Chris Froome Naked | Tour Champ Strips Off For ‘My Sporting Body’ Series in The Times

Froome got his kit off for photographer Marc Aspland on Col de la Madone…

Chris Froome on the bike in yellow. Photo montage: iStock

Chris Froome on the bike in yellow. Photo montage: iStock

“Imagine Chris Froome naked.”

Despite the Kenyan-born Team GB’s star’s unrivalled success on a road bike, we don’t imagine this is a statement that’s heard an awful lot.

And that’s meant with no offence to Chris, of course. After winning his fourth Tour de France alongside his first Vuelta in 2017 there can be no doubt that he’s one of the finest human specimens on the planet. It’s just that whenever Froomey is in the public eye, he’s normally about 17 days and hundreds of miles into a gruelling road race, surrounded by bruised, bleeding, exhausted and sweaty men with enormous legs and small, little shoulders.

There’s something about imagining any grand tour rider naked after they’ve been going through all that pain and endurance that just doesn’t seem quite right. We’ve all seen the gruesome post-ride Tour shots after all. The veins for days (and months and years) don’t normally make you say “corr! Would love to see the rest of him”, as represented by Polish rider Pawel Poljanski below…

Photo: Instagram / Pawel Poljanski

Photo: Instagram / Pawel Poljanski

But anyway. Enough about how we’ve never thought about Chris Froome naked before.

We’re thinking about Chris Froome naked now. And, as it were, we don’t have to ‘imagine’.

Photo: Marc Aspland / The Times / Instagram @chrisfroome

Photo: Marc Aspland / The Times / Instagram @chrisfroome

It’s part of a series from photographer Marc Aspland called ‘My Sporting Body’, in which athletes lay it bare besides a chat about exactly what they think of their current physical state, not unlike the famous, if controversial annual Body Issue from ESPN, which action sports stars such as Courtney ConlogueTravis PastranaLaird HamiltonCoco Ho and whole hosts more have stripped down for before.

It’s a fascinating premise, and Froome’s conversation, which you can read in full on The Times website, really is interesting stuff as well.

“I can recognise the proportions are ridiculous,” he tells the newspaper. “Skinny upper body, massive thighs — I do feel a bit ridiculous looking in the mirror. That’s what it takes, but I am looking forward to getting in the gym when I retire and doing some bicep curls, getting some shoulders to balance things out a little.”

Other athletes who can have been on the other end of Aspland’s lens include GB race walker Tom Bosworth, 2014 Commonwealth silver medallist Kelly Edwards, jockey Lizzie Kelly and Paralympians Robert Oliver and Emma Wiggs.

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Cycling UK | Group Call for New Offence for ‘Car-Dooring’ Cyclists

Figures show 2009 cyclists were injured, and five killed, by car-doors between 2011 and 2015

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Bike Couriers New York City

The handlebar view of a male bike courier going past cars on both sides in a traffic jam during rush hour. Photo: Getty

Cycling group ‘Cycling UK’ have begun a campaign to highlight the dangers posed by car drivers and passengers opening their doors into the paths of cyclists – and are calling for greater punishments for those who do commit the ‘car-dooring’ offence.

The cycling group say that figures released to them by the Department for Transport show 2009 cyclists were injured in so-called ‘car-dooring’ between 2011 and 2015, including five fatalities.

They add: “Cycling UK believes that these figures are not fully representative of the scale of the problem, as not all car dooring incidents will be attended by the police” and have written to transport minister Jesse Norman MP to urge for action to be taken over the problem.

Cycling UK want to see a law-change that would establish the new offence of causing ‘death or serious injury through negligently opening a car door’. Car-dooring is already a crime, but can currently only be punished with a maximum fine of £1000.

There have been numerous occasions in the past few years when cyclists have been car-doored and thrust into other vehicles, or nearly so, as in the video below, which was filmed outside of the UK.

The issue was brought into the spotlight in tragic fashion recently after cyclist Sam Boulton was killed in Manchester after being thrust off path and into a van by a taxi passenger who opened her door and caused him to veer.

