Adventure Race Croatia stepped up to the world stage this year with their first AR World Series qualifier, hosted on the Adriatic coast, with a 500km course set among the mountains and coastline of the Zadar region.
Last year’s ARWS Demonstration race attracted 20 international teams and their experiences, and the race coverage, helped spread the word of a well organised race, set in a very beautiful place. Entries for this year filled up fast and when the race began on the island of Pag 41 teams from 17 countries raced through the town to reach their kayaks on the beach.
The race organisers, Igor Dorotic and Ana Rumiha, promised “a bit of gruelling sea kayaking, a mesmerizing trek up the Velebit mountain, some flowy mountain biking with a spice of orienteering and some rappelling into deep caves. And that’s just the first 24 hours of a 70+ hours race …”.
After that came hidden canyons and refreshing waterfalls, wilderness treks and rides, some urban orienteering including an ancient fortress, a via ferrata to get the pulse racing and a final sea kayak on the azure waters to finish at a beach resort and bar, all under clear blue skies.
It was a fast, flowing course which kept teams on their toes, when they were not stopping to look at the view that is! The leaders were certainly moving fast, and not stopping for a second if they could help it, and an intense race was developing among the leading international teams.
The two French teams, ‘Hoka One One’ and ‘Raidsaventure.fr/Absoluraid’, disputed the lead with the ‘USWE Adventure Team’ from Sweden, and the Czech team ‘Black Hill/Salomon’. All of the teams lead at one point during the race and world ranked #3 ‘400 Team’ of France and two strong Polish teams were chasing them.
The USWE team had a frustrating time on the first day and night of the race, with Jacob Westerberg ill and the team having numerous problems to solve with their bikes. Even so they lead into Transition 6. “We got there just half an hour before sunset and decided to assemble the bikes and prepare for the next leg.” Said Westerberg. “We also decided to use the shelter at the TA for 1.5h sleep. This would make us strong on the following stages during the 2nd night and it would also mean the other teams could clearly see that we were in the lead, sleeping and recovering. I’m proud we had the guts to make this call.”
Another key point was when racing side by side with both French teams at the Knin Fortress. The team navigator, Felix Breitschädel, pulled the team together for a rallying call. “Why are we here? We started with the ambition to win and now we have the opportunity. Shall we win or are we just here to finish the race?”
With the help of his sure navigation, in a race where any mistake would be punished, the team went on to win in a time of 73 hours 9 minutes, pulling away from their challengers on the third and final night which they pushed through with no further sleep. Hoka One One took second place and Raidsaventure.fr/Absoluraid finished third.
Magnus Woxholtt-Jensen from USWE commented on the finish line; “The trail was beautiful, and very diverse, but also extremely difficult.” With the win his team, which also included Helen Westerberg, secured a place in next year’s Adventure Racing World Championships in Paraguay which will take place in September.
All of the teams who took part had similar praise for the course, the race and their experience in Croatia.
Noel O’Leary of the DAR Dingle team from Ireland said: “What a super course and quite amazing scenery! There were no long stages, a really varied course and it ran like clockwork. The mountains were real wilderness and very beautiful and remote. At one place we found 3 old ladies running a farm together and they were miles from anywhere. We stopped to have coffee with them and have no idea how they lived up there!
“The Karst limestone on the first trek was astonishing, but it was really hard to find water and you had to take care as the rocks were sharp. The navigation was tough too. The trails were great for riding, I’d say it was 99% rideable, but you never knew if it would be a grassy limestone track or a rocky and bumpy ride.
“The sunrises and sunsets were memorable and so was coming out into the sea on the final paddle, then finishing in a resort with a nearby bungalow and all the food and drink you could want! The race must have been a huge amount of work for a small team and they delivered a great experience.”
In total 17 teams completed the full course, with 16 recording a short-course finish and 8 unranked.
Next year the organisers are promising a new course, in a different area and with more surprises. Entries for ARC 2020 will open on October 15th and the race will move to the spring, taking place from May 18th-24th.
You can find out more about the race at: http://www.adventureracecroatia.com/ and on their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/adventureracecroatia/ where you can see a video compilation of the race.