The Balkans have loads to offer when it comes to adventure travel and at Martin Cycling Adventures we are constantly trying to put this region on the map when it comes to what we know to do best: road cycling.
It takes courage, determination, some would probably say a bit of madness too, to start organizing a new cycling race, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found the King of Ucka (KoU) cycling race. The race takes part in Kvarner Region, Croatia, on one of the most epic roads you can find in this part of the world. The route starts on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, continues through the Ucka Nature Park and reaches 1.383 m after 22 km of pure climbing. We had a chance to chat with Elvir Sulic, Race Director at KoU, about himself, about adventures and, of course, about the race he is managing.
Elvir, you are not a stranger when it comes to sports and adventure. Tell us a bit about what you do and how you have reached this point of being a race director for the KoU but also an organizer for other races in Croatia.
My whole life is connected with nature, nature sports and adventure travel. I've been in mountaineering and climbing for a long time and these are the activities I love the most. The desire to discover new outdoor sports brought me to adventure racing and trail running after which I started organizing various types of outdoor races in Croatia / Kvarner area where I live. I started with weekend adventure races and adventure running races (a combination of running and orienteering) and finally with trail running races. And it's been 20 years since :) Of course, a new challenge came through the organization of the King of Ucka race.
Why did you choose a cycling race as your next project and why a hill climbing race?
To be honest, the original plan was to organize a road running race - the most difficult road half marathon in Croatia. Actually quite accidentally, King of Ucka was defined as a road cycling race, or hill climb race. I have to say that I am very glad about that decision and everything that happened and started with the race organization.
Last year was the first edition of the KoU. How did the reality of the race meet your expectations?
Honestly, road cycling is not the main sport that I'm dealing with, and organizing a cycling race was a big challenge and a strange thing. But the experience of organizing adventure and trail running events and the excellent team I've been working with, helped me to create a good story. I'm more than happy. The reason for this is the satisfaction of all the participants, which is the most important thing for me when organizing an event.
Are there any stories that pop up in your mind from last race that are worth sharing with us?
Of course. Much of what happens in life happens accidentally, so it was with the King of Ucka story. One of the most famous Croatian cyclists Vladimir Miholjevic (organizer of Tour of Croatia and former professional cyclist) and I live in the same neighborhood. One morning, we accidentally met in a small local store, buying bread, we changed a few words and the idea of KoU race format and co-operation on the project was born. We have successfully combined my enthusiasm and creativity with his experience in organization of the technical part and security of the race. Everything else is history :)
What are the top 3 things you would recommend for someone to do after the race in Croatia and why?
Croatia is a small country, is extremely diverse and beautiful, it has a rich history and a great cultural heritage. Ideally it would be a top 15. But, here is my top 3 :)
- Most famous classic tourist destinations you have to visit when you are in Croatia are the City of Dubrovnik and the Plitvice Lakes National Park. Both sites are protected by UNESCO and both are well-known outside the borders of Croatia. And they are really wonderful.
- When you are already here and have a bike, take some extra days and enjoy exploring Istria. Old, medieval towns, great bicycle roads, rich tourist offer and, of course, fantastic homemade food in countless Istrian taverns. Istria is a true cycling paradise.
- If you are a hiking fan, you have to experience Velebit - the most famous Croatian mountain. Whether you choose Northern Velebit National Park and / or Paklenica National Park depends on how much time you have available. My recommendation is to visit them both. You will be delighted :)
What’s your favorite post ride meal that you can especially find in Croatia?
I would like to point out one of the simple local specialties that can be found in every Istrian tavern and restaurant - 'Pljukanci' - traditional Istrian type of pasta, thin and long, made by rolling the dough between the palms. In combination with shrimp and wild asparagus sauce, beef or game sauces, prosciutto and rucola, it doesn't matter, I just love them. Of course, always with some of the excellent Istrian wines :)
You’re not new to challenging yourself. You have been taking part in a lot of competitions and even then “The Patagonian Expedition Race”, probably the most epic and difficult adventure race in the world. What have you learned about yourself through sports that you think other people can also use?
I am really lucky to have a person with whom I can share my love for nature and outdoor sports – it's Darija, my wife, my real life partner. Outdoor is simply our lifestyle, we just live that way.
We decided to take part in the Patagonian Expedition Race 2011 and 2012 together with our friends. This is one of the most beautiful and most impressive competitions we have performed, because PER is not just a race, PER is a great epic journey and a great physical and mental test for every individual and for the team itself. The beauty of Chilean Patagonia does not need to be mentioned, it is simply perfect. It's beautiful and merciless at the same time. All this makes this race truly unique and special. I just love it :)
What have I learned about myself in sports? Everything is possible and everything can be accomplished, you just have to work and have a good teammates.