The passenger in question was fined £150 and the driver, who had illegally parked on double-yellow lines, fined £995.

Cycling UK chief executive Paul Tuohy said: “Some people seem to see car-dooring as a bit of a joke, but it’s not and can have serious consequences.

“Cycling UK wants to see greater awareness made about the dangers of opening your car door negligently, and people to be encouraged to look before they open.

Man pulling handle to unlock car door. Photo: Getty

Man pulling handle to unlock car door. Photo: Getty

“In the Netherlands they are known for practicing a method, known sometimes as the ‘Dutch Reach’, which we think could be successfully encouraged in the UK.”

The Dutch Reach is a method where the driver or passenger in the car opens the door of their car with their further away hand, allowing them to look behind them as they do so.

“Cycling UK has written to the Department for Transport asking them to look into this [the Dutch Reach],” Paul continued, “and highlight the dangers of ‘car-dooring’ through a public awareness THINK style campaign.”

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Cycling in Togo | The Kpalimé Cycling Project is Changing Children’s Lives With Bicycles

“The best school children in Kpalimé are those who are part of our program…”

The Kpalimé Cycling Project was created in 2013 to develop cycling and education in the city of Kpalimé and across the country of Togo in Western Africa.

The locally-run club have done some astounding work since then. Founded by 23-year-old Togolese national road cycling champion Abdou-Raouf Akanga, the club provides the opportunity for children to learn to cycle – providing they get good grades at school. They also help them achieve the latter with financial support and resources.

“Today the best school children in Kpalimé are those who are part of our program,” says Akanga.

Kpalimé Cycling Project cycling in Togo

Founder and 23-year-old Togolese national road cycling champion Abdou-Raouf Akanga with the Kpalimé Cycling Project kids

The club also runs the only women’s cycling team in Togo, something particularly notable given the stigma surrounding women’s cycling in Africa, and supplies all of their riders with bicycles and cycling gear.

Now the Kpalimé Cycling Project are re-developing a house into a cycling centre for the city. The centre will have means for accommodation, education – including mechanic courses for locals, crucial in maintaining and growing the cycling movement in the country – and will be the central hub for the project as a whole.

“The cycling centre would be a great start to help improve children’s lives through cycling”

Having run out of the “means to continue developing the project” though, they need your help to finish the job.

The cycling project recently launched a fundraising campaign for their cycling centre, the funds of which will go towards finishing the restoration of the house and investing in different cycling programs “like cycling development and also the education of our riders” – so they don’t have to turn anyone in want of an education away.

kpalime-cycling-project-2016-cycling-club-togo-kids

Kids training with the cycling club in Togo

The project is only asking for €2,000 to reach their goal. €4 can support a child for a month. €25 for six months. €50 for an entire year. That full €2,000 could support 40 children for a full year. You can donate now through the fundraising page.

We spoke to Abdou-Raouf about the project, and about exactly what the centre and funding would mean for the community.

“The cycling centre would be a great start to help improve children’s lives through cycling,” he told us.

Kpalimé Cycling Project cycling in Togo

The cycling club take to the roads in Togo

“We recently bought the house that we are restoring now. The house will have sleeping rooms, a library, a bike room, a mechanic’s room, a kitchen and a hut for our meetings. In this house our riders will help each other to master their school programs.

“It would be the base of all our activities and people from all over the city, even if they are not a member of the club, could come and borrow books from the library.

“We are working to extend the practice of cycling by giving bikes and other materials to kids and youths who wants to be cyclists. We also intervene in the education of our riders by giving them with school supplies, paying school fees for those who come from poor families.

“There will be mechanic courses, and courses to teach them things about cycling in which they will have exams. The money will help us to finish the restoration work and then we’ll invest in different programs like development and education.”

Kpalimé Cycling Project cycling in Togo

The Kpalimé Cycling Project hub, in construction

The club currently trains three times a week, riding both road bikes and mountain bikes, and the impact on the community even outside of cycling is clear to see.

