bikebritain News December 19, 2012

bikebritain's 2012 Tour of Mallorca (Complete Version)

Saturday: the (self poclaimed) 'easy' day

...or 'How to avoid a day of unacceptably low mileage'

No one was more surprised to find Lukey's bike box emerge intact off the luggage belt at St.Joan airport. After bike reassembly, drink, food and more drink it was finally ride time. The plan was we would build up gently, starting with the mountain climb from Pollenca through to Lluc. This meant we would ascend for about 7.4 km at just over 5%. We would descend through the foothills and then make out way throw the interior of the island back to Port de Pollenca. I was a mixture of excitement and anxiety since here I was, back in Mallorca, on the bike that I had previously struggled on. Lukey was quiet, no doubt wondering what was ahead. He didn't have to wait that long. The climb began about 6km from the Port. Malc took responsibility for the pace and we steadily made our way up the side of mountain. The surface was good, it was sunny and visibility was excellent. We had a perfect view of the Puig probably 35 km away. It dominated the skyline. I felt comfortable and by the looks of things Malc was coasting. Lukey was making steady progress at the rear in touch with my wheel. I don't recall how long the ascent took, but it was pleasing to reach the sign that indicated what we'd achieved. Now for a bit more up! 

The roads were quiet and the views were spectacular. I was with 2 friends and all we had to do was cycle and eat with no time pressure. We even had lights! Some further climbing eventually resulted in a glorious descent, the like of which you never experience living in the UK. Long sweeping turns, tight hair pins, all aspects of technical down-hill riding were covered. I liked the climbs but I prefer the descents. Time to go FAST! 

We worked out way down to the famous monastery at Lluc, arrived there and wondered why we'd bothered! Cleated shoes don't really lend themselves to wondering about and soak up the tranquil atmosphere. So we left! We enjoyed another descent into a small town called Selva and stopped for lunch. This constituted us wondering in, buying sandwich material and producing food on an industrial scale outside, much to the bemusement of any local who happened past us. Fed and watered we set off only for me to pick up the second puncture of the day. (I don't think Malc had managed 30 minutes before he had a flat rear). Both of us had individually considered changing tyres beforehand but had not bothered. We were rueing that now. My rear tyre was slit in multiple paces and experience said that it was only a matter of time before I had another. Malc was in a similar position. 

This irritated me a lot. What a silly thing to do. We decided we would return home via the most direct route and see if we could find a bike shop open and buy more rubber. Else we'd have to get on with it. Amazingly, we found one. A bike shop that is. I mean. It wasn't open, but it did look promising. It wasn't open for another hour and as things stood, Day One was looking like "an unacceptably low mileage day".

Lukey suggested we rode out to the lighthouse. We had 2 hours of light a least. Sounded like a good idea to me, so off we went. Almost immediately, we started climbing. We zigzagged our way to the top, the incline and the headwind providing an additional challenge. By now, Malc had put some distance between Luke and I and I considered leaving him to it. Trouble was, I couldn't do it. I upped the pace and began to reel him in. I was making progress, but it was evident that unless something more dramatic happened, I would not catch him. Let’s see what the legs have got I thought and put a burst in. Legs responded. It hurt, but not too badly. By the time I caught him, we were two bends away from the 'top'. Or let's say ‘vista point’ at least. We rode through the summit together, enjoyed the view and waited a short time for Luke. 

I spotted a car that looked to be climbing towards the top of the peak; you could go further up…...

Lukey joined us.

The car continued climbing and then disappeared. 

We could definitely go up more. This was important since we did not have the time, realistically, to go to the lighthouse. We would be returning in the dark and that wasn't ideal, lights or no lights. But we could carry on going up……..

I'll level with you, this was not greeted with universal approval. Malc was very concerned that this was really an 'unmade' road and we'd get another puncture. It was fair enough, but I would not be dissuaded. He knew that really.

We continued up.

