Slovenia is a small country in the south-eastern corner of Europe. However, as small as it is, it has a very diverse countryside. So much so that it makes it unique compared to many much larger countries around the world. This diverse countryside has much to offer, and many people come to Slovenia to explore this diversity. Since the country’s independence in 1991, it has become active and alive. Alive with the more active lifestyles the people are living. One of the best ways to experience and explore the diversity and beauty the Slovenian countryside has to offer is by bicycle.
I am glad that I brought my bike with me when I moved to Slovenia in 1994. I started cycling soon after arriving and continued with my amateur cycling. Thus I experienced first-hand how cycling has developed and expanded in Slovenia. One of the principal components of this expansion is the various cycling events which are held every year — varying from events for the amateur cyclist, all the way to marathons for the professional and most enthusiastic cyclists. Events which also bring cyclists from other countries to Slovenia.
I was never the competitive type of cyclist and never attended any cycling events. But in 2015, that was destined to change. After the encouragement and challenges of friends, I decided, “OK, let’s go for it”. It was a brave and almost crazy decision I made, because for my first ever cycling event, I decided to take part in the most challenging one, the “Marathon of the Alps”. It covers over 130km, through two picturesque valleys and more, all separated by mountain passes.
The marathon starts and finishes in Kamnik. A picturesque town at the foot of the Kamnik Alps, which lies at only 380m AMSL (metres above sea level). Kamnik is also my home town, and I enjoy being out early on the day of the marathon, going through town as the final preparations are being made. The ambience and proportions of the event become evident as cyclists begin to assemble in town. But the full magnitude only becomes apparent as the marathon starts. Usually, about 600 cyclists take part in the marathon.
As the marathon starts, it takes quite some time for all contestants to leave the starting gate and get going. The first 40 to 45km is through relatively flat countryside of Carniola. This provides for a proper warm-up before we hit the slopes and it also allows for the body of cyclists to stretch out, which makes for more comfortable riding since we are no longer clutched together in a large body. The course then gradually makes its way up towards the first mountain pass at Jezersko, which is at 1211m AMSL. This is a border post with Austria. The road drops relatively quickly into Austria, but not too far before the route turns and heads back up for the main climb, over the Pavlič pass and back into Slovenia. This is also the highest point of the marathon, at 1338m AMSL.
Getting up and over this pass requires riding along narrow mountain roads with several tight hairpin bends. Going down the slopes back into Slovenia, we eventually come out onto the next flat section of the marathon. Here the route meets up with a stream and carries on through one of the most scenic areas of Slovenia. As the road carries on, weaving along with the stream, which gets wider and stronger as we go, the landscape also opens up more. If the route carried on along with the river it would follow one of the great rivers of Slovenia, the Savinja river. But it doesn’t. It makes a right turn towards the third pass and back towards Kamnik. The road leading up to that third and final pass gradually turns into an uphill, but fortunately not as steep as the roads of the two passes already covered. But it is tiring anyway, since we already have over 115km behind us, especially the final stretch to reach the summit because it’s quite a long stretch. This pass is well known to the majority of cyclists in Slovenia, with a unique name, “the 902”. It is the elevation of the pass, at 902m AMSL. From the pass, it is only 13km and almost all downhill to get to Kamnik.
It’s true that “the Marathon of the Alps” is a tough one, but it is undoubtedly unique. If you cover the route then you can certainly say: “I have seen Slovenia.” The next marathon is on Sunday, 7 July 2019, and you can register to enter at the official site.