“Kpalimé Cycling Project is now the best cycling club in Togo,” Akanga continued. “We have the first ever kids and female team. We are the first and only cycling club in Togo who give bikes and other cycling accessories free to its rider and also giving financial support to the riders for their education.

“With Kpalimé Cycling Project, kids have the luck to go to school and also having a good cycling program with us. It’s something unique in Togo for the moment.”

We first spoke to Abdou-Raouf Akanga about the cycling project in February this year while exploring the ongoing movement around women’s cycling in Africa.

Kpalimé Cycling Project cycling in Togo

The women of the Kpalimé Cycling Project in action on the roads

The stigmas surrounding women and cycling seem to have no ends on the continent, and simply getting on a bike can be a taboo, but the Kpalimé Cycling Project dismissed those stigmas to create the first ever women’s cycling team in Togo. They had 11 women riders at the time of writing in February.

“I try to show people that women can also be cyclists and do the same thing we are doing,” Abdou-Raouf told us. “I also go on the local radio and try to change people’s minds about women on racing bikes being something bad.

“Like everywhere in Africa, women are the busiest in the house. It’s the same thing for female riders on my team. Sometimes they can’t come to training because of domestic work.

“Women also have the right to discover the joy and freedom of cycling. Cycling helps teach lessons of courage and skills that will be useful at school and in normal life.”

To find out more about the cycling project and donate to their crowdfunding campaign, click here

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Nelson’s Tour de Test Valley | Too Many Men Are Suffering in Silence With Depression. This Cycling Sportive Aims to Change That

“Within snowboarding and cycling we’re supposed to be upbeat and healthy all the time. There isn’t room for being depressed or down…”

“Nelson was undoubtedly one of the most talented snowboarders on the British scene. He rode with incredible edge control, had a real spacial awareness, skill and bravery. Some of his early video footage is just incredible. But despite how amazing he was, he was so underrated because of his humble personality.

“He undoubtedly was, and I’m not over-exaggerating here, probably the most popular chap in British snowboarding for all of those reasons. Both for inspiring so many people with his talent and with his humility. When he died it was a huge shock to most people because of how loved and how talented he was.”

We’re talking to Marcus Chapman, the best friend of the late snowboarder Nelson Pratt.

Nelson Pratt

Nelson Pratt

Nelson was one of the most talented snowboarders to come out of the UK. He had a lengthy partnership with K2, coached bronze-medallist Jenny Jones and more as part of the Team GB set up in the lead up to the Sochi Winter Olympics and is described by everyone who knew him as one of the most down-to-earth, friendly guys on the scene.

Nelson had everything going for him, but in 2012 at just 33-years-old he tragically took his own life.

“His popularity was second to none, so it was a real shock,” Marcus continued. “Personally, I knew Nelson struggled with ups and downs. And he had a family history of mental-health problems. We talked a huge amount about his ups and downs because I’ve had ups and downs as well and we had a real kinship because of that. We lived together for a long time, but none of us ever thought – myself, his brother, his family – that he would ever go as far as taking his life.

A rare portrait shot of Nelson Pratt. Photo: James Bryant

A rare portrait shot of Nelson Pratt. Photo: James Bryant

“He really inspired a lot of people. Even towards the end he was coaching the British team along with Hamish McKnight. He was coaching Jenny Jones and Aimee Fuller, just as they were heading towards Sochi. And Jenny Jones puts a lot of her success down to Nelson. Nelson really pushed her freestyle, pushed her coaching. It was a huge shock. A huge loss.”

Nelson pulls a massive method in New Zealand

Nelson pulls a massive method in New Zealand

Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 each year. Roughly 75% of all UK suicides each year are men. It kills 12 men a day and over 4600 a year in the UK. For contrast, an average of around 1,700 people (a number covering both men and women) have been killed in road accidents each year since 2012.

Research from the leading charity dedicated to preventing male suicide, CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) shows that men are three times more likely to take their own lives than women, largely because they are less likely to tell someone when they are suffering from depression.