Yes, the road wasn't great, but it was nevertheless a road. Avoiding potholes and sharp looking stones we climbed again, but this time the gradient was significantly more; an average of 10% now. But we were being rewarded with a terrific view of the Bay of Alcudia. We reached a deserted building at the top and climbed up to the tower that stood 20 meters or so ahead of us. Clear blue skies and dramatic coastline greeted us. Well worth the effort. Some obligatory photos later we gingerly made out way back to the bikes and coasted back to the bike shop. 

Some dithering and around €200 later we had bought 3 new tyres, enough power bars to fuel the British Army and one saddle bag between us. Now the first day was complete. No injuries, a few laughs, 2 punctures and tired legs. Job done! Now bring on Sa Calobra. 

Sunday: A pointless there and back again

We were all in fine spirits. Despite eating and drinking way to much the previous night we arrived at breakfast eager to discuss the next challenge. It was simple. Today we would cycle further and climb for longer. The focus of the ride would be Sa Calobra. We would get there by cycling through the island, climb up to the MA-10 from Selva again, (climb for 2.6km for 155 meters vertical at 6%, reaching the top of the Coll de Cais Reis, though I didn’t mention that to Lukey) and then descend 10km into the bay at the bottom of the many hairpin bends. Malc and I had climbed this only once before and it was tough. It was a steady 7.1%, but peaked in places at 11.5%. It was certainly comparable to the Puig. Armed with these facts we headed off. 

The first couple of hours we made steady progress and reached Selva before lunch. Some discussion occurred over when it was a good time to eat. We elected to carry on and get something at the bottom of the Sa Calobra (though from memory the restaurants where poor and expensive). Before we reached the MA-10 there was a small case of an 8 km climb at approx 5.5%. Nothing too taxing, but sufficient to increase the pulse. Malc took the lead, Lukey was in the middle, I was at the back. I wasn't trusted to be at the front! It was a steady, even climb. The MA-10 appeared, we turned left and descended for the most part. It was such fun, getting the line just right and weaving our way down the mountain passes. Sometimes I got the line alittle wrong as well and this resulted in some teeth grinding and very hard braking! Feeling good we approached the turning for Sa Calobra where Lukey realised he'd been slightly misled. "I thought it was downhill to Sa Calobra?" he said. "It is," I replied, "But you need to climb first." He wasn’t very impressed with that. 

Reaching the top, we enjoyed a commanding view of the mountains around us. We were blessed with another glorious day, the sunshine made a very welcome change from the dreary weather at home. After a 360 degree turn, we were treated with a view of at least some of the road below. Antonio Paretti built the road in 1932 and it's one of the most famous routes in Mallorca. The road simply snakes its way down to the sea shore, culminating at the Torrent de Pareis gorge (which looks like something out of a set of Jurassic Park. It’s fantastic). 10km down, up 10km. Very straight-forward. I was excited. I'd only climbed this on a triple. This time it would a standard.....

I took off, flying round the bends. The road was practically empty and there was plenty of room to see any on-coming cars. I was drifting all over the road, cutting each corner slightly differently. It was exhilarating. There's nothing remotely like this at home. I was clocking miles in less than 2 minutes. I was at the bottom in no time. I did a piece to video and waited for the guys to arrive, which they soon did. They were not quite as thrilled as me and even less so at the climb back up. But we were here now! After some ridiculously expensive and out of date snacks we decided it was time to climb back up. The technique would be the same, Malc and I would sandwich Lukey for as long as possible and take it from there. And so the climb began......

