It all started with an unexpected message via facebook. Thursday evening 27 June, I receive a notification via the social networking site that the Red Bull Road Rage News page I am one of the admins on, received a message. Upon opening, it revealed a question from another rider Marko, about how best to approach cornering as well as stating the desire to ask a qualified expert additional questions. A few back and forth messages ensued the following day to culminate in receiving a link to the map with the details of the upcoming Red Bull Road Rage near Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Immediately it was panic mode realising it was only a week away. How was it that I hadn’t seen or heard about the event, despite the information going live on the Red Bull site on 6 June? A quick email to the address given on the event website to apply for a start place was sent with the necessary requested information. A phone number was also available, but I presumed it was an office fixed line number so didn’t bother calling it on a Saturday afternoon. I continued communication with Marko in the evening and asked about the number, whereby he informed me it was a mobile and I should just call, which I did. I introduced myself after ensuring English was understood, but was asked to call back in 15 minutes as he was wrapping up an event.
Half an hour later I picked up where I had left off, explaining I would like to enter the Red Bull Road Rage planned for the following Saturday. I was told it shouldn’t be a problem and that he would reply to my email on Monday when back in the office. I didn’t even have to wait that long, as Sunday afternoon an enthusiastic reply landed in my inbox stating “We would be glad if you joined us on July, 6th. “ Without further ado, flight tickets were book for the ensuing Wednesday and a few days later I was jetting off to experience a new adventure, in to me the yet unexplored Balkans. I had one goal only and that was to go win this event for my late brother who had finally succumbed to MS only months before and nothing, absolutely nothing was going to stop me.
Marko met me at Sarajevo international airport, as he had very generously offered me to stay with his family, which I willingly accepted. It was only a short drive before we arrived at his house in the eastern suburb of Sarajevo, surrounded by fields with the mountains as backdrop. I was introduced to the family and fed fresh fruit and vegetables from the garden, immediately feeling the warmth, generosity and hospitality that is so pervasive and customary of Bosnian culture. An early night ensued to ensure readiness for the following day.
After a delicious fresh breakfast, again with only the freshest home grown ingredients, Marko took me across the road to meet his neighbour’s “pet” bear, ironically called Lucky. After this unexpected introduction, it was time to build up my bike. Once completed, Marko and I headed down to an electronics shop to find a microSD card for my newly purchased sports action camera. There were none in stock in the capacity I wanted, but we were informed one could be delivered within 30-45mins if desired. Now that’s service! The go-ahead was given and a short wait later we were set to go up and check out the Road Rage course. Only a few kilometres away from Marko’s house, he knew the road well and directed me the quickest way up some back roads.
We parked at the bottom and I decided to cycle up using the ascent as a warm-up. The road was only a couple of years old and had the finest high quality asphalt surface, presented in immaculate condition. Once at the top I switched on the camera and commenced my descent under a beautiful setting sun. It was a very fast descent and upon reaching the initial starting point below again, my impressions were confirmed as I checked my ride stats and got a top speed reading of 96.4km/h! The clip can be viewed here.
Friday was spent relaxing to ensure fresh legs for the following day. Saturday arrived and both Marko and I headed up to the race village after another healthy breakfast. We were greeted by the friendly Red Bull event hostesses and filled out the usual paperwork to complete registration. Not long after, the qualifying group heats were announced, with riders’s numbers being selected at random to make up the groups. Marko was in the first heat and I in the second last. We were then all shuttled up the hill to the start where we awaited the morning action.
Marko and his three fellow heat competitors set the action off. I had about a 25 minute wait until my heat went, so I kept warm cycling up and down the road behind the start line. Then it was action time. I decided to go full throttle from the gun and dropped the others in an instant. Once I had a substantial gap, I settled into a strong rhythm and ran out a decisive winner. When I got down, I met Marko, only to learn he was not as lucky, having fought bravely until the end, but ultimately having to cede to stronger competition. Once the last heat came down, there was a break while the Red Bull Team put together the finalists for the knock-out heats. Then it started to rain heavily for a short while, before we were shuttled up in the buses again for the eighth final runs.