CALM’s research shows that only 55% of men who admit to depression are likely to talk about it, that 30% of men are too embarrassed to do so, and that under the age of 45 in the UK, more than 4 in 10 (42%) of men have contemplated taking their own life – less than half of whom spoke to anyone about their problems.

Most men reported that they didn’t want to cause a fuss and almost a third said they didn’t speak up because they didn’t know who to speak up to.

Marcus Chapman and CALM are working to change this. In 2013, the year after his best friend’s death, Marcus (along with Nelson’s brother Chris Pratt) set up Tour de Test Valley, a mass-participation cycling event in memory of the snowboarder.

Chris Pratt and Marcus Chapman

Chris Pratt and Marcus Chapman

The event brings together around 800 cyclists each year to ride one of three routes – either 25, 50 or 100 miles in distance – and has raised more than £200,000 for CALM, which goes towards funding the charity’s call centre, and as Marcus puts it, “towards reducing the stigma and giving people like Nelson another outlet”. Support comes in from every rider who participates, and from sponsors like Vans, whose UK team (pictured top) raised over £1500 last year. Nelson rode on the Vans UK snowboarding team for years, and the company has been a main sponsor of the Tour de Test Valley since day one.

The event is now in its fifth year, with the 2017 edition set for 16 September. It follows some of Nelson’s favourite routes around the Hampshire countryside, with the 100-mile route being the first 100-miler that Marcus and Nelson ever rode together.

Riders chill out on the big day at the sportive

Riders chill out on the big day at the sportive

Tour de Test Valley is a crucial event for raising awareness of the stigmas that surround men and mental health, particularly in the world of action sports and the broader sporting world, where top-level athletes are seen as almost invincible.

He said: “Within the worlds of snowboarding and cycling we’re supposed to be upbeat and healthy all the time. And I think that’s something that Nelson and I struggled with. Especially the British scene, it was about who was the funniest, who was the loudest. It used to be a bit of a fun drinking culture and there wasn’t room for being depressed or frustrated or down.

“Athletes like Jenny Jones have a lot more support now. They have access to a full coaching team through Team GB. It became a lot more professional and a lot more open and I think Nelson would have benefited from that. But stigma exists in sport. How many footballers have admitted that they’ve had depression? Probably about two.

Jenny Jones and Aimee Fuller ride in the Sportive

Jenny Jones and Aimee Fuller ride in the Sportive

“There are a couple of skateboarders now who have come out – but in sport, the stigma exists massively. It isn’t something that is freely talked about and applauded. Or that makes you feel comfortable to come out. Nelson definitely, definitely suffered from that and I’m sure there’s lots of other people who still do suffer from it, but I hope that Nelson’s story and our voice and CALM has helped people come out since then. I know that it has.

“As a bloke Nelson didn’t open up as much as he could of to other people but he was failed really by the GP because he was very anxious but there wasn’t any therapy he could get quickly and he wasn’t really suited to online CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). He went to the GP very close to his death but they didn’t do a great deal for him and I think he felt really let down by that. I still feel a bit guilty myself that I didn’t do more.” Though of course, he shouldn’t.

“Even with all of the stigma now being reduced a bit and all of the talking and all of the media, there is still a massive gap from the media and celebrities talking about it to the actual front line – but that’s where CALM comes in. Their call centre and their voice and their communication hub can help them and signpost them.”

The TdTV is open to anyone who wants to ride...

The TdTV is open to anyone who wants to ride…

Over the last five years CALM has grown from a handful of full-time staff to an office of 20 working full-time. In that time they’ve recieved increasing support and seen steady growth thanks to not only the likes of Marcus but also the work of Princes William and Harry, who promote the cause through the Royal Foundation.

For Marcus and Nelson’s family, the annual sportive is a way to remember and celebrate Nelson’s life, and to make his tragic story into a power for good.

“We get a lot of people along who have just entered the event and then they hear Nelson’s story and it creates a real positive legacy,” Marcus said.

