bikebritain Says December 22, 2012

5 Top Tips for Climbing the Puig Major

I am not a hill climber. The bikebritain philosophy is to find hills and climb them. My philosophy is to happen upon hills and turn around and go home. For me, ideally, the whole planet would be a Penrose Stairway where it would be downhill all the time (rather than stairs).
Despite this, I recently found myself on Mallorca with Jonathan and Malc with the express purpose of climbing some of the nastiest slopes on the island, akin to a vegetarian stepping into an abattoir. Plan A was hope my bicycle was destroyed en route and there was no Plan B. And so it was that I found myself in Fornalutx on a Monday afternoon about to ascend Mallorca’s highest peak. Remarkably, I did it, and without stopping for a rest/kebab/massage/surgery/funeral on the way. If you are a climbing novice, look no further1 because here are my five top tips for novices who inexplicably find themselves climbing big Spanish hills.
One – try climbing a steeper hill the day before and fail
On the face of it, and in practice, this does not sound like good advice. But bear with me. If you, like me, find yourself climbing, say, Puig Major on a Monday, try hoofing it up from Sa Calobra on the Sunday. It is brutal at the best of times and, when you are hideously out of your depth like myself, inhumane. Just after halfway up, my goose was not only cooked, but served, eaten, and the remains served up the next day as a nice goose sandwich. The little rhythm I had was lost when I failed to avoid some minor debris and that was that. It took two further stints to reach the summit alone, by which time my companions had forgotten what I looked like2. Needing to stop felt bad. Making my friends wait felt bad. Doing it alone felt bad. I was very keen that I didn’t feel like this ever again, or at least until no-one was looking.
Two – try climbing a less steep hill earlier in the day and succeed
As any amateur psychologist will probably tell you, don’t invite me on a cycling holiday. Once you’ve explained that it is far too late for that, I’m sure they would advocate top tip two. If you, like me, find yourself climbing, say, Puig Major on a Monday afternoon, try piling up Coll de Soller on the earlier that same afternoon. A steady, relatively gentle incline and a beauty of a confidence boost after the debacle of the previous day. I kept in touch with my companions all the way to the top, so much so that I got to deliver a ‘sprint’ finish to claim the King of the Mountains points. Jonathan and Malc, veterans of this climb, must not watch the Grand Tours, because they didn’t seem to find it very funny. Having flown down the other side and through Soller, I was just about ready for a pint. Before I could have a pint, however, I needed to climb the Puig.
Three – get a good tow
I had the best in the business. Malc eats hills. Regrettably not literally, otherwise this would be much easier to write, and equally dreary to read. Whilst Jonathan located the lunatic’s way out of Fornalutx3, I rehearsed my plan for the ascent: lock on to Malc’s rear wheel and hold on for as long as I could. It was a plan that served me well, probably straight in at number one in my all-time Plans Top Ten. Jonathan stayed on my wheel for the first few kilometres, presumably to stop me rolling back down to the bottom in tears, before he launched to go and settle some scores with this inanimate pile of rock. I remained as close to Malc’s backside as was socially acceptable, desperate not to be dropped. As the metres and kilometres trickled by, I was still there and suddenly there was a moment when I knew I would do it. Nothing in particular changed, but I realised that, whilst my goose was browning nicely, there was no need to call the fire brigade quite yet. We’d agreed to emit a primeval roar when we reached the summit and, once Malc had opened up a gap, I still thought I had a couple of kilometres to go. All of a sudden, I heard Malc bellow as he reached the peak. Much like my cycling, my maths had also failed me – I was almost there and then I was there. My primeval roar sounded more like a mouse after an encounter with a helium balloon, but if a man squeaks on a mountain and only Jonathan and Malc can hear it, does it make a sound?4
Four – rhythm sticks
True story – my grandfather, a skilled percussionist, once brutally broke the news to me that I had no rhythm. He meant on the drums, but had he seen me on a bicycle, he could easily have meant that too. If I was going to hold on to Malc ‘the metronome’, I was going to need something that approached a rhythm. To the exclusion of all aesthetic considerations and my basic sanity, I did everything to keep myself operating at a steady tempo, from counting pedal strokes to fixating almost exclusively on Malc’s feet until I came *this* close to clipping his wheel. By the time my rhythm, along with my breathing, my language, and general appearance, became a little ragged, I had broken the back of the climb and could navigate my way through the final through metres in as haphazard a fashion as I liked.
Five – tunnel vision
I wasn’t just on Mallorca as a cyclist; I was also there as a tourist and I defy anyone to not be captivated by the views that could be seen not just from the top of the peaks, but also on the way up. Quite often, I was the metaphorical dog with its head out the window, resplendent with the lolling tongue and questionable odour. This might have cut the mustard on my only previous trip to the island (2006 Magaluf, if you must know), but was not going to get me up the side of a mountain. All I saw was the road, Malc’s wheel, Malc’s shoes, and any peripheral vegetation that happened to encroach on my tunnel vision. I could have been anywhere, apart from places that didn’t necessitate me blowing the Christmas present budget. Once I had reached the top, there was plenty enough view to enjoy, albeit one populated with sparkly bits and floating red circles, and about thirty seconds to enjoy it, before Jonathan told us we had to get going.
So, as it turns out, anyone can climb hills. Even me. Well, certain hills, and in certain circumstances. But I can climb more big hills than I believed I could and, sometimes, it is even fun. It was a brilliant trip, with more amusing anecdotes than I can possibly type before my boss comes back and wonders what this has to do with my actual job, and I might even have changed my mind about hills. Now where’s that copy of “100 Greatest Cycling Climbs”…
1 bikebritain does not endorse you looking no further. bikebritain very much endorses getting some proper advice.
2 Read Jonathan’s account of the whole trip; they really had.
3 See Jonathan’s account.
4 Yes. Yes it does. A really pathetic sound.
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