By the time my heat got under way, the road was showing patches of dry tarmac, but still quite damp in places. After my all out charge from the previous round I decided to experiment with other tactics and this time let my fellow group heat competitors lead me out. After slipstreaming them for about 700m into the course, I rushed them from behind, rode into the pocket of still air and burst by them immediately establishing a substantial lead. Then it was time to conserve energy and I tucked in down on my top tube and cruised down the next 2km. I flicked a quick look over my shoulder as I approached the bottom hairpin and saw they were no much closer. I started guiding the bike carefully around the bend when suddenly my front wheel gave way. I was just able to rescue it before I went down and had to correct my trajectory allowing the guys behind me to get right on my wheel. An all out acceleration out of the corner dropped all but 1 competitor and the two of us worked together to keep it that way drafting each other in turn down to the finish line. I ran in behind the victor by a mere couple of tyre widths. Job done, into the next round.
I immediately went to change my slicks for rain tyres after the hairpin scare which could have ended my race for good right there and then. Tyre pressure was also dialled in for the conditions. As I was completing the change the heavens opened again vindicating my decision to go for the rain tyres. This was going to be the best equipment choice I made of the day. After the rain eased somewhat, the qualified riders were transported back up to the start. Again I was in the last heat and decided to employ the same tactics for the start. The move was executed with textbook style and the gap was blown out. This time however, I was careful around the bends and continued to keep the power on. The aim was to get to the hairpin with a huge lead so I could steer around it without taking the slightest risk. Hairpin approached, speed scrubbed right off and the hairpin became a memory until the next round. One more big acceleration and I cruised under the big Red Bull finishing arch. I decided I had found a tactic I was happy with for this course under the current conditions and so stuck with the tried and tested method, making the semi-final an exact repeat of the quarter final run, albeit it under much heavier rain.
It was into the bus for one last ride to the top. Confidence was brimming at this stage and I knew if I stuck to the plan and didn’t take any unnecessary risk or make any silly mistakes, this was mine for the taking. I also knew that I wouldn’t have it as easy as in previous rounds, as I had three formidable competitors, including some of the strongest international mountain bike riders from Bosnia in both cross country and downhill. I would need to pull out all the stops and find a little extra to secure this one for sure.
Again I went for the now winning formula, waited until the right moment and then attacked like my life depended on it. It worked as I distanced my rivals, yet not nearly to the same extent as in previous rounds. Again prudence was executed in the corners and every other metre of ground I covered was full on the throttle to make sure I didn’t leave my competitors even the smallest opportunity to exploit. Hairpin was again reached with a 50m gap in hand, negotiated safely and then business as usual with one last monstrous acceleration. I screamed my brother’s name as I sped towards the finish line as this one was for him and he had been my strength and motivation all along every step of the way to this moment. Around the last bend with the welcome finish arch in sight. I sat up and raised my both arms in true roadie style, only for the front wheel to start violently vibrating and wobbling the whole bike around!
I have never put my hands back down on the handle bars so quickly in my life. In the end I went for another one handed victory salute, to ensure nothing else went wrong. Not far behind me triple national cross country champion Mario Kojić rolled in as runner up ahead of his strong team-mate Stefan Tešanović who took the remain podium spot beating the young talented downhill mountain biker Nikola Solomun into forth. The on-board footage from the race winning run can be viewed here. Shortly after I was surrounded by not only all the photographers, but also Marko and his family who were as delighted and excited as I was with the win. Then the inevitable question everybody wanted to know, “How fast did you go?” I checked my computer to reveal a top speed of 97.3km/h and that was in the rain! The podium celebrations ensued promptly with interviews capping off the day. To view the event highlights please click here.
I dedicate this victory to my brother Miro, who left this world before his time. You will always go with me wherever I am. RIP.