“People come and talk about him and about mental health in a really positive way, and that’s what CALM is about – the message is positive. It’s brash, it’s upbeat, it’s direct, and that’s what we want the event to be. We want it to be a positive memory and turning something really negative for the family into something positive.

“We just need to keep talking about mental health and CALM and promoting it online and telling blokes that it’s alright to come out and talk about it. As soon as someone starts talking they realise they’re not alone. And that’s the most important thing.”

For more information about CALM, the Tour de Test Valley, and how to enter the sportive, check out their official website

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The post Nelson’s Tour de Test Valley | Too Many Men Are Suffering in Silence With Depression. This Cycling Sportive Aims to Change That appeared first on Mpora.

Slovenia Guide | 3 Days of Adventure High in the Green Mountains

We go beyond the tourist trail in a country that’s 62% forest and built for pure adventure

We need a new point of comparison for spectacular viewpoints which encompass endless green mountains.

We need a new simile. We can’t, as a culture, as a conscious society, as a race of intelligent beings, continue to say that every view of fast-rising forests, beautiful lakes or skyscraper waterfalls on this rapturous planet of ours “looks like Jurassic Park”.

Jurassic Park is a film starring Jeff Goldblum. It is a 24-year-old blockbuster with a lot of dramatic views and a hell of a lot more dinosaurs. And, crucially, and I know I’ve already said this, it is a film in which Jeff Goldblum is one of the stars.

Please stop comparing the nicest places on Earth to a film starring Jeff Goldblum.

This is an – albeit bizarre – string of thought running through my head as I sit on the saddle of a mountain bike 1280m (4200ft) above sea level in Bohinj, Slovenia looking out over the rest of the region.

Looking out over the beautiful views of Bohinj with Grega, our guide.

Looking out over the beautiful views of Bohinj with Grega, our guide.

This is far from the highest point in the country, but it has to be one of the most beautiful.

The 790 acre Lake Bohinj is on one side. It sits at the foot of Bohinj Valley in the Julian Alps, which is part of Triglav National Park, home of the eponymous Mount Triglav – the highest mountain in Slovenia at 2,864m (9,396ft). They say that you’re not a real Slovenian until you’ve made the lengthy journey to the top.

On the other side of the view is forest green as far as the eye can see, rising and falling with the rolling mountains and covering up every single spec of it on the way.

bohinj views mountain biking slovenia

A lookout over the beautiful forests of Slovenia from the trails in Bohinj

I had heard a couple of tourists in my hostel compare the view to Jurassic Park the night before, and don’t get me wrong, it’s stunning. Absolutely stunning. But it doesn’t look like Jurassic Park.

Partly because there are no dinosaurs, of course, and no Jeff Goldblum, but more because this is the kind of view that stirs up something a film camera can never fully capture; that feeling of freedom and weight-lifting perspective that comes with being completely engulfed in nature; with being completely unplugged from everyday life.

And in Slovenia, unplugging from city stress is almost easier done than said. 61.97 percent of the country is covered in forest. That’s 12,563km² of glorious green. There are 29 mountain peaks higher than 2000m (for comparison, Britain’s highest mountain Ben Nevis is 1,345m).

You just have to be in the right part of the country. The thing is, not a lot of people go the right part of the country when they travel to Slovenia.

Most travellers don’t add much to their venture outside of Ljubljana or Lake Bled. These two have cemented themselves on the Eurorail trail and found fame and acclaim on TripAdvisor, a website people often forget is largely written by an angry 60-year-old American in a questionably large sunhat who asked for their steak medium, not medium-rare.

“A lot of travellers get what’s on the postcard and only what’s on the postcard when they come to Slovenia…”

Long story short, a lot of travellers get what’s on the postcard and only what’s on the postcard when they come to Slovenia. A lot miss out on Bohinj altogether, and even more miss out on the other areas we would visit in the days that followed – the blue waters of Soca Valley, Tuscan-hills of Goriska Brda and silent wonderland of Ajdovscina.

