First winners of 2021 and new Slovenian DH champs are…

On Soriška planina the crowns in elite categories go to Monika Hrastnik and Luka Berginc. A duel for the books in men’s elite category between Berginc and Jure Žabjek.

The 2021 Unior Downhill Cup dates were only published a month ago so nobody could say how the turnout would be for the first race. Do the riders have bikes? Did they get ready for the races? Did they get their licenses? Did they plan to spend time somewhere by the sea in July?

In the end a hundred riders showed up for the 6th edition of Downhill Sorica and the 30th Slovenian downhill National Championships race. It was quite a mix of top riders, come backs, gravity adventurers and even a number of enduro competitors. The 1650 m track from just below the top of Lajnar peak with a 280 m drop is not one of those open new school tracks where you can only be fast on a long downhill rig with lots of travel. In parts it is steep, tight and rich in roots and off-camber turns and traverses.

In the end Luka Berginc (KK Črn trn, in cover photo) won his first elite title in front of Jure Žabjek (Unior – Sinter) and Žan Pirš (Bikehanic – 20 Chocolate) took bronze in his first elite year. In women’s race Monika Hrastnik (DH Visit Pohorje) won her fifth title in front of Špela Horvat (Supersnurf) in second and Nina Kovač (Rajd Ljubljana) in third. Enej Podlipnik (Bikehanic – 20 Chocolate) won men’s junior title.

Matej Kerec (KK Završnica) is the new U17 male champion, Ažbe Kalinšek (Bikehanic – 20 Chocolate) won in U15 male category and Miran Vauh (DH Visit Pohorje) had one of his incredible Sundays in masters category where he won chainless with 5th overall time of the final run. Andreas Vidovič (DH Visit Pohorje) won the amateur class and Jure Tunič (Wolf Racing Team) the quite numerous hobby class since many riders didn’t bother to get licenses for the season that could not happen at all.

Berginc, king of Sor’ca

There were two main favourites in men’s elite category and it was confirmed in the seeding run. Jure Žabjek, the four time national champion and Slovenia’s most successful downhill races of all time, was 0.95 up on Luka Berginc. Luka, two years younger than Jure, won at Soriška planina in 2016 and 2017, and Jure won in 2015. The 2020 junior champion Žan Pirš was 8 seconds back and Jan Cimperman (MTB Trbovlje) who is returning after injury was 9 seconds back. Things would have probably been much tighter with Žak Gomilšček (Unior – Sinter) and Aleš Virtič (Bikestore.cc), the 2020 championships in Maribor gold and silver, on the start list. But they are both on the other list, the injured list.

Jure Žabjek
Jure Žabjek, photo by Marko Obid

In the final there were no upsets towards the end of the run and the gaps were tight. Cimperman unseated Marko Niemiz, another first year elite rider and Pirš’s teammate on the Unior – Sinter development team Bikehanic – 20 Chocolate, who finished 5th in the seeding run. The Cimperman’s time got improved by Pirš who secured a championship medal. Both leads were by less than a second but then the gaps increased.

Luka Berginc from Idrsko in Northwestern Slovenia who just turned 24 last Monday stormed to the finish line with and incredible time, just 6/100 under two and a half minutes. This was just over two and a half second faster than Žabjek’s seeding run time and 11.69 faster than the time of Pirš who was in the hot seat.

Žabjek followed. He also improved his seeding run time but not by enough. As he told he didn’t fins the rhythm and make a couple of small mistakes. Enough to finish 1,88 behind the new Slovenian champion. Jure will need to wait for another year to get another chance for the fifth title which would make him the most successful male elite rider at the national championships. Now with 4 titles he is even with Janez Grašič and Miran Vauh.

For Berginc this is the first elite title. In 2015 he won the junior one.

Elite men top 5:

  • 1. Luka Berginc (KK Črn trn) 2:29.94
  • 2. Jure Žabjek (Unior – Sinter) +1.88
  • 3. Žan Pirš (Bikehanic – 20 Chocolate) +11.69
  • 4. Jan Cimperman (MTB Trbovlje) +12.31
  • 5. Marko Niemiz (Bikehanic – 20 Chocolate) +13.16
Jure Žabjek, Luka Berginc, Žan Pirš
Jure Žabjek, Luka Berginc and Žan Pirš, photo by Marko Obid

“After Saturday’s practice I thought I could win this. I was fast, I had some good lines and I felt good on the bike even though I have not been riding much since it is only making my wrist injury worse. After today’s seeding run I knew that I had to ride the top part as well as I can and then add some pedalling and it should be enough.”

Luka Berginc

Monika not letting go of the jersey

Monika Hrastnik
Monika Hrastnik, photo by Marko Obid

Monika Hrastnik, a member of Dorval AM Commencal team and number 4 of the UCI ranking, came to Soriška planina to win her fifth national title and she also won it. Špela Horvat didn’t let her win to easily since she was 6.41 behind her in the seeding run and 7.18 in the final run. The rookie Nina Kovač won the bronze.

Elite women top 3

  • 1. Monika Hrastnik (DH Visit Pohorje) 3:02,76
  • 2. Špela Horvat (ŠD Supersnurf) +7.18
  • 3. Nina Kovač (Rajd Ljubljana) +30.97
Špela Horvat, Monika Hrastnik, Nina Kovač
Špela Horvat, Monika Hrastnik and Nina Kovač, photo by Marko Obid

“I’m really happy, it was a great series and championships race! I’m looking forward to home World Cup race in Maribor and European Championships in Maribor. Those should be great races and I hope for a good crowd. I did some training in Maribor, I’m fast and I still need to work on some details.”

Monika Hrastnik

Enduro challenge in junior category

Miha Smrdel (MBK Črni Vrh) made quite a stir in the seeding run of men’s U19 category. The SloEnduro series leader rode his enduro bike to first place, 3.3 ahead of Enej Podlipnik.

So Smrdel was last out of the gate in the final run, but he crashed in the first turn and finished down the field. Podlipnik took the win 1.01 ahead of Nace Kokelj (Wolf Racing Team) in second place while Mel Filipič (DH Visit Pohorje) finished third.

Thank you Soriška planina, see you at Petzen

It was a nice start of the 2021 Unior Downhill Cup. Thank you MTB Železniki and Soriška planina AlpCenture resort for a great weekend. Even if this was officially a single day event there was much going on on Saturday apart from track riding: there were guided tours to choose from, bike tests, a bag jumping contest, a dual slalom and a pumptrack race, plus the evening entertainment.

Round two will be taking place on Petzen on September 5th. We are looking forward to an international field in MTB Zone Bike Park Petzen just across the border in Austria. Find more about this race here, more details soon!

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