I managed to escape for a couple of weeks following a conference in Germany and do some riding in the Dalmatian Alpes in Slovenia and Croatia as well as the Liege-Bastogne-Liege gran fondo in Belgium. One particularly nice day was a 90km circumnavigation of the Vrsic Pass. I started in a small town called Strmec (probably all of 10 houses) and rode down the valley to Bovec. It was cold but dry. I’d read about the Vrsic Pass before in Mountain Higher (Europe’s 50 least known but amazing cycle climbs HERE – sequel to Mountain High HERE), and it quickly found its way to the European hit list.
The climb starts innocently enough, winding through beautiful farmland and tiny, almost deserted, Slovenian towns. Nothing was moving at this hour (8am…) so the road, although generally in good shape, was mine alone and I made full use of it. After about 10km of gentle incline the gradient started to kick up and quickly climbed out of the dense rain forest and into the mountains. The view opened up out to the Italian Dolomites and beyond. Monuments dotted the mountains marking the savage battles that took place here during the First World War. These mountains have a dark, terrifying history made all the more humbling by the cold damp air. I didn’t see another soul for the entire climb which made it both awesome and super creepy.
About halfway up the climb-proper the switchbacks start to be numbered. There are 49 of them in total. Like Alpe d’Huez the numbers are deceptive. The switchbacks themselves are flat so while on paper the average grade is 8%; while you’re climbing the ramps it seldom dropped below 11 or 12%, with the last few km’s well in excess of that and ramps up to 22 and 26% in the final mile. The summit is hidden from view until the final 2km so the whole climb is spent staring at the massive Vrisic Headwall wondering where on earth you can possibly saddle this mountains range. Finally the road pops over with but a small wooden shack and a sign to mark what is mostly an underwhelming view at the top. The anti-climax of the saddle summit seemed fitting for such a brutal climb with its centuries of conflict. I only stayed a few minutes as it was cold and after chatting with a Polish rando rider who was on his way to Rome (!!!) I set about the descent of the northern road down to Kranjska Gora, near the Austrian border.
The descent features 26 switchbacks, all of them cobblestoned. Most gave impressive views up the mountains to the east which provoked memories of the Stelvio Pass not too far away in Italy. The mountains here are steep and tightly packed, so the view is never more than a few miles. The descent was testing as the road is extremely steep and narrow and it was my first real alpine descent on my Ritchey Break-Away frame but arrived in town to sunshine and much warmer temperatures. From here it was a nice smash westbound to the Italian border on the bike-only cycleways that link all of these countries together – an incredible network complete with on/offramps and signposts for every town.
Finally the road crept up through the Italian foothills from Tarvisio and back toward the Slovenian border. By now it was almost midday and the suns warmth very welcome. There was the beginnings of some tourist traffic but the roads were good and the drivers considerate. The final climb up the Passo Predil to the Slovenian border was a dance compared to the mornings test on the Vrsic.
Overall an amazing ride in some of the most beautiful terrain I’ve ever cycled in. I will definitely be back for more action in that area.
Link to strava ride – https://www.strava.com/activities/964095152