Don’t get us wrong. Ljubljana is a stunning capital, but to only see the city in a country so rich in nature is sacrilege. Bled too is beautiful – the island, lake and towering castle will make your jaw drop on arrival. But there are a lot of tourists, a lot of weddings, and a lot of tour buses.

There is also this, of course:

…which is why you should definitely stop by for a day trip and take the hour-walk around the lake and up the castle, but after that? Bohinj is waiting just next door to Bled, and talking amongst Slovenians you quickly learn why it’s the preferred option.

It’s quieter, calmer and the water is cleaner than in Bled. The drinks are cheaper in Bohinj, and you’ve got easy access to the Soca Valley – arguably the adventure capital of Slovenia.

Along with local guide Grega Silic we ascend to 1300m on our first day riding in Bohinj before flying down a full 950m of beautiful mountain bike trails. The nature is stunning.

bohinj mountain biking slovenia 2

The trails in Bohinj took us through villages, meadows, forests and more…

“This is actually bear territory,” says Grega. “But if we see a bear, we buy a lottery ticket!”

We don’t end up winning the EuroMillions on that particular day, but the surroundings still offer more than enough to enthral. Brightly-coloured butterflies flicker over the fauna and flora and land on our handlebars. We ride through bright meadows and traditional mountain villages before heading into the forests, with views of the mountains visible between the trees the whole way down the trails.

Views reaching out from the trails in Bohinj over to the Soca Valley

Views reaching out from the trails in Bohinj over to the Soca Valley

Because Bohinj is situated within Triglav National Park, trail building is strictly forbidden, but if this proves anything, it can only be that God is a mountain biker – because the natural stuff is tasty riding.

We descend through beautiful forests, over rocky, rooty trails with hairpin turns and natural banks. At one point we bump into a friend of Grega’s foraging for wild mushrooms. He explains that local laws state you can help yourself as long as you don’t take more than 2kg per day. We try some of the forest mushrooms ourselves later that night and it’s simple to see why the locals don’t settle for the supermarket.

With a hostel on the edge of Lake Bohinj, a shower is replaced with a jump and a swim in the dark blue waters the next morning. There’s no wake up call quite like a paddle beneath a glowing green valley as the sun rises over the mountains to the East.

Lake Bohinj in all it's reflecting glory

Lake Bohinj in all it’s reflecting glory

We climb to 1280m after breakfast, this time to the border between Bohinj and Soca Valley, the next stop on the trip. 900 metres of forest downhill trail later and we had arrived at a train station we had been viewing from far above just 45 minutes earlier.

Grega says goodbye and a 30 minute train journey and quick stop for lunch later I find myself hiking to the top of a canyon in Soca Valley carrying a 5mm thick wetsuit. It’s more than 30 degrees Celsius. The plan is to abseil and jump our way down the waterfalls of the huge local canyon.

Soca River blue water Slovenia

The beautiful blue water unique to the Soca River

The canyon water is notably colder than the lukewarm lake I was paddling in that same morning, I hear. A six metre leap into a pool of the dreamy light-blue water unique to Soca Valley confirms this fact. The colour of the river makes it look like it’s been photoshopped.

We descend further into the canyon. After leaping off a seven metre waterfall – “jump straight and you’ll be fine,” says guide Jure Kavcic – there is now no way out the canyon until we reach the famously beautiful Slap Kozjak waterfall at the finish. To be honest, I’m not sure I want out. The giant stone walls rise high above us, the rocks twisting and turning into characters of their own, furnished with green and glowing with God’s highlighter where the sun sneaks through the trees. Bite-size rainbows appear in the waterfalls as we descend.

soca valley canyoning slovenia

The light hits the water in our canyon in Soca Valley

We don’t meet anyone else during our hour in the canyon. When we exit at the 20 metre high Slap Kozjak waterfall – I’m told to abseil down to nine metres and then jump, while Jure happily jumps the full 20 – the place is abuzz. There’s a popular hiking route from town up to the waterfall. We walk past the gathering tourists having leapt out of our solitude into a small sea of camera phones and stroll back down the mountain.

