VIDEO: Trans Julius: Racing the First Slovenian Enduro Stage Race
July 6th, 2017
July 6th, 2017
Slovenia is a stunning place to ride. Imagine rocky Italian footpaths and Alps-like views all crammed into a country the size of Wales, sprinkled with lakes and dotted with chocolate-box chalets and churches. Unlike Wales, however; Slovenia hasn't really cottoned on to the fact that mountain biking can be a fruitful tourist attraction. Chairlifts work, but mainly at weekends, and bike parks exist, but not yet to the standard of France, and footpaths are forbidden for riding.
This is what's really set the Trans Julius apart from the rest, as it has become more than a event, and certainly more than a money-making exercise. Battling with National Parks, local authorities and animal lovers became the order of play for a good year to get Trans Julius under way. One stage criss-crossed a mountain that required over 100 permission slips to use. All this serves to prove the passion of the organisers, a tiny core group of three (Vesna, Primož and Gašper), who managed to put on a real show for the 50 riders on the first TJ experience.
Trans Julius was a mere taster of what Slovenia has to offer, but I have no doubt in my mind that all their hard work and patience will see this event get bigger and stronger each year, and may even shape the attitudes of authorities for future tourists to come. I know that their dreams are to fully explore the Julian Alps, and maybe even pop over to Italy for some racing, but for now, it is a humble and friendly event that serves to be a great starting point for new coming enduro stage racers. But anyway, enough politics, you want to know what the riding was like, don't you? Well...
Trans Julius 2017
With the Prologue starting near Cerkno, it would be rude not to visit Cerkno Bike Park; a recent creation not unlike our Bike Park Wales, with everything from flow trails, berms and rugged single track, to huge jumps that made me queasy just looking at them. The ski lift only runs at the weekend, but the local bike park boys, including the reigning National Enduro Champion, got the truck out and did a spot of shuttling for us. Not far round the mountain is the Slovenian Enduro Champs course too; a 20min course (for the pros) with plenty of surprises in it. If you find it, be warned to look before you leap in the fields, as perspective won't warn you about a rollable hill that would be a 10ft huck to flat if taken too quickly.
Later in Cerkno centre, 50 mountain bikers signed up under the Continental archway, grabbed their timing chips and picked a number out of a hat for seeding for the Prologue. Being a night time stage, many crossed their fingers for an early gridding. I, of course, got third from last in pitch black night with my Mk1 Exposure Joystick ghetto-strapped to my helmet with cable ties. The course was made of grassy, gravelly and rocky fire roads with switchbacks, cheeky climbs and plenty of drainage ditches to jump and catch you out. None of which seemed particularly exciting in the day, but they soon presented themselves as challenging under the cover of darkness. The course ran right into the centre, ending with a touch of urban downhill behind houses and down a set of concrete steps to the finish. Passed the finish line, you roll straight into the dinner camp with free Slovenian local food on offer, a bar and a Slovenian jazz rock band at full decibels belting out slap bass and sax next to the church. The locals seemed to love it.
8am the next morning we all meet up in the car park for a convoy up a mountain in Most Na Soci, a beautiful tree-littered mountain beside a lake where we had the pleasure of riding a training trail built by and old Slovenian downhill racer. The course was dry and loose at the start, with steep, rooty chutes into flat, loose corners, and then finishing on single track heaven, weaving through trees and round mossy boulders. We were permitted to shuttle up and down the mountain for an hour's practice, although some rode it, and then it was game time. Finishing at the bottom next to a lake was too tempting for some, and a few riders leapt off the bridge, while the rest of us pedalled back up the hill for another Slovenia home-cooked meal in front of a stunning view of the valley.
Day 3 and stage 2 we headed to Soriška planina, a place usually reserved for walkers. Starting right on the very edge of the National Park, so to conveniently avoid illegal riding, we blasted precariously along a ridge and then ducked left into the steep side of the slope, flying at full speed along an exposed balcony trail, followed by 9km of ex-military artillery roads that hair pin all the way down to the bottom. The fastest of riders were picking up speeds of 70-80kph, using roots as kickers and drifting sideways round corners in the loose rocks. At the bottom, the local open-aired drive-on train awaited to take us and our vehicles through the centre of the mountain to our next destination, cutting a 2hr drive down to twenty minutes.
Riders split between basics at Camp Danica and luxury at Bohinj Eco Hotel in the small town of Bohinj for the night. An Outdoor Festival coincided with the race to provide live music and an open-air cinema screening of Brendan Fairclough's Deathgrip movie. That sadly brought us to the final day and would see us mass starting together at the top of Vogel, a ski resort at 1,922m high. We got two ski lifts up, then pushed to the top of the mountain where the mass carnage would start. The course started with a short blast down lose scree-like rocks and quickly bleed onto rocky bridal ways with plenty of over-taking space. By the time we'd all spaced out we were treated to a run of the Vogel Bike Park trail; a sweepy man-made trail with berms, north shore wood and a few jumps and wall-rides for the brave. Loose rocky tracks would finish the lower half of the course with some deviations now and then for a bit of rough interest. Descending back to the valley 9km later, we were treated to a warm train ride back to Bohinj lake for a cool dip, an after party with locally brewed Trans Julius beer and trophies for the winners that were hand-made by a local artist out of tyres.
Verdict and Advice
I absolutely love the passion of this race, not only trying to showcase what Slovenia has to offer in a short four-day extravaganza, but also trying hard to convince the local authorities that more can be done for cycling tourists in the area, and I truly believe that they will do that, if they haven't already. The area is absolutely stunning and, even though access may not be as readily available as somewhere like France, its raw, untouched nature makes it some of the most wild riding I've encountered in Europe, often requiring more balls than skills on the natural stuff.
Entry of €190 (approx £165) for a four day race isn't so bad when you consider this includes proper home-cooked lunches, two train rides and a decent momental jersey from ION, (not to mention TJ beer, cake and prize money for winners at the end). You'll pay more than £40 a day for a UK race that doesn't get you free food, hot weather and stunning views. I'd recommend getting a hire car (as you'll need to travel for the event), and flying over (as it's super cheap to get to Llublluana Airport from London and the airport isn't far from the start and finish), otherwise, get the van loaded up and make a point to point trip through Europe out of it. I'm sure the organisers and locals would love to go for a ride after the event too, so just ask. Hospitality is certainly not lacking in this country, and I'll be sure to return.