Malc was at perfect pace and we meandered our way up the tarmac pass. There was no talking, just panting. We were making decent progress. It was head down, 'keep-the-pedal-turning' stuff. About half way up, Lukey suffered a stutter. Hitting some road debris he lost his momentum and more importantly his rhythm. "I'm stopping." he said, "You guys carry on." "Sure?" we replied, "Yup" he said. So we did. I edged ahead and took the pacing on. As the road wound its way around the mountain we could see Lukey firstly taking a breather and secondly making his own way up. He was doing fine. Malc was getting more laboured as the kilometres clicked by. With 2 km to go he told me to go. I felt strong. I had a gear to spare, so I took off. I started to pressure the legs to see how far ahead I could get. I snatched a quick look behind when I rode under the elevated section of the road; it was empty. Now was the time to get out of the saddle and push for home. The last stretch was tough going – 12% in places.  There it was! The signpost indicating the extent of our labour. I'd done it. I cycled past and climbed the crest of the hill, spinning around and free-wheeling back to the lay by nearby. It felt good to finally stop. 

Malc appeared about 5 minutes later. He finished strongly too and joined me (lying down on the road). It was a while before he caught his breathe. Into view came Lukey. Or so we thought. Or rather, assumed, I should say. In my defence I wasn’t wearing my glasses. However as he came closer we realised it wasn't Lukey. He was quite a large bloke. However we were now holding a homemade finish line tape, so we were committed. Making the best of it, we subsequently cheered a stranger home instead. He was very out of breath but I think he appreciated the effort. "You're mate is behind me," he said helpfully, and with that Lukey came into view. We did the same finish line thing, but I'm not sure that really bothered Luke. It had been a tough 10km. Some moments later Luke caught his breath and gave his account of proceedings. 

Rested, we descended the Coll de Cais Reis back onto the MA-10. The plan was to return to Part de Pollenca on the main road and enjoy the 8km or so descent to the hotel. Considering the climbing we'd done, we rode steadily back, weaving around as a group of three all the way home. Other than the errant goats on the road as we were hacking our way down the mountain, the return leg was trouble free. Light was failing and it was getting cold. A few kit changes later we were in the hotel, congratulating each other on another good days riding. We'd put two good days climbing in, circa 3km vertical. All good practice for the following day. What was needed now was a beer and dinner and some sleep.......

Monday: a.k.a 'The Big One'

We had been working up to this; an assault on the Puig. This was my unfinished business. I wanted another go at this mountain ever since I'd (just about) completed it more than 2 years ago. Nearly 14km long, comfortably the longest climb I've attempted. This would be at least the 4th of 5th time Malc and I would have scaled it. This was it.

We decided that we would ride as conservatively as possible across the island and make our way, initially to Soller. This worked reasonably well, other than the race I had on the way up to Bunyola. Bunyola is a small town nestling just 2km from the start of the Coll de Soller on the fringes of the foothills. The road from Santa Maria Del Cami to Bunyola climbs gently at about 2%. However at the final 'major' roundabout that takes you to the PM-203 (and ultimately Palmanyola) the road starts to incline alittle more. It's about 3km to the middle of town and the supermarket, just opposite the main square. Every time I climb this road, I end up hacking up it. I just can't help it. It's the perfect gradient for negative splits. This time, however, we had a rogue Spaniard join us. He'd overtaken us as we left Santa Maria but had not made any decisive progress to get away. Let’s say he was 50 meters ahead. Instead of hanging back (per Malc's advice) I overtook him at the first opportunity, up a mild incline. Malc followed. A small gap opened up, but Lukey quickly followed and 'The Spaniard' was relegated to last place. He wasn't having this though. He shortly overtook Lukey back and then hung onto Malc's wheel. We were now on the road to Bunyola. My road. I opened up the legs a bit. Not lots of power on hand but enough. I could see by the shadows behind me there were now just two of us. Go again - Bang! And again - Bang! My legs were burning up now, the hill starting to take its toll. I glanced down - no shadow! I went again. I was approaching the speed humps to the south of the town. With 500 meters to go it required one final push - Bang! Legs really wanted to stop now. I rode through till the Supermarket, our 'understood' finish. I looked back properly now. The Spaniard was a good 200 meters behind. The boys were behind him. I love that hill. He signalled as he went past, I nodded back. I liked that.