The Kozjak Waterfall Soca Valley Slovenia

The Kozjak Waterfall Soca Valley Slovenia, 20m high from top to bottom

The mountain biking in Soca is a prospect to relish as well. Trading Jure for his colleague Blaz, wetsuit for a riding jersey and helmet for… well, a slightly more familiar helmet, we set off on our bikes up the Soca Valley to ride a truly incredible trail – starting from the border of Slovenia at 1550m down to San Pietro, a small town in Italy at 150m. That’s a whole lot of downhill, and it’s all on one trail.

We roll off onto dusty, dry trail, twisting and turning perfectly and rocky enough to make your hands need a break every few minutes. A brief break allows a glance up to the ridges on ridges of tree-filled mountains that lie before us.

Looking down to Italy from the mountains of Slovenia. The start of our descent

Looking down to Italy from the mountains of Slovenia. The start of our descent

We would soon descend into those woods and across those ridges, where the real fun starts; a dirty, rooty wonderland flowing right down to Italy. At the end, it’s a simple ride back to Slovenia. After a stop for gelato of course.

I was on to Goriska Brda though – the next stop on my whirlwind tour of Slovenia. Goriska Brda is further along the border with Italy. Goriska Brda, for those who don’t know, is pretty much just Tuscany. It looks the same. The wine is arguably better. The food is absolutely stunning. The climate is perfect. Oh, and it’s a lot cheaper than Tuscany too.

Smartno is the historic capital of the stunning Goriška Brda...

Smartno is the historic capital of the stunning Goriška Brda…

Slovenian Ana Roš, crowned “The World’s Best Female Chef 2017” this year, has a restaurant in Kobarid in the next municipality over, and Goriska Brda is where she gets her wine. Nearly half of the houses we pass in the Tuscan-esque valleys are wine producers – and the best thing is that you can roll up to many of their doors with a smile and some good manners and organise a little wine tasting on the spot. Some of the larger producers require a phone call in advance, but there’s plenty that you can just drop by.

There’s a whole lot of riding in the region too. Local Matic Pirih tells us it’s the perfect place for linking anything from trail riding to downhill to cross-country with the ultimate experience in wine-tasting and gastronomy. If you’re looking for riding and relaxation, this is your place.

Wine tasting in Brda

Wine tasting in Brda

Unfortunately we don’t have the time to confirm. We’ve got a date to keep with the Črn trn (literally ‘Blackthorn’) riding troupe over on the trails of Vipava Valley, Ajdovscina.

All of a sudden we’re back in mountain biking gear, in another shuttle and heading up the mountain. Today we’re going to be trying to follow 20-year-old Slovenian wonderkid Mitja Ergraver on the trails of Ajdovščina, a small town in Vipava Valley.

If you don’t know Mitja, he’s the current fourcross World Champion, having rode to victory at Val di Sole last year. He pulls on the rainbow jersey while we’re in the shuttle.

Vipava Valley mountain biking Slovenia

Riding with the rainbow jersey in Vipava Valley, Slovenia…

Having ruptured my spleen on a bike in Slovenia back in 2015 (the last article I wrote about the country literally included the sentence “having lost a litre of blood to internal bleeding“), a twinge of nerves crawl into the part of the brain I normally try and silence while mountain biking. Anyway, a short while later…

Stage directions:

Stuart exits, pursued by a bear.

Wait. No.

Stuart exits saddle, pursued by a mountain bike, having abandoned standard human form (the upright position) in order to fly over his own handlebars on the final rock of the trail and launch what appears to be some sort of drunken, off-balance attempt to impersonate Superman.

Stuart’s bike flies slowly behind him. Stuart has comfortably enough time to mouth a word his mother would rather he didn’t use as he looks up to see an understandably wide-eyed World Champion looking on from the end of the trail.

No harm done. Spleen intact. A bit of blood here and there. The bike is fine. On with the day!

