We hurtle towards the airport the day after the final stage of Croatia 4 Islands, we leave with many stories, lots of memories, and a love of this beautiful country. The amazing pictures from previous editions attract new participants to this race each year. Those images show a different landscape to any other race I’ve experienced, this coastal terrain is jagged, rough, bike beating, but perfect for amazing mountain bike trails - it’s a beautiful place for a bike race!
The logistics of the event are pretty mindboggling with 5 stages taking place over 4 different Adriatic islands! We flew into Zagreb airport from London Heathrow, we were then picked up by the race organiser and transported to the hotel in Baska. You have 3 options during the race. First option, stay in the race hotels and take the race organised ferry transfers. Second option, stay in the boat accommodation where you'll sleep, eat and travel between islands. Third option, bring a supporter, hire a van and make your own way between the islands.
There are advantages of each logistical option, the hotel option we choose meant big comfy beds and a large food buffet at breakfast and dinner but meant some early starts and packing up most mornings to move hotels. Staying on the boats meant you kept the same bed for the week, each stage started from the ferry port so you were already at the start line each morning meaning more sleep, and with this package the event crew take care of your bike to make sure it’s ready for each stage.
The art of pairs racing is a tricky matter, one I've perfected on just a few occasions over 10s of stage races. There are many factors that can affect your partnerships success, my race partner dropping out 2 weeks before the first stage wasn't the ideal start. We went from podium contenders to possibly not racing. Luckily my buddy Graham Jones from the Fruit 4 London team stepped up at short notice, the adventure was back on.
The opening prologue was a 13km sprint along the coast of Baska. A tricky start over the pebbled beach was pretty comical, we pre rode earlier in the morning and knew that if you rode off the racing line the bike just came to a halt and it was impossible to run. This happened to me in the race, Graham turned around to see me flailing around in this deep pile of stones. Eventually off the beach we raced onto the technical clifftop singletrack climb where one mistake would see an early swim in the ocean below. After turning inland we were then treated to an enjoyable flowing descent before tackling the second climb. Some quicker trails saw participants fly through the second half of the stage. A short downhill tarmac section was the final push before reaching the hotel finishing line. The prologue was the perfect introduction to this Croatian adventure.
Stage 1 started on a 12km long singletrack climb which took participants high up on the Island of Krk and into first super rocky section of the race, this was just the start of many kilometres of fantastic but rocky trails that lay ahead. Those on full suspension bikes smiles, those on a hardtail would be challenged. My new Simplon Cirex with 120mm travel was the perfect machine for these trails picking up speed rock after rock, I grinned my way through the stage.
Stage 2 was an epic day starting with a bus journey, a beautiful ferry ride to the Island of Rab, a search for a Sram AXS battery 15 minutes before the start and then an amazing stage finishing on the longest sand beach in Croatia. Collecting the bikes from the depot my teammate’s new electrical gears were completely flat, no buzz buzz buzz. A few swear words muttered... Ok, bags are at the hotel in a huge container truck, we are at the ferry terminal at least 5 minutes ride away, this isn’t going to happen in 15 minutes. Sprint to hotel. 10 minutes to go we're in the truck searching through hundreds of bags for Graham's tiny hand