Mike Simpson

This Beauty is a Beast

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I'm usually an extremely well organised chap, well actually let's say that I used to be an extremely well organised chap. Previously I would have written a precise list of what to pack a week before going away with my bike and then a few days before departure I would have already packed. A list is always essential when packing a bike and all the kit required for an event/adventure. However, the night before going away the other month, not only had I not started packing but I didn't even have a list of what to pack.

A few issues at work meant that at 9pm the night before an early flight, I was still at work with a mountain of things to sort out. Once home and boxing up my road bike I discovered that I had somehow ended up with two damaged wheels. Both hubs were buggered and neither was road worthy.

The trip was supposed to include a climb I'd very recently added to my, now pretty short, list of climbs I'd like to ride. I looked around the garage; I could take a cross or mountain bike but it just wouldn't be the same on a road climb. 10pm passed by as I sat in the garage pondering what to do and wondering if I would actually be able to get to do as I'd planned. I started daydreaming about the intended climb, doubting if I'd get to do it and remembering how the discovery of this, hopefully pretty special, road came about......

I watch very little cycling on television nowadays, spending as much time as I can with my daughter is the priority. So it was just by chance that I happened upon stage three of the Tour of Croatia in April (check out the full stage on YouTube here). Footage of the final climb just blew me away. One day I thought, one day. 

The very next day I get an email from Davina suggesting three possible holiday locations for July; Portugal, France and Croatia. I instantly ignore the first two and check the location of the Croatian hotel she had suggested, hoping it was close to the climb I had just seen. To my delight the hotel Davina had found was right at the bottom of this awesome climb! Trying to mask my excitement I replied with ''we can go to Croatia if you really want to, the hotel looks fine''. I hadn't even looked at the hotel and didn't bother her with the finer details of the climb I'd be riding as soon as we got there. Result!! So did you see what I did there?  A holiday that Davina thinks she came up with, at a location bang on where I wanted to go. This was such a win-win situation, it would then be my decision on the location for the next holiday! I'm a little devious like that ;)

Anyway, back to 10pm the night before and these plans have hit a brick wall. What to do about these broken wheels? This trip might not have a happy ending if I can't ride the climb. It was time to phone a friend. Within an hour I was back in the garage with working wheels after a quick trip to Henley. The wheel rental service I managed to acquire late on a Friday evening even came with free cake! (I owe you one Elcock).

By 11pm I was shattered and sloped off to bed, throwing a few things in the bag beforehand. Now this was not my usual stringent packing routine and it was precisely at this point I really should have spent an extra 15 minutes thinking about what was needed! But no, happy with the fact I now had a working bike, I turned in. Over the next 24 hours the list of things I'd forgotten to take on this trip just grew and grew. Day one of the holiday I was the brunt of a running joke of what I had forgotten as previously, much to my shame, it was Davina who helped me out with a packing list. Nowadays she is, understandably, much more focused on making sure Alina has everything. As it turns out fending for myself is not my forte. So just as a taster - I'd forgotten;

-Tea bags (ok this may seem non-essential but I get a little grumpy if I can't get a decent cup of tea when outside the UK).

-Kettle (ok so this will highlight my slight germ phobia, I don't trust hotel kettles!)

-Pillow case (ok so this will probably highlight what a nightmare I am to be with, again germ related!)

Now some more serious omissions;

-Waterproof jacket (so essential in the mountains, I could end up getting very cold).

-Appropriate sized water bottles (I only took one small water bottle with a long ride planned this could make or break it).

-Knee tape (since a knee operation 15 months ago I'd never ridden without supportive tape on my knee but it looks like I will have to attempt a monster ride without any crucial support).

Despite the above and with everything seemingly against me, early on the first day I carry my bike down the hotel stairs, ready to ride, nothing can stop me now! I look at the Garmin on my bike, at least I didn't forget that. I laugh because forgetting that would have meant I had no clue which way to go, totally curtailing things. I almost feel proud of myself at this point, well done lad you remembered your Garmin. I turn on it on, a few seconds later I see the 'low battery' warning. Shit, I didn't charge it, quickly followed by the sinking realisation that I also hadn't packed the charger!!! All the routes I had meticulously mapped were on here. I quickly try loading the route for the day, which seems to take an age to load but finally pops up, just as the unit went dead and lost all power. Surely that’s me screwed and I'm only in the hotel foyer.

I think back to when I’d mapped the course a few weeks beforehand and recall being well happy that the hotel was so close to the start of the climb, once on the correct road most mountains only have one way up. In fact it couldn't have been easier. No word of a lie, the climbing actually started one metre from the front door of the hotel... literally immediately up and after crossing one junction I'm on the climb, brilliant despite all the issues it's time to climb. Time to climb.......Sveti Jure.

I seek solitude in my cycling, my favourite mountains are the deserted ones. Many famous climbs are now just so busy. Earlier in the year I had ridden the Kitzbuheler Horn in Austria. That was crazy steep and pretty much free from cars and other cyclists. It would take a lot for this Croatian mountain to better that. 

A few kilometres in and my issues of the last 24 hours are well behind me, nothing will stop me summiting this one, or so I thought! I turn a corner to find.... a toll booth. I am entering a national park. Well the toll would be just for cars right? No cyclists need to pay. I had no money on me, I mean why would I? I'd forgotten everything else! To be honest I didn't really forget cash, I just didn't think I'd need any. At this stage I couldn't believe how many things I needed and had not brought. One last hurdle stopping me getting up. I didn't start to cry but I think the gent in the booth soon realised my predicament when I gave him a despondent look (the best despondent look I could muster). We exchanged few words but then to my delight he said ''Sir, today, you are my guest'' and he opened the barrier for me. What a result, it was meant to be all along.

What follows is almost indescribable, this is a unique mountain. A 29km road, winding up the rock face. It's beauty is that it stays so near to the amazing coast, you hardly ever lose the wonderful view of the sea. In fact the summit, as the crow flies, is only 5km from the Adriatic Sea. By George I think this climb has it all (pun intended Sveti Jure translates to St George), words can’t do it justice. It's hard work of course (I run out of water before halfway!) but the solitude and wonderful landscape masks my faulting fitness.

The road reaches a crescendo in the last few hairpins and the finishing straight is such a sight to behold and a massive relief to summit after all the problems seemingly preventing a happy ending. I'm guessing it could get busy but there was very few other people on the climb today. I saw no other road bikes, just a couple of MTB riders. I did ride it early in the morning and would probably not recommend the weekend or middle of the day as I'm sure it would be popular.

This trip however was not about riding lots around Croatia, so I can’t comment on whether it is a good overall place for road riding,  as I saw very few road bikes, (mountain biking is very popular though) and was just climbing one mountain but would certainly recommend giving Sveti Jure a crack (see here for it's location), it's very, very special. Just remember (amongst many others things) to take some cash for the toll booth!

This, however, is really a family holiday so the remaining days were spent relaxing with my Girls. Alina had her first taste of watching a Disney film, and watching that with her was the real inspiration for the name of this blog and it's true happy ending. Belle, Gaston and the Beast all together, that's just about all I need.

Click images to enlarge.