Okay, so it turns out Mitja is one of the nicest guys around. I’m riding with him and Luka Novinec. They both work as local tour guides, and they’re both awesome.

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Luka, left, Mitja, centre and Stuart, right, ride Vipava Valley

They tell me they sculpt the trails and move about bits and pieces, but that by and large, they don’t have to do much to the trails at all.

“We’ve got a mix of everything here,” Mitja says. “Rocks, dirt, on a few trails there are some jumps. There are brilliant views, and it’s mostly natural terrain – that’s the best part.”

View of Vipava valley

View of Vipava valley

Mitja mercifully slows his pace as I follow for a few more runs. There’s some serious riding in Vipava Valley. Rocks, drops, tight turns. If you’ve got the skills, it’s really a dream set up, and you can see how it’s the kind of place that could brew serious talent.

I ask Mitja if he ever thought he’d be World Champion. “I was thinking it,” the 20-year-old admits. “But not this soon!”

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Heading back to base camp after a ride on the trails in Vipava Valley

My hands are shaking by the end of the day. Thankfully, our final run brings us out at the door of a micro brewery. Pelicon have only been brewing for a handful of years but they’ve already picked up a bunch of awards around Europe.

Considering Ajdovščina only has a population of 6,700, the fact that they have prizeworthy beer and a mountain biking world champion (as well as a top 10 World Cup downhill rider in Monika Hrastnik) is rather impressive. Bikes and beer. They’ve got their priorities straight.

Cut scene. It’s three hours later and I’m flying. Not metaphorically. I don’t mean I got drunk on the beer. Well, maybe I got a little drunk on the beer, but then I went and sobered up, because three hours later and I’m flying. Paragliding to be exact. Looking out again over the stunning scenery, down on the forests I was riding through with Mitja and Luka earlier that same day and out over mountains reaching way into the horizon.

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Getting ready for a paragliding adventure

The sun begins to set over the mountains and we fly between the shade and the greenery, looking deep into the distance where you can see the Adriatic Sea, and on a particularly good day, even as far as Venice.

It’s beautiful. It’s relaxing. Here, in the air, you’re completely unplugged from any kind of stress. It’s just you and the nature around you.

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The view from the paraglider high above Vipava Valley

And back on the ground in Slovenia, it’s much the same. This is a country where 61.97 percent of the land is made up of forest. Where it couldn’t be easier to unplug. Where there is no overcrowding in the adventure hotspots, mostly because there simply isn’t enough accommodation for there to be overcrowding in the adventure hotspots.

This is a country where mountains, lakes and the great outdoors rule. Where if you only visit Bled and Ljubljana, you’re stopping half way up the ladder on the way to heaven.

See, Slovenia doesn’t look like Jurassic Park. If you’re being generous, Jurassic Park actually looks a bit like Slovenia.

And there you have it. Maybe we’ve got ourselves a new simile after all.

Do It Yourself

Getting there:

We flew directly into Ljubljana, Slovenia from London Luton on Whizz Air. You can also fly into Venice Treviso airport and travel through Italy to parts of Slovenia – particularly to Brda or Vipava Valley – in about the same time as it takes from Ljubljana. It’s only an hour or so in a car.

Accommodation & Guides:

Hit the trails with local guides from Hike&Bike and stay at Hostel pod Voglom in Bohinj. Go canyoning and mountain biking in the Soca Valley with Positive Sport, and stay overnight at Jazbec Inn. Stay at Stekar Homesteadin Snezatno (a beautiful home hotel offering fantastic food) in Goriska Brda and get the tour of the area with Ride Around. Go mountain biking and paragliding with Wajdusna and the Blackthorn crew in Ajdovscina, Vipava Valley and stay at Ajdovscina Youth Centre and Hotel – a war bunker which has been turned into a great accommodation spot on the edge of the trails. These guides are experts in their areas and will be able to help you get the full Slovenian experience!

Read the rest of our August ‘Unplugged’ issue on the Mpora Homepage now

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