DH Kranjska Gora: Men’s National Champion a Surprise, But Monika Hrastnik Didn’t Allow One

Close battles for the national titles on the revived track under Vitranc mountain. Among the men’s elite, mistakes by the favourites and a triumph by an underdog. An U17 rider fastest of the day.

The 2024 Slovenian downhill national champions in the elite categories are Monika Hrastnik (DGK Pohorje – Spank Team) in women’s, for the eighth time, and surprisingly Tilen Leban (Deš Fleš).

The second race of this year’s Slovenian Downhill Cup 20chocolate Downhill Cup and the 33rd Slovenian National Downhill Championship in this discipline was attended by 110 riders in Kranjska Gora in northwestern Slovenia. In addition to those competing for the national championship titles, there were also a few guests from Austria, Croatia, Italy and Great Britain.

They were all greeted by a renovated, “sped up” track that has hosted races in different versions since 2004, with the last race (a round of the iXS European Cup) held here in 2019. And also by dry and fast conditions with heat on Saturday for training and redeeming clouds on Sunday, the day of the race.

Battle of men’s elite and new name on top

Tilen Leban

In the men’s race, Luka Berginc (DGK Pohorje – Spank Team), a member of the German team HDR, was the defending champion, but it was clear that despite his dominance in the last two seasons and his excellent racing in the European Cup, he would not just get his third title for free. His main rival, at least on paper, was also two-time champion Žak Gomilšček (Wolf Racing by Wheelbase), winner of the first race of the series in Maribor. The neighbours and friends from Idrsko and Kobarid, who have exchanged the title for the last four years, had a number of challengers, among them unfortunately not the three-time champion Jure Žabjek, who announced at the beginning of this season that he was retiring from the sport. However, the unknown was four-time champion Miran Vauh (DGK Pohorje – Spank Team), who was already in the masters category, but returned to the elite mainly thanks to his tactical assistance to Monika Hrastnik at the World Cup races. However, on a fast and short course, less than two and a half minutes long, the luck quickly turns…

Berginc was the fastest in the seeding run, with a good three-second lead over Tilen Leban, but this was not a particular surprise, as the 29-year-old from Šempeter pri Gorici is experiencing his revival season and has been hot on the heels of the fastest riders in both enduro and downhill all season. Jan Cimperman (MTB Trbovlje) and Vauh followed, while Gomilšček, with a dead rear shock, finished in 11th place.

Luka Berginc
Luka Berginc
Miha Jerkič

Žak took the hot seat in the final, but his time of 2 minutes and 22 seconds, slower than the fastest trio in the classification, meant that he could have missed out on a medal. He was soon unseated by Ajdovščina’s Miha Jerkič (KK Črn trn), an enduro rider on an enduro bike in his first season in the elite, 6th from the seeding. He was overtaken by the indestructible Vauh, who improved his seeding time by a good two seconds.

Jan Cimperman failed to take over and then Leban took the lead with an excellent time of 2:19.89, which improved his seeding time by 55 hundredths of a second. If Berginc, last on the course, had only equalled his time from less than three hours ago, he would have won by more than two seconds. But for him, his final run was over before the start when his front brake failed. He tried to give it a go, but stood no chance, and went off the track in the steep first forest section.

Tilen Leban is now the 17th name on the all-time national downhill champions list. The former junior national team member has had better and worse seasons in his career, but apart from the junior national championship title in 4cross in 2012, he has never won a race! Six years after his last title, the silver medal went to Velenje’s Vauh, while the bronze went to Jerkič, who also won silver among the juniors last year in “enduro style”.

»Unexpected for me too, I had no such plans, haha. After the qualification I already saw that something could be done, I didn’t know how much I had left, but it was enough. I had a few mistakes, I almost crashed before the finish, but it worked out.«

– Tilen Leban

No surprises in women

Four women competed and the favourite was without a shadow of a doubt Monika Hrastnik, number 5 in the world rankings. She confirmed her superiority from the seeding in the final, where she was followed in second place by Tina Smrdel (MBK Črni Vrh), last year’s enduro champion, who put on her starting number for the first time this year due to her final degree exams. The bronze went to this year’s enduro champion, a junior Maša Komel (KK Črn trn), while the fourth-placed U17 rider Eva Zala Stergar (DGK Pohorje – Spank Team) also came close.

»I am very happy to win the eighth title. It’s always competitive, things can always go wrong, you have to do your best. Of course I would have liked to see more girls at the start. But it was a beautiful race, very well organised.«

– Monika Hrastnik

Maša Komel
Tina Smrdel

Other categories

Matej Osolin (Calcit Bike Team) became the junior men’s champion ahead of Anže Kofjač (KK Završnica) in second place and his club teammate Maj Babačič in third place. Osolin would have been third among the elite with his time, but his rivals were not far behind – Kofjač by 1.17 and Babačič by 1.19 seconds.

Matej Osolin
Ažbe Kalinšek

It was wild again among the U17 men, where Ažbe Kalinšek (MTB Trbovlje) was already only a hundredth of a second slower than Berginc in the seeding run. In the final he improved his time by more than a second, so that in addition to his second consecutive title in this category, he can also boast the fastest time of the championship. Scottish rider Stan Nisbet of the Slovenian team Unior-Sinter Factory Racing set the second fastest time, while Max Žvegla took the silver and Izak Štrubelj (both Bikehanic Lumar) the bronze in the national ranking.

In the master category, Rožle Mesec (Golovec Trails) was the fastest, among the amateurs Gal Jevšenak Kodrič (35 Crew), and the title went to the fastest with a competition licence, Žiga Šemrov (ŠKD Super Potential).

Rožle Mesec
Jakob Praček
Gal Novak

In the U15 category, Jakob Praček (Kamplc Racing Team) defended his title ahead of Maks Fošnarič (DGK Pohorje – Spank Team) and Maj Gračner (Rajd Ljubljana), with Austrian citizen Jakob Erjavec (RC Petzen ARBÖ) in the middle with the third fastest time. In the U13 category, the podium was occupied by three from the Rajd Ljubljana team: Gal Novak took first place, Gal Palčič second and Jaka Vujasin third.

U13
U15
Amateur CN
Master CN
U17 DP
U19
Downhill national champions 2024 from U17 up

Cooperation between Slovenia Cycing and Kranjska Gora

The DH Kranjska Gora event was managed by the Slovenian Cycling Federation with the MTB Trbovlje organising team, which has extensive experience in organising events on home terrain and on the island of Lošinj, including a World Cup race. The event would not have been possible without the partnership with the hosts in Kranjska Gora – main organizer Tourism Kranjska Gora and partner the RTC lift company with Bike Park Kranjska Gora.

Matic Košir, Head of Bike Park Kranjska Gora, said: “This is an important event for us, as the park has been stagnant in recent years, and it is important that the riders come back, that the downhillers train here and that we bring more races here. Immediately after the race, we already had ideas how to improve the course and the venue with the finish area. I hope we can realise them as soon as possible.”

Alongside the race, which was watched by quite a few spectators, there were also two free guided tours, enduro and gravel, as part of the Slovenian Cycling Federation’s programme Let’s Ride Bikes!

Photos by Jure Gasparič

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