TARNo1 // Day 3

May 17, 2024

In Search of Bürek

Words by Ross Brannigan, Race Reporter

Rain thudded on the windscreen of Control Car 2 as we weaved our way through the mountains. As the skies continued to bruise, the light receded and large raindrops pounded the road. On the other side of the mountains, thunder boomed across the Balkans, while breaks in the clouds flooded valleys with sun and high temperatures — a contrast of extremes.

Matt Grayson

Šavnik is another key resupply point in the Accursed Race, en route to the first Control Point in Beranë. Nestled amongst dense forested mountains, Šavnik lies in a natural bowl in the landscape, and it was here that Race leader Alexander Kopp (27) made his crucial resupply.

In the spirit of maintaining our distance as a race crew, this was the first time we had managed to catch up with Alex since the riders set off from Shkodër on Tuesday. 

Despite having only stopped for seven hours since then, Alex was alert and focused on his key objective: stocking up on bürek, the famous Balkan pastry.

Matt Grayson

Alex was pleased with how his race was going, saying he had “made some good decisions, had a bit of luck, and that the weather is OK. It has been raining, but it is perfect for cycling.”

When I spoke to him, the precipitation was burning off and the heat was building, causing a shimmer on the tarmac. Between mouthfuls of bürek, Alex told me he was well aware of where he was in the Race, and that there is still a long way to Shkodër.

“Every morning when I check the tracker I wonder if Adrien [Liechti] has overtaken me, but he decided to sleep. We are now only 50 per cent into the Race, so it is still a long way to go.”

After stocking up on yoghurt and three loaves of white bread, Alex set off up a 20km-long climb to a high plateau, eventually arriving at the first Control Point in Beranë at 21:14 CEST.

Rolling into Šavnik over an hour after Alex, Adrien Liechti (12) swung off his bike to resupply on a generous amount of 7 Days croissants. With vivid purple and yellow flowers bobbing in the sun, Adrien confessed his legs were suffering on the climbs.

Matt Grayson

“It is hard to climb for me”, he said. “Maybe I did too much flat [riding] this winter; maybe I am just tired.”

Unlike Alex, Adrien has ignored the tracker, focusing on his own ride and taking each kilometre as it comes. “I am just having fun”, he said.

Later, as we hid in the undergrowth taking photographs, we could see Adrien was struggling against the incessant gradients, zig-zagging on the road to the 1700m-high plateau after Šavnik. There, he found an expansive steppe-like plain, with shepherd huts peppered in an otherwise deserted landscape. Overnight, his gap to Alex opened out to four hours as Adrien reached CP1 at 01:16 CEST.

Hoping to make gains on Adrien will be Josh Ibbett (29), who reached CP1 this morning after 71 hours of riding. With a storm rolling in overnight, Josh made the tactical decision to rest before riding to the highest point of the Race in Biogradska Gora this morning.

Tom Gibbs

“The wind came in on the plateau”, he recalled. “It got really cold and it looked like there was a storm coming in, but I managed to get down before getting caught. It was pretty rough.”

Crouching under a camouflage tarp to take shots of Josh on the broken track, we could see the grass bent sideways in the strong winds, and the sea of buttercups shimmering in the late evening sun.

There remains a sizeable gap from the front three to the rest of the group, with around 60km between Josh and Rory Anderson (23) in fourth. With the leaders now tackling the sawtooth terrain towards Kosovo, it is all to play for.

Pair pressure

While the front three broke away from the pack en route to Kosovo, the Pairs race continued to heat up yesterday, with Julien Gravaud (40a) and Simon Taulelle (40b) maintaining a strong lead.

Behind them, though, the next three pairs are separated by just a handful of kilometres – Isabelle Berti (41a) and Samuel Rosport (41b), India Landy (43a) and Ollie Radford (43b), and Peter Olah (42a) and Köves Lajos (42b).

Sam Dugon

Speaking in Plužine, on the shores of Lake Piva, the leading pair admitted that last night had been a struggle with a solid headwind. Nevertheless, spirits were sky high with both laughing and joking about their first fight in the Race after a resupply didn’t go to plan.

Back in Sutjeska National Park, Isabelle Berti and Samuel Rosport are riding tête-a-tête with India Landy and Ollie Radford. Asked how she was feeling about the Pairs race, Isabelle was full of excitement.

“From time to time we see the other Pairs”, she said. “Sometimes we see them and then we pass them, so you definitely feel like you are racing. It's exciting, both the adventure and the race!”

Budding Berane

Over the next 48 hours, Isabelle and the rest of the pack will be aiming to reach Berane before the cut-off at 23.59 CEST on 19 May.

It is a challenging part of the Race psychologically, reaching a temporary haven of civilisation at the Control Point with riders being just over halfway through, but with many more challenges still in front of them. Descending from Biogradska Gora will be challenging, and the riders will dive straight back into lively elevations as they leave the Lim basin behind.

Matt Grayson

Beranë itself is a changing town. In the 20th century, it began to see the population dwindle as more people left in search of work in the larger towns and cities of Berane itself is a changing town. In the 20th century, it began to see the population dwindle as more people left in search of work in the larger towns and cities of Montenegro. 

Driving through a high-sided gorge towards the town, we passed an immense amount of construction, including a ski resort under development. With this new investment, perhaps Berane will begin to see a new influx of population and tourism, as ever more people come here to enjoy its incredible surroundings.

Day four is now well underway and the riders are all nearing the halfway point of the Race. Of those who set off from Shkodër, how many will make it back to enjoy further helpings of bürek at the end of this grand adventure?

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