2022 Seven Serpents Gravel: Event Recap
More than 60 riders lined up in Ljubljana, Slovenia, for the 2022 Seven Serpents Gravel event, an 800-kilometer self-supported bikepacking event through Croatian islands via gravel and secondary roads. Find a reflection from first-place finisher Nils Correvon here, plus a stunning selection of photos from the media crew…
Words by Nils Correvon (@nils.crrvn), photos by Marco Samiolo (@marco_samiolo) and Nicola Marchiori (@foto.nico.la)
We could see the excitement building up from the big smiles on everyone’s faces as participants arrived in Ljubljana. Only one person looked a bit more worried than the others. This man was Bruno Ferraro, a regular at many bikepacking events, who this time wore the hat of race director. Based on his emotional speech at the rider’s briefing, it was clear he put all of his heart and passion into organizing this incredible journey from the Slovenian capital to Trieste through the most beautiful paths and secondary roads Slovenia and Croatia have to offer. Bruno warned us about a few difficult sections, and the least we can say is that we were anything but disappointed. And it was anything but a stroll.
As I still consider myself as a newbie in the world of bikepacking—I only started riding long distance two years ago—my strategy was to push hard from the beginning and then see how much sleep deprivation I could handle on this 800-kilometre route with 16,000+ metres of climbing. The next day, like any ultra-event, the peloton started at an incredibly fast pace on the Slovenian gravel highways, and after a full-gas descent, I quickly took the lead on the fast-rolling terrain. The long and technical climb to the first checkpoint, Sveta Trojica Hill, was a clear reminder that gravel can be rough. Very rough indeed.
As we made our way to the national park and the Croatian border, the tracks started to change and became bumpier, demanding our full attention. At least it meant we had less time to think about the fact that these woods are home of bears and wolves, especially as the sun was setting. One less thing to worry about. After that came a long and hard climb to the second checkpoint at the top of Guslica Mountain, where Jan-Philipp Sacher caught me just as the absolutely stunning 360° view with the very last sunbeams of the day came into view—something we will remember forever! We stayed there for a bit, and for a short moment, it wasn’t a race anymore.
It didn’t last long, though, and we were soon back in full race mode, bombing the descents at high speeds down to the Mediterranean coast. Once there, I was again able to take the advantage. As we rode over the bridge to Krk Island, we didn’t know yet that the race was going to take a new turn. Straight away, we were welcomed by a relentless singletrail. Small stones became big rocks, climbs became walls, and suffering was now more mental than physical. With its extra travel, my choice to ride the BMC URS LT was undoubtedly to my advantage on these rugged trails, and I pushed as hard as I could.
After a sleepless night, I tackled the famous hike to Baška, a 350-metre vertical climb. Living in the Swiss Alps has given me a good amount of practice in figuring out the best technique: bike over the shoulders, one hand on the fork, the other on the crank arm, and let’s go for a flat-out 25-minute hike-a-bike. I loved it, but this was not the case for everyone. People living in the valley must have heard some swear words being shouted on that day.
After a short ferry ride to Cres, we found the same rugged terrain, and I started to wonder if we would make it to the last ferry to be back on the mainland. I was able to make it to the 6 p.m. ferry. Just behind, Jonas Fisher and Jan-Philipp were chasing hard and made it to the last one at 8:30 p.m. The others would have to wait until the next day.
I kept pushing towards Vojak Peak late in the evening, but when I saw that Jonas and Jan-Philipp stopped for the night after such a hard day on the islands, I also decided to have a rest and sleep for a few hours. Unfortunately, though, I woke up after only an hour and a half as I didn’t close the valve correctly and my mat was completely deflated. I packed everything and jumped back on my bike. Two hours later, I was riding into a pretty big storm. Still with a fair advantage, I decided it was unnecessary to get soaked, so I stopped a second time and fell asleep, only to be woken up an hour later by a dog barking directly into my face.
The next 150 kilometres were mostly fast-rolling again. And, to be honest, I got bored. Very bored. With no one right on my heels chasing me on the long flattish straights, I found it difficult to stay motivated. For me, the harder the better. I like when a route forces me to push hard just to keep moving. This is why I liked the Croatian islands so much. You’re fighting with yourself more than with the others. It’s an inner battle. Fortunately, the last climb gave me this feeling again, and staying on the bike was itself a challenge.
And after a long descent to Trieste, I was welcomed by Bruno, Lorenza, and Vedran 59 hours and 10 minutes after leaving Ljubljana. This is the first unsupported event in which I’ve finished first. Did it bring me more joy to “win?” Certainly not, I was much happier to be there to welcome Jonas and Jan-Philipp, who arrived shortly after, and glad to see the smiles on their faces. The experience we just had was much more important than any ranking, and it was much harder than we expected. Seven Serpents is incredibly rough, and every one of us had to dig deeper than imagined to reach Trieste.
Special mention to Sandra Schuberth, the first woman to finish, and Ada Xinxo and Santi Val, who finished first as a pair. And, of course, thank you to Bruno for creating the beautiful route, which I’m sure will become a classic on the bikepacking calendar.
Seven Serpents Gravel Route
2022 Seven Serpents Gravel Results
- 1st: Nils Correvon (59h 10m)
- 2nd: Jonas Fischer (60h)
- 3rd: Jan-Philipp Sacher (61h 11m)
- 1st Pair: Santi Val + Ada Xinxo (75h 17m)
The 2023 event dates aren’t announced yet, but you can find more details on this year’s event and what to expect next year at Seven-Serpents.com.
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