After some homemade (by us on the side of the road) sandwiches and an emergency cafe stop for Malc, we rode out of Bunyola and headed for the hills; or more accurately the Coll de Soller - probably our most climbed Coll on Mallorca. This was a warm up, we'd cycled 75 km and the Puig was ahead. With the obligatory pee at the bottom we started climbing. We'd said to Lukey he'd enjoy this, though he did'nt look entirely convinced. Happily we were right. at 5.1% for 5.2km it was a fun hill to climb. We cruised to the top together at a good pace. Having taken a few photos at the top we were quickly on our way. It felt like we were coming home. We would our way down the North side and absolutely hammered out way into town. I managed sub 1m 30 for a mile. It was such fun. Of course, get it wrong and you're probably dead, but it's best not to think about that. Exhilarating doesn't even get close. 

The Puig was near.

We cut through the back of Soller and headed up the valley to Fornalutx, a place we'd stayed in a few times before. I'd seen on Google maps that there was an alternative route to climb up to the MA-10. It looked quite steep and basically went straight up the side of the adjoining mountain. I think Malc thought I was joking when I said I'd meet them at the top. I wasn't. We said our farewells, Malc shaking his head. As I rattled over the cobbles, Lukey and Malc rode into the distance. I had a rough idea where this road was - I had to go 'up'. The cobbled streets were both slippery and very steep. It was a short, blood and guts ascent to the right street level, and there it was - a random road and one that I thought it looked about right. It seemed in pretty decent condition, so much for Malc's worries of it being another 'unmade' track. All was going quite well until I got 3/4 of the way up. Suddenly it went from steep to really quite steep - say 10%-11% to 16%-17% with a major deterioration in road surface quality. There were stones and potholes galore. Not ideal. Still, I don’t ever go back, so I just kept going. Actually it was quite fun, although I was concerned that I might get another puncture. Eventually I reached the top, got off the bike and waited, grinning. 5 minutes later the chaps turned up. "You nutter!" was the general consensus. I had proved you could ride up it though. That was the point! Moreover, this was the only hill I had had to change into the lowest gear for.

We were now at the Puig, about a 1/4 of the way up. This was it. Malc took up the position at the front, Lukey in the middle, trouble at the back. It was as hard as I remembered, but I felt ok. I cannot claim to know every bend, but the road felt very familiar, especially as Soller slowly got smaller and smaller as we continued our climb up towards the summit. Maybe just over half way Lukey said I should go and 'Beast it'. I ummed and arred for about 30 seconds. I did feel good. I did want to have a real crack at it. Plus I had the guys blessing. 

I launched. I dug in hard for 1 km and eased up into a higher speed cruise. Cruise sounds very controlled, it wasn't at all like that, but it was about 5 km faster than before. I still had a few km to go, so now the real climb started. The legs were hurting, the lungs were hurting, but it was now the Puig Vs Me. I kept going. Not as fast as before, but at a reasonable rate. I never can remember the final bend properly until I see the signs for the tunnel. Sure enough I rounded the final bend, saw the signs, let out a war cry and went again. I blasted my way to the top. I had done it and in some kind of style! Fantastic! However, candidly, my effort was over shadowed by Lukey's. He arrived not long after Malc, managed a sprint at the end and although he couldn’t talk for a bit, it had been ridden in one hit. I didn’t manage the Puig in one go the first time. I was really chuffed for him. Malc had done well too. Now for the ride home. The descent from the tunnel is long, fast and immensely enjoyable - a rich reward for the previous climb. There was nothing on the road and we were drifting all over to find the right line. Soon we passed the junction for Sa Calobra; we knew the way home well from here. Arriving back at the hotel in the dark we had completed another satisfying day in the saddle. It was now time to have a beer and celebrate our success!  

Tuesday: Back Pain, Lightning and Lighthouses

......Or put another way, our 'bonus' day. 

