bikebritain's solo tour of Mallorca - Unabridged account
Unabridged Version, bikebritain's solo tour of Mallorca, May 2013
"I have got friends, but they didn't ride with me this time."
By the time it came to going away, I was in a bit of a daze. To prove this point, here are a few examples, illustrated by the clothing I brought with me :-
- Enough cycling gear for 7 days (I'm only riding for 4).
- Not enough pants or socks (must wear flip flops at every opportunity)
- Definitely no proper wet weather gear (assumption, potentially incorrect, that it won't rain)
- Only 3 T-Shirts (Ok, not ideal. Lets hope I don't spill dinner down them)
- Only one pair of jeans (already looking a bit grubby before I left the UK, also didn't notice the growing hole in my crouch. Tasteful)
Cycling wise I managed to bring:-
- My bike, inc Zipps (for their first outing in Mallorca)
- Spare inners, multi-tool and tyre levers
- Track pump
- Only one water bottle (major error, probably need to buy another one)
- Other assorted stuff that seemed like a good idea at the time (However this meant I got dangerously close to the 32 kilo bike box limit that was subsequently brought to my attention. I'm sure it's covered in the terms and conditions I didn't read)
On balance, ok when I'm on the bike, not so ok when I'm off it.
This trip to Mallorca was more last minute, largely due to a significant change in personal circumstances (of my own doing). I wanted to go somewhere that was different but familiar and somewhere I could ride for as long or as short and as hard or as easy as I wanted. There really was only every one destination in mind.
I decided to stay in a 'new' place as well; a very small village called Orient between Bunyola and Alaro. Set in a valley, it was a 'Coll de Soller' type climb, about 500 or 550 meters, depending on your approach. From here I could go South (to Alaro), though more likely West (to Bunyola) and into the mountains proper. I was tempted by the idea riding the mountain MA-10 route in one go, but thought I had better to see how the legs performed. It had been an utterly manic 7 weeks prior and I needed some rest time as much as anything else. So this was it. Me and my bike, riding solo around Mallorca. It would be different, hopefully fun and give me chance to reflect on life in general with 7 weeks to go before my 40th birthday.
Start/Finish Orient : Bunyola : Soller : Valldemossa : Santa Maria : Alaro
Ride time: 3:36
Distance: 83.44 km
Av speed: 23.15 km
Ascent: 1523 meters
Calories: approx 3000
The hotel was a good choice, perfect location with the only noise being the wind through the trees and birdsong. The mountains overlooked the whole scene, imposing their presence on the surrounding countryside.
First ride, I thought I'd break myself in gently. The exit from Orient involves going downhill in either direction. I decided to head towards Bunyola and get some hairpin practice in. With very little on the road it made for an exhilarating start, weaving across the road trying to find the right line. The entry into Bunyola is incredibly narrow, barely wide enough for a car and I threaded my way through the back streets before I found the main square. No more than 10 minutes later I was at the foot of the Col de Soller. Hello old friend.
We (as in myself and Malc) reckon this is a 16-17 minute climb and I still figure that's about right. I cruised up it, enjoying the scenery. Straight over the top, again more hairpins (30 to be precise) to negotiate. My plan was to work my way to Valldemossa and ride along the flat back to Alaro. The section of the MA-10 between Soller and Valldemossa is one of the more challenging stretches, but I was wearing fresh legs so it didn't phase me. The ascent into the small village of Deia and then up again to Son Marroig and beyond is a challenging one. I kept it steady, plodding my way up the windy roads. It's funny how your mindset changes. At home the prospect of kilometre after kilometre of climbing would daunt me. In Mallorca it's normal. It's what you're here for. So just grind it out. And I did.
The descent to Valldemossa is exciting but its never as fast as you think it should be. At the junction you can turn right and continue along the MA-10 or left and head into town. I went left. Valldemossa was heaving, a description I would apply only later to Sa Calobra. The 4 km to the S'Esgleieta roundabout was a wonder. Average of 50 km, speeding down off the hill, following the smooth tarmac to where the road flattened off. I turned right, ready for some work, conscious I'd meet a headwind at some point! Surprisingly, not here; I cruised along at 32 km, quickly reaching the outskirts of Santa Maria. Not wishing to ride all the way to Consell, I found a signpost indicating 'Alaro' on what looked like was a back road. It was a back road - and a hilly one at that. Zero traffic, it was best described as undulating. There was even a cobbled section - cue panic - "Don't damage the Zipps!!" Luckily I was going up-hill and not down.......
I was almost out of water and made a mental note to buy another water bottle. Through Alaro, Orient was 8 km away - up the Coll de Orient (the easier approach). The legs still had something to offer so I beat out a decent rhythm and 20 minutes or so later I had arrived back at Hotel Dalt Muntanya. It had been a satisfying initial ride, but it had also confirmed I wasn't really in the right shape to attempt the length of the mountains and back in one day. That would have to wait.
