CROATIA – BOSNIA and HERZEGOVINA
Ride Stats: 203.1 miles – 15:16 Moving Time – 2:35 stopped 16,857ft Elevation 13.3 mph avg
On the road for 4am and there’s a party still going on in Vukovar. A slight retrace on the way to the border with Serbia. This section of the ride is the one with the least pre-planning done. there’s no Google street here, and it’s rumoured that many of the marked roads are very rough gravel mountain tracks.
Feeling fresh the border soon appears and it’s a much more military affair from the Bosnia and Herzegovina guards. A nice big petrol station and café and who should be here coffees in hand, the team 190 boys. We exchange Croatia stories and enjoy several good coffees that a local insists on buying for us, Trevor leaves money behind the bar to make sure the guy has the favour returned on his next visit. A convenient cash machine and £30 of currency (the Mark) and its a good start to a new country.
I saw a comment from the Rapha boys team after the event that Team 190 sneaked out stealth like from the hotel to establish a team race lead. Far from it, these boys had a plan and were extremely disciplined in executing it, with their speed they were riding comfortably. It was surprisingly similar to my own; 200 mile days and 4 hours sleep max, it was no wonder we kept meeting up en route.
It certainly is an instant reset in this country once back on the road. It has a real feel of India without the animals for me, there are roadside bazaars everywhere, and pretty soon a huge car parts autojumble. The stuff for sale here looks like it come from a junk yard, an impression that Bosnia is the bad boy of the area and cross border trade is limited.
I’m away before Team 190 as usual, but the speed they sweep past me is staggering once more, John really is a power house, within two minutes they are out of sight. Once again I feel that my ride tactics are good to be in the ball park with these guys. Today I intend to get back on track and nothing less than 200 miles will do, the plan is 2 hour solid sessions then short café stops, its already warm at 7am another schorchio day ahead.
First stop I’m keen to mix with the locals at a café, it’s a very interesting place, much more character than the bland Croatia and I’m enjoying it here. Everywhere roadside there are amazingly tempting smells of meat cooking. Whole animals being spit roasted tease the senses, but nobody appears to be eating. \it appears the day long cooking sessions are for travellers to eat in the evening.
Soon after I pass team 190 just pulling out of another café, they joke that I am allowed to stop, cheeky guys! how slow do you think I am. It starts to climb from here on and having discovered that my Garmin Dakota has a profile page (doh! should have looked earlier) I knew we were set for a long steady mornings climbing. It was super hot now and the days first shirt cold water spring drench came before 10am.
Climbing from a sea level start to 1000 metres I was glad of the good rest yesterday, the 22T granny gear was refusing to engage but a good kick got my pedalling back to a comfortable rate. At no point in this trip did I get leg muscle or back pain, and I intended to keep it that way. The next stop target was a food stop, surely there will be somewhere at the summit and gladly there was. On the climbs Trev and John had a similar pace to me, although they were never actually close enough to speak to on the move, we all once again stopped together for lunch.
It never came though, no mater what we did the guy just would not give us any food, locals appeared to be eating, a women appeared to be dousing down burnt meat with a hose, all very strange and a bit of a wasted stop apart from the rest from climbing. The roads were good and the descents fast as I once again set off solo.
At Olovo there was a decision to be made; the unknown direct roads which looked big enough on the maps, or the long loop on the safe E18 round Sarajevo to the E20. Both would be lumpy, they didn’t have a winter Olympics here for nothing. I had both routes planned but took the safer longer option, potential gravel roads and mountains can only mean slow progress. ( post ride note: Stories emerged of 8 hour treks over route R434 which was nick named D’assietta 2)
Great fast roads lose altitude quickly, and then another afternoon long climb back up to 1000 metres prior to Sarajevo, the food situation is getting dire now. Praying for somewhere there is great relief when a garage appears, after 11 hours on the road and just summiting its almost perfect. Snacks, cool drinks, ice cream and a shaded grassy area, team 190 soon join me and a nice long relaxing stop ensues, Trevor sleeps on bags of salt as spots of rain tickle his face.
While here we see the familiar sight of frame mounted bags going the other way, riders who chose the option of a ferry across from Italy to take in CP4 at Kotor, on their way to Vukovar. It’s 4pm and they would be lucky to get there before midnight. We discussed that they might have pulled out an Ace if they avoided the long drag into the winds of the past 3 days with their northerly direction route. They did have no option but ride through Bulgaria from Vukovar to face though.
On the road first again, the route round Sarajevo was a joy, flat fast and not one traffic light, then another long long climb to face into dusk. It cooled off and after a few stops to stock up on night food and don clothing I wondered where my shadows were. they had to be on the M18 so I could only guess they did central Sarajevo, which was a shame to miss, but I had an agenda. Once again they cruised by effortlessly.
The darkness didn’t hamper progress on the fast roads but strange pockets of very warm and cold air made kit choice an on off affair. Then on a fast descent I had my scariest, and luckiest moment of the whole trip. At about 30mph, blinded by oncoming cars headlights I suddenly spotted a big white object in the road, those signs that warn of falling rocks, sometimes they are true.
Instinctively hauling up on the bars, the front wheel slammed into the top leading edge with a huge bang, and squewed sideways, the rear then hit the tumbling rock. The bike landed crossed up and tried to high side me, but as I was on the drops of my big wide Midge handlebars I had plenty of leverage to snap it back in line. Heart pounding and rolling on it took a few seconds to realize there was no sound of rim on road, no wobble from the wheels…..I had got away with it. Checking afterwards I could not find any hint of damage, 28mm tubeless Schwalbe One tyres on Stans rims are awesome. I don’t get rattled easily, right now I was positively shaking.
Not long after the 190 boys shouted me from a hotel, at 180 miles and feeling good I carried on, their was another 900 metre summit looming and I’d rather do it with warm not cold legs tomorrow. On the summit was a split new wooden covered bench, the stars were out, it was mild the views were stupendous, what more do you want for a bivy spot. After a good recovery feed I settled down, tucked in nicely secure with my bike. The fact this turned out to be the local smokers stop on the road, some on the way from bars obviously was no problem, nobody bothered me.
(turned out Team 190 carried on after food for some miles and slept in the open and had a rude awakening by rain and were forced to move on in the early hours, they passed me without spotting me)
Lessons learned: Strongest day yet just showing that a good rest and clean up and a big feed can work wonders, lots of climbing but great progress.
The Party Line (187/day for Fri finish): 203 miles today bumps it back to 191 going in the right direction pulling away from the line. Very happy with that average speed considering the climbing and heat.
TCR Continued Day 10