Pictures: Kike Abelleira, Luka Šmigoc y Tomo Jeseničnik
It’s one of the shortest liaison stages in the fourth round of the Enduro World Series (EWS), but in terms of its history, it's the longest in the entire competition.
The Karawanken range, a mountain massif that forms part of the Alps and serves as a natural border between Austria and Slovenia, is normally a hotbed of hikers who come to explore its peaks off the beaten track or kayak enthusiasts who set out to discover the underground lakes of this 120-km range. And of course, it is also a destination for cyclists in search of inhospitable landscapes and tons of flow in the Jamnica Bike Park, on Mt. Peca.
Besides this, this entire cross-border zone also stands out for its geological richness, which according to investigations, was discovered in the Stone Age, when it became home to the first settlers in the territory. What’s more, in Potok cave, in one of the cavities in the range, a Slovenian archaeologist found one of the oldest sewing needles in the world, dating back more than 40,000 years.
Thousands of years later, the Romans used the area to obtain material to use to make weapons and tools until sometime later, in 1665, industrial lead and zinc mining began, which made the area one of the largest economic nerve centers of the region. In fact, here was found one of the largest mines in this part of Europe, covering 64 km2 and with depths as much as 700 m below the surface.
All this mining activity, which finally ended at the end of the 20th century, resulted in the building of 1,000 km of galleries and vaults in the area. Some of these spaces were flooded and gave birth to the underground lakes mentioned earlier, and others were conditioned for hiking and cycling tourism. Yes, cycling.
The area regularly offers underground routes through the labyrinth of galleries through which they transported the mineral so that you can have a unique experience under the slopes of Mt. Peca, riding hundreds of meters below the surface, for several hours, with dim lighting.
In the 4th round of the world’s greatest enduro competition, a tiny part of the maze of galleries is turned into a spectacular transfer stage of approximately 5 kilometers, connecting two of the three timed downhill segments on the second day of the race.
In this way, riders like those of the Orbea Enduro Team literally ride through the mountain instead of climbing it and they connect two valleys on the Slovenian slopes, the valley where the town of Črna na Koroškem is located and on the other side, the town of Mežica. Even though the elevation gain is practically non-existent in this segment, the holes and bumps from the old mining railroad ties that keeps the bikers – and the Rallon suspension with which our riders compete – on their toes.
That said, those who suffer from claustrophobia can avoid this underground transfer in exchange for a couple more kilometers and handful of meters of climb, but it would also mean missing out on a route with thousands of years of history.