How Losinj was brought to life
Behind the scenes of Croatia's first ever World Cup
For those of us that weren't blind drunk when the downhill World Cup calendar for 2018 was released late on Friday, there was one venue that set tongues wagging.
Lošinj, a Mediterranean island off the coast of Croatia, will be hosting a World Cup for the first time. The 1.9km track has 250 metres of altitude change and even comes with a street section to finish among the boats in the town's harbour area.
So how did this come about? We spoke to Slovenians Sebastjan and Matej from the organising committee to figure out why they decided to host a World Cup in another country 300 kilometres from where they lived:
How would you describe the Croatian downhill scene?
Currently the race scene is not doing its best with only the Lošinj UCI C1 race on 22/23rd of April 2017 on the calendar.
We need to look at the scene together with Slovenia, a neighbouring country, because racers traditionally race together in both countries. In that sense we are happy to be a part of the new UNIOR DOWNHILL CUP this year with five races (four in Slovenia and Lošinj) all UCI C1 or C2 category.
How did racing start on Lošinj?
We (MTB Trbovlje) have already spent some time on Lošinj as tourists and explored the local trails on bikes. In 2011 we met two nice people from Athletic Club Lošinj – Lovro and Miro, and together we gave a shot at trying to build a race scene. It was not easy for us as Lošinj island is 300km away from our homes!
It only took us six months to build some trails and then in 2012 we stared building the DH track and preparing for the first DH race. The first race was in 2013.
How did it grow to what it is today?
The successful bid is an example of good cooperation between the two entities from Croatia and Slovenia. We have organised races in Trbovlje (Slovenia) since 1999 so we already have a lot of experience.
We like the place, we like to work on trails and there is similar adrenaline rush organising and managing a race as it is in racing bikes itself!
Moreover, local tourism authorities want to create a promotional platform for year-round tourism. There are more than 250 km of walking and cycling trails and the aim is to develop the network of purpose built trails for mountain biking.
We feel mountain biking is the perfect way to explore the unspoilt beauty of the island and discover magnificent views of the island archipelago.
Lošinj island wants to establish itself as a elite, year-round tourist destination for active holidays. The organisation of the spectacle of the World Cup means a breakthrough on the world stage and therefore broader visibility of not only Island of Lošinj, but also the Kvarner area and Croatia.
When did you first think about hosting a World Cup?
Sincerely, the idea's been there since the start, we just didn't think out loud! We think you need to be brave and do your best no matter what you do – race bikes or organise races.
When we saw that we have the local community support (Mr. Gari Cappelli) and the support from Lošinj Hotels Group (Mr. Goran Filipović) and Lošinj tourism board, that they believed in what we were doing, we decided to bid for a World Cup race.
AK Lošinj is also a great partner, we organised the C1 races together. The island itself is great place to visit and the finish area is right on the seafront, among the boats in this little medieval town. There is no other race like this one in the world.
We thought it might bring some freshness into the World Cup downhill series, it is completely different from the alpine villages or places World Cup goes to year after year.
It also helped that we had positive feedback from some fast riders like 2016 IXS cup and EU champ Slawomir Lukasik, 2015 European champion Jure Žabjek, and others. The terrain is demanding even if it's not the longest track. We saw that we can make it challenging even for the best in the world.
We think the beautiful and somewhat unusual venue helped a lot as it will bring the diversity to UCI downhill World Cup. We also did our "homework" with our bidding offer which was obviously appropriate for the UCI.
How will the track change for the World Cup?
We will be making several changes to the track already for this year's UCI C1 race. In general, we will try to leave the track as natural and raw as possible. There will be a new starting hut and ramps, new jumps added on the top and new entrance to the main rough section. There will also be new jump in the woods and finally a different street section with more turns.
What do you think World Cup riders will make of the course?
Hopefully they will enjoy it! The onboard videos might not really show how rough it is.
We also think the racing will be good for TV as the track is short and fast and that means close racing! The cameras should provide full coverage of the track from start to finish.
What else can we expect over the weekend? Any big plans?
We just want the racers and spectators to enjoy the seaside, eat good Mediterraean food and have fun along the way! The island is blessed with a good climate and stunning natural scenery so make the most out of your visit! In collaboration with our sponsor Lošinj Hotels and Villas , we are planning special, promotional price for accommodation for all bike fans!
Who are the people you would like to thank that got you here?
First of all our partners, guys from AK Lošinj – Lovro Hesky and Miroslav Čavlek, then Gari Cappelli, former Mayor of Mali Lošinj and Goran Filipović, Member of management board of Jadranka d.d., Grega and Tine from Unior Tools Team and Andrej from Mtb.si.