but after 2 hard days of climbing the pointlessness of it in the whole task of forward motion to Istanbul did play heavy on the mind. 3/4 of the way up meeting John and Trevor on the way down, they both shouted just that….pointless.
After 90 minutes eventually I reached the car park of the amazingly lit up summit restaurant. The views were dominated by lightning strikes all around the valleys, it was difficult to know which way was next for me, but the sight was spectacular more than worrying. perhaps preoccupied with this I descended on the sketchy roads all the way back to the barrier that marks the start of the national park. Here I loaded up the next track into the GPS to take me to Greece, only to find out that I should have done this at the summit. I’d missed a turn and descended way to far, compounded by the pointlessness of the climb this nearly broke me.
Despite falling out with myself, I trudged on plotting a circular route round the foothills of the Black Mountain which apparently gives Montenegro its name. This involved travelling through a really run down “bad land” area, barking dogs everywhere and more climbing..Grrr! Through Bukovica I finally picked up signs for Cetinje the Old Royal Capital of Montenegro. The descent into the city were hairy enough on these good roads, I reflected that this was probably safer than the rougher route from the summit I’d planned. (post race checking the tracker I actually beat the 190 boys to here 😉
Despite the worry of the party line closing fast, I had no other thoughts than a hotel here. After scrabbling around a man grabbed me and shouted “sleepings” and led me through a door to a back room for 15€, my saviour despite the lack of shower.
A tough rewarding day in the saddle and generally I was astounded that I was feeling stronger each day with little pain in any area, particularly the contact points of hands and feet.
Lessons learned: Routes are not set in stone, roads on the ground look so different from your impression from maps.
The Party Line (187/day for Fri finish): Barely ahead at 187.7 but that should be the last of the huge climbs and distracting checkpoints, only Istanbull to go now.
TCR Continued Day 11