Start/Finish Orient : Alaro : Inca : Consell : Santa Maria : Bunyola
Ride time: 2:05
Distance: 51.92 km
Av speed: 24.81 km
Ascent: 693 meters
Calories: approx 1800
Waking up, it was obvious that I'd been cycling the previous day. Lower back, knees and shoulders were achy and there was a general 'tightness' in my calfs and quads, a feeling I usually only get when I've been riding hard. I wanted days three and four to be biggish (to be later defined), so I chose to take day two relatively easily. For a more comfortable ride I looked east towards the town of Inca. The road to Inca was mildly undulating and I could head back along the flat past Santa Maria and onto Bunyola, this time approaching Orient from the opposite direction.
This was my first descent on the Alaro side and I enjoyed it more than the technical ride into Bunyola. The bends were more sweeping with some decent length straights, making it possible to maintain a higher speed throughout. Turning right off the PM-210 I joined the 'local' backstreet roads and meandered my way towards Lloseta and Inca. These were not large distances. On the road to Lloseta I recalled from previous visits there was part of an aircraft left at a farm opposite. I looked for it was not there; perhaps it had finally been consigned to the scrap merchant.
There's nothing much to get excited about in Inca as far as I can tell. It has some industry located on the outskirts but the town itself doesn't do much for me. Having arrived, I promptly found a signpost for Palma (all roads in Mallorca lead to Palma) which turned out to be the MA-13a. I'm guessing this used to be the main road east. With the motorway now built its just another local link road, well cared for and straight. No sign of a headwind either so that was a plus!
I stayed on this road until I reached Santa Maria (note to file, there are substantial bike shops in both Binissalem and Santa Maria). Here I cut up on my favourite road towards Bunyola with the Coll d'Honour waiting for me. The ride out of Bunyola begins with a rude incline opposite the town square. It's a taster of what's to come. I had ridden down this road yesterday, so I had a rough idea about what was ahead, but hills look completely different when you're climbing them. I suppose you have more time to consider every bump and crease in the road on the way up.
The first 2 kilometres were not that bad, but the incline slowly took hold thereafter. It's an interesting ascent with periods of straight-ish road combined with very tight switchbacks. According to the markers it ends just after 6 kilometres. From here it's either downhill or flat to Orient, save for the little cheeky climb into Orient which insisted on getting me out of the saddle. I obliged. Day two done.
Start/Finish Orient : Bunyola : Soller : Sa Calobra : Escorca : Mancor de la Vall : Lloseta : Alaro
Ride time: 5:59
Distance: 117.03 km
Av speed: 19.56 km
Ascent: 2851 meters
Calories: approx 4100
Having had an easy day two, I was ready for some punishment, Mallorca style. I had only ever done a Puig Major/Sa Calobra combination once before and even then we had begun from Fornalutx (which saved 4 km on the Puig). This would be different. This would be the whole distance, non stop, with the Coll de Soller and the Coll d'Orient thrown in for good measure. Plus any further undulations that occurred between Sa Calobra and the way home. It would get jazzy today. Would I have the legs for it?
The first hour was exactly the same as the first hour on day one. However, when it came to turn for Valldemossa I continued and sought the MA-10 junction, signed post Lluc and Pollenca. Here it was, the start of the climb, proper. The Coll de Soller didn't count. This was it.
I have climbed the Puig perhaps 8 or 9 times. It changes every time, but there is one constant. The last 3 km always hurt and by the time you start bearing left round the mountain you are desperate for it to end. This time was no different. I climbed the whole way either in third or second, so a decent effort there. I got overtaken 6 times all by people who were moving more smoothly than I was. However, I didn't care. I was in the middle of my own battle, keeping the rhythm I did have and concentrating on keeping those pedals turning. Funny, when I got to the top I took a picture of myself and I think I look quite fresh. I wasn't feeling it.
I've probably got some deep seated problem I should see a professional about. It goes along the lines that I'm never satisfied. I complete one goal and the moment that's achieved I'm looking for the next challenge. Maybe that's what makes me the person I am. What I know, however, is this; the moment I stopped at the summit of the Puig to enjoy the view, I knew I was not finished. I had to climb Sa Calobra as well. It was inevitable.
I knew it would be hard. But I was here and so was it. I enjoyed the descent (from the Puig), really I did, but my mind was completely elsewhere. I turned left at the signpost. The beach at Sa Calobra was 13 km away. To reach there though, you must first ascend the Coll de Reis at 2.5 km and 6.4% elevation. This was my warm up, which I duly accepted. Legs were still sapped from the previous climb, but they had another half an hour before they were really needed.