By now most parts of my body were aching. I was awoken by thunder, then lightning. From here, it seemed unlikely we would make a 4th day in the saddle. The rain was hammering down and it's not received wisdom to go cycling in a thunderstorm. Fortunately for us we didn't have to since it had relented before breakfast, a fact I happily shared with Malc and Lukey. The reception, was, at best, lukewarm. 

Breakfast consumed, it looked grey overhead but not threatening enough to call the ride off. Off we went, steadily, heading towards the Cap de Formentor; basically a lighthouse at the end of a (very bumpy and exposed) 18 km coastal road. We had already claimed the first mountain complex, a 3 km climb that peaked at 220 meters. Malc broke away, and I thought about letting him go, it this was the last day so I could pretty much dump what I had left, whenever I wanted. The gap was 60 meters and after some work I caught up with him. We rode over the top and waited a few moments for Lukey to join us. The opposing decent was enjoyable and the road surface good. At the bottom the road split to either continue or head towards to the beach resort at Formentor. We continued onwards. Almost immediately the road deteriorated and I started to rain. Bad sign. My jacket was wind resistant, not waterproof. If this continued I'd get wet. 

I got very wet. In fact, we all got very wet.

We rode on and the weather deteriorated. It was raining hard and the dark grey clouds were here for the duration. It was also getting windy. We rode through an unexpected tunnel, checked Lukey was still with us and continued. Eventually, stuck a rocky outpost, the lighthouse loomed out of the gloom. One final climb later, Malc and I were hiding under bush debating the relative merits of staying there or cycling back. Amazingly, the cafe was closed (imagine that, in November, in the rain) which was now absolutely pelting down. Momentarily, Luke joined us, commenting that every time he joined yours truly on an 'event' (RIDE24 2011, RIDE24 2012 & now) he always got wet. I regarded this as a bit harsh since (a) we'd had 3 fantastic, sunny days and (b) I wasn't in charge of the weather. This notwithstanding, we headed back and rode immediately into the wind. We were all very cold by now. Malc had prepared best, in full Winter kit, but Luke and I had chosen 'Summer' gear....

We ploughed on. We all plied our way up the 4 km, 220 meter climb at a steady pace and enjoyed the hack down the other side. We were strung out alittle by now and I decided not to wait but head for home. Surface water doesn't really describe the runoff I rode through on the way back. We were on the clock at the hotel and we didn't wish to outstay our welcome. I dragged the bike upstairs and was promptly engaged in conversation with the hotel manager regarding keeping the bikes in our room. However, (fortunately for us) she didn't seem bothered we were leaving almost 3 hours after our allotted departure time. I jumped straight into the shower, keen to warm up. The other guys appeared a few minutes later. 


We had made it! Just 42 km in total for the final mornings ride but 907 meters vertical climbed nevertheless. Add this to the 344 km already ridden it meant we had climbed the best part of 8km over the 4 outings. For someone who had never ridden terrain like this before, Luke had acquitted himself very well. Plenty of grit and shear wilfulness, he had ascended everything the island and our route planning had thrown at him. Perhaps this was his turning point? Perhaps he will now embrace the art of hill climbing? I'm sure he'll share his thoughts on this later. Malc was also pleased with his efforts. He'd put in some hard mileage and paced us up a few of the mountains as a team. 'Power' had returned to his legs after a poor year (in his own words) last year. As for Mallorca, I had completed my 'unfinished business'. I had climbed both Sa Calobra and the Puig in relative comfort. I had managed to stay out of my lowest gear on both occasions and proven to myself I could cycle around Mallorca using standard gearing without feeling as if I  was teetering on the brink of a cardiac arrest. We'd covered some respectable distance and seen parts of the island we had not visited before. All in all, and not being with the family withstanding, it had been a great way to spend 5 days. 

We will return. I'm not sure when, but Mallorca still has plenty to offer those of us afflicted with the need to climb mountains on a bike. And maybe next time there be more of us....

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