For the first day of the trip, we decided to go to the Island of Krk. It’s the most populated island in the Adriatic Sea, but with just under 20,000 people on the island it feels totally expansive and completely empty – perfect for exploring open and unadulterated roads. My mate Jan mapped out a 130km route with 2000m of climbing to dust off the cobwebs following a brutally cold European winter. We needed this.
After crossing the two main bridges – the largest I’m told is the longest reinforced concrete structure in the world. Once on the island, we jetted off the main road towards a small village called Vrbnik and the Monument of Gagolitic Letter A which pays tribute to the historical Croatian scribal tradition in Glagolitic script. Just like Mallorca, the empty white roads and otherworldly views are a playground for cyclists.
The view from the valley is pure magic. Our white winter legs were cooking under the cloudless sky at 30º heat, but we embraced the burn and took in the view as we scoped out Letter A. Once recovered we took on the road to Stara Baška – a sharp winding roads that bends down into the sea. It’s a fast descent, which means a hard climb back out. But the cool sea and quaint town is worth it.
Now, time for a healthy serving of gelato! Check out Cafe Marin - small cafe in small harbor of city Malinska. You won’t regret it.
Surprisingly fresh from Day 1, we got up early, swallowed a massive serving of fruits, bread and coffee, and prepped the bikes. The plan for today took us out along the Makarska highway to Senj – a cool 50km stretch of road that runs fluidly along the coast.
Still getting used to the heat, we quickly realised we overestimated just how fresh we felt. So, as you do along the Croatian coast, we stopped to chill.
The climb out of Sejn on the route was roughly 15kms with over 800m of gain in elevation. Riding a 53/39, I felt every single notch up in the grade. Thankfully, I found a clean cadence and got lost in the view. The joy in a big climb is here: when you check out and dig in.
At the top with a thousand white stones peppered across the landscape, I think Jan described it perfectly, “an arid sci-fi scene from a future world well away from ours.” Following a quick breath, we ripped down the descent and headed home. Deciding to avoid the Makarska highway, we turned north from Crikvenica up to our home base in Rijeka.
Today, the spirit of adventure got the better of us. We started out with a climb from Tribalj that went straight up to a panoramic view called Pridva. Right out the gate, you’re hit with a 15% wall. The narrow white roads snake painfully up for 17kms with an average grade of 9% – you learn a lot about yourself on a climb like this, which I love!
The harder you work, the more you struggle on demanding climbs. The art is letting go; stop forcing a rhythm and start embracing your natural rhythm. At the top, paragliders use the wind against the hillside to leave the ground behind for better views of the Vojak mountain… Not a bad idea.
The 25km descent down to Crikvenica along Road 28a was the perfect reward. We stopped for a moment mid-way down to breath in the warm, salty air climbing up the hillside. I’ve learned in life to not rush past moments like this. They’re too few and too far between to ignore. So, you’re compelled to stop. Stop. Revel in the experience.
After 3 days and 350km with more than 6000 meters of climbing, we were all tired as hell. It was time to rest.
Every year, we take the 4th day of our training camp to recover. We still turn the legs over, but keep the rides short and cruise at a mellow pace. Personally, I was really looking forward to our rest day because the goal was simply to explore our home base – Rijeka.
If you ever find yourself here, I recommend going to the Zamet Centre in the northwest corner of the city. While here in the summer, you want to sit down and a grab a few beers with your mates. Check out the Celtic Bar Bard. Just let the afternoon slip away as a sip on Ožujsko watching people cruise by. Or, take in all of Rijeka is in the old harbor out on the pier, which is where you’ll find locals enjoying a bottle of vino at the end of the year.
Relaxed. Rested. Ready to go.
When you ride in a particular part of the world and it leaves you wishing you could’ve stayed longer and explored more… That’s the Island of Cres. It beat all expectations. Extremely different to the other islands off the northern Croatian coast, it felt otherworldly.
The ride plan for the day had us tackling a 10km climb with 500m of elevation right after we rolled off the ferry. After a day of rest, our legs were protesting – aching with each turn of the pedal as we approached the wall. As is always the case, once we got rolling the body kicked into gear and the thirst for adventure pulled us up hill.
Once at the top, you could see the horizon line bending in the distance – a moment of respite and perspective before continuing on to the village of Lubenice. Traversing across the island, we rode for 50kms climbing up and descending down a series of sizable rollers. If taken at speed, it’s great training.
Still being early in the season, the tourists hadn’t yet arrived in village of Lubenice so weren’t rushed and competing with lines. Small shops, cafes, quiet streets, it was lovely. We took our time in a place not really concerned with time at this point in the year.
It was now time to go after the highest peak in Croatia, Mount Vojak. A key climb in one of the Croatian UCI races, the mountain starts at sea level and rises to nearly 1400m – the climb is 25km from sea to summit averaging 8% with a few blinding spikes in grade along the way.
With a cooler 25º day, we started our ride in the village of Ičići. Here, the road begins to snake wildly through the villages. And a you’re climbing you see an inspiring list of well known names in cycling painted on the road like Nibali, Weening, Kanstantsin Siutsou, and Bonifazio. It’s inspiring to imagine these guys going full gas up Vojak.
When heading up the Poklon pass, make sure to go up the closed road. It’s the only way to get to the top and it’s a completely closed road so no cars are allowed up that way. After a grueling 20kms, this last section is a treat – softer gradient, narrow and quiet roads, epic views. As you ascend, it’s like going through three seasons: summer at the sea, autumn when you’re midway, and winter at the top with crust snow still stubbornly sticking around.
Now, time to bomb down the hill. I can tell you, it’s more awesome than you’d imagine! We went full throttle through the switchbacks. With 20 years of cycling packed into his legs, my brother was gone in seconds – fanging it at 70 to 80 km/h. Bliss!
With 5 solid days of riding, I wanted to spend a day dedicated to appreciating our surroundings behind the lens. If you’re cycling all day, you can’t really choose the light conditions – you embrace the environment as it is. So, I made it a point on the last day to head out when the light was right and shoot as much as we could.
We opted for the same hill as Day 3 – climbing from Tribalj to the panoramic views up at Pridva. A cruisey 50km ride with 1000m of elevating and some of the most picturesque moments of the the trip. Riding is a reward in and of itself. But as a photographer and designer, when I’m afforded the opportunity to capture the simple yet significant nuances of the relationship a cyclist has with the road in absolutely premium conditions, I erupt with stoke.
We were stunned where the hills behind Rijeka lead, and how many roads there must be ...
How many roads we have yet to ride. On this ride, we committed to coming back next year.
If you're looking for something different, something yet to be celebrated for it’s incredible cycling, go to Croatia and enjoy the spirit of this beautiful piece of the world.