After spending the season on the mighty Stelvio, we sent our ride leader Simon Powner over the border into lesser known Slovenia. Here are his memories of the Julian Alps
Perched on the shoulder of the iconic Triglav National Park, Lake Bled was to be our home for the next 7 days. But the Park itself was to be our playground.
Checking in at Hotel Ribno you knew that Slovenia’s tourist trade was built around the Ski industry however, hoisted aloft a domineering chimney breast sat a Kuota Kiral. The receptionist quickly pointed out that was the hotel’s cycling corner and that in the summer months the hotel had converted all of it’s storage facilities to a well-stocked cycle centre. I was in the right place!
Mounted just to the left of the carbon ornament was a distinctive yellow jersey signed especially for all the staff here at Hotel Ribno. That particular Maillot Jaune was not a prop for the sake of cheap decoration placed there seasonally only to try and charm the next influx of guests but one of the actual jerseys awarded to local hero Tadej Valjavec in the toughest bike race in the world.
At Sportive Breaks we always pride ourselves in having a local guide along for the ride, for our inaugural Slovenia trip we would be guided a by a cycling legend who boasted overall placings of 9th and 10th at the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, respectively.
After a coffee with Tadej and a quick chat about the glorious routes we would be ascending we were quickly lined up outside the hotel reception ready for our warm up ride. Warm up was a necessity today, our afternoon spin had been threatened by bad weather but the sun had popped out from behind the clouds as if on order by Tadej but the air temperature had still not peaked so we set out with an extra layer just in case.
A pleasant 60k later we arrived back in the same spot with our gilets still tucked into our jersey pockets and feeling relieved that the weather forecasters in Slovenia were as equally unreliable as their British counterparts.
The cuisine at Hotel Ribno certainly lived up to its billing and after a sumptuous local breakfast we all felt adequately fuelled for our second day in Slovenia. 2650m of vertical ascent over 112km absolutely called for two trips to the buffet cart!
A gentle pace along 10km of cycle path soon gave way to our first ascent; and it kicked like a horse. Named Jamnik climb, our first real test here measured 4.44km with a sharp average of 7.3%. However, hidden amongst its slopes was a kicker of almost a km at 10%! Our support van was of course perfectly placed at the crest allowing us all to grab a snap of the most perfectly placed church in all of Europe *a statistic made up on the spot from pure relief for having made it up the climb.
The next 86km came and went in a blur of much of the same: sapping tilts in the terrain which seemed to stretch out for more than what was advertised; each housing a wall like short brutal change in gradient draining you of the last mummers of fight seemingly required to make the summit.
5 hours later we rolled back into the Hotel car park each checking our Garmins were correctly calibrated with the feeling the route was a substantial amount more than the advertised offering of ups marked on the tin. Our legs drained but each of our phone’s camera rolls brimming with multiple green and blue images of our beautiful European landscape
The next day we had all agreed that the quantity climbing was giving us the perfect excuse for huge breakfasts, and the composition of Day 3 warranted more of the same behaviour at the buffet cart.
So with a few croissants tightly wrapped and tucked into our jersey pockets we set out on our route to Bovec. This would be our only night staying outside of Bled; the only thing that stood between us and our beds in Bovec was 3504m of climbing over 133km: “I think we need more croissants” was the general consensus at this point!!
Full of apprehension we all set out on our Queen Stage. Our nerves soon subsided as we shot along the purpose-built cycle path running beside the crystal clear river which took us all the way to Kransjska Gora and our first coffee stop. Conversation over cake led to Tadej casually remarking he still had a 420w FTP having only ridden a few thousand km in that year. It became abundantly clear that there would be no ‘racing the guide’ when we got onto our first climb.
We didn’t have to wait much longer to start our first fight against gravity. 1k out of the cafe stop and we were starting our ascent of Passo Vrsic: 11km at 7%. We all crested the climb as a group led by Tadej and were soon flying down the other side.
As the road began to level out we were 87km into the route with only half of the elevation visible on our computers; these off balanced calculations meant only one thing: we were heading toward a final monster climb!
It quickly became apparent why we were left reliant on our mathematics to quantify the remaining length of our ascent; the pass sat that high up it had become engulfed in clouds and hidden from view.
The Mangart Saddle stands at over 2000m, to crest it we had to cover 1407m of vertical ascent stretched over 17km of tilting tarmac.
The stand out memory of our trip to Slovenia, for me, played out on the road of that climb. With all the accolades credited to his name; our guide and grand tour regular paced each of our guests over the most difficult parts of that climb one by one. Going back separately to pace back any ‘fallen comrades’ who may be struggling with the verbosity of the day. A true gentleman and a credit to his sport and profession.
Drawing open the curtains in Bovec the next day to be greeted by a curious, mooing cow at my window captured our rural surroundings and added to the charm of the trip.
The mood was a lot lighter this morning as we knew the hard work was done and our only task was to roll back to Bled and take more photos of the stunning landscape which hosted us. When I say ‘roll back’ this translates to ‘sit in tight formation behind Tadej and do as little as required to save our aching quadriceps as he uses only a small percentage of that monstrous weight to watt ratio to pull us all home.
With the misconception that nothing could endear us more to Slovenia and it’s kind nature we pulled into our lunch stop. The restaurant owner, head chef and flag bearer, Rudy, greeted us each with a warm hug. Rudy earned each one of these titles in the following ways: the restaurant has been in his family for generations; he prepared and grilled the most sumptuous selection of sausage for lunch; and finally he bid us all safe passage by racing out of the front of his home waving a large Slovenian flag as a blessing for our onward travel. What a place; what food; what a guy!!
Slovenia you were everything we wanted with a sprinkle of a little bit more!
Until next time you hidden gem!!
Come and discover Slovenia for yourself on our Slovenia Weekender in 2020