I have never seen Sa Calobra so busy. I could spot 6 or 7 coaches on their way up as I started my descent. It was mayhem. Cars were backing up, mostly with very worried occupants inside. I'm not surprised. The drop offered no second chances. Consequently, it was my slowest descent of Sa Calobra on record. At the bottom, all the restaurants were open, but experience told me that the food available here was poor. As a result I just took liquid on board. It was hot; my arms were burning and I'd forgotten the sun cream. But frankly speaking this was the last of my worries. There was a 10.1 km climb at 6.9% ahead to think about.
This was a hill that could not be attacked. It was the final third that was hardest - when you were feeling most tired. It had to be respected and managed. It splits into two sections. There's the half you can see and the half you can't. The road winds its way around the mountain, so I used this as my marker. I took it very steady to the make shift half way point. I got overtaken by a guy who I had seen at the bottom. It turned out he was Welsh and was training to ride the Etape. He said this hill had been an eye opener. I overtook him later, when he had cramp. It's relentless and in some ways harder than the Puig. It feels like there's more variance in the gradient on Sa Calobra than on the Puig. I think the Puig is more consistent and its 0.5% less steep.
I completed the first 'half', rounded the hill and saw the remaining 5 km ahead of me. The top seemed a very long way away. 20 minutes more climbing later I was close to the top. I had had one enforced stop due to traffic and unlike the motor bikes, I wasn't risking zipping in between coaches and cars to get past. To some, being a cyclist I was also part of the problem. Nevertheless, the other road users were very respectful.
The final few bends were hurtful. Past the vista point at the top, I am certain the incline goes up another gear. For the first time I got out of the saddle in earnest, roaring my way to the top. I looked, and moreover sounded, like a lunatic. I was in a world of my own. My legs were screaming at me to stop, lungs bursting, sweat pouring off my brow. I had just overtaken the Welshman and the summit was a couple of hundred meters away. This was it.
I didn't stop until I was over the summit.
When I did I was gasping. My back hurt. My legs hurt. Actually everything hurt. But I HAD done it. Puig and Calobra in one hit. I was very happy with that. I coasted down the hill and feasted on a combination of Fanta Limon, Pringles (red one) and a Mars Bar. I figured it was all completely justified. I was in a calorie deficit situation.
What lay ahead was another 50 km. Day three would be the 'Big Day'.
The road continues downhill for a while after the Sa Calobra junction and then it's a mixture of mild undulations for the next 9km or so. At this point you need to turn left if you are to stay on the mountain road and end up in either Lluc or Pollenca. However, I was going south which meant I could speed straight on. The road to Selva was one we'd both climbed and descended the last time I had been in Mallorca. It was a glorious hill to coast down lasting probably 7 km or so. Just what my legs had ordered. I knew there were more undulations (not hills), to come.
The road did continue onto Selva but at Caimari I took the cyclists route to Mancor de la Vall. This was just a matter of a few kilometres which was just as well as the road is in dire need of some TLC. I was being rattled to bits. I needed a route to Lloseta and loe and behold there was one signposted. Good, straight on. Then I realised this was an 'undulation' that continued for a few kilometres, up. Plus, I'd been down it the previous day! My legs were creaking. This was not what they wanted. I had been building myself up mentally for the climb to Orient, not this 'unexpected' hill. It was slow, heavy progress. I could see the top so I focussed on reaching that and tried to forget about the fizzing in my legs. Eventually I got there.
I was still on the back roads but this was now familiar territory. I approached the sharp right hander and saw the signpost for Orient. I was here - the last climb of the day. The valley was bathed in sunlight, I was bathed in sweat. I gulped some water down, took a deep breathe and started upwards. About a quarter of the way up there's a hotel on the right that the bicycle holiday specialist Max Hurzinger uses. I had zoomed up to this point on day one. Not this time. I was already out of the saddle. I started checking the kilometre markers which is never a good sign. It seemed they were staring me out as I went past, doubting if I'd make it. It might not be pretty, but I WOULD compete it. I cycled through the lower bends and then up the straight that lead to the forest hairpins. I was getting close. What I didn't need was a headwind which appeared suddenly from nowhere. It was as if someone had switched a wind machine on. My legs groaned and I swore out loud. Enough! By now though I had reached the plateau with only gentle climbing to go. I shook my fist at the sign indicating the top of the Coll. I was soon cycling past the exclusive hotel called L'Hermitage. I was just 1.5 km from home.
With minimal effort now required, I practically free-wheeled back to the Dalt Muntanya. There's a tricky hairpin before you enter Orient and a couple of times I had met cars coming the opposite way which made for an exciting few moments. No such drama this time. I entered the village limits and stopped by the hotel. I had done it. Or rather, it had done me. Now I needed to sit down, wash and eat, in that order.........
Start/Finish Orient : Bunyola : Soller : Valldemossa : Santa Maria : Alaro
Ride time: 3:50
Distance: 84 km
Av speed: 21.87 km
Ascent: 1334 meters
Calories: approx 2900
I was in two minds about what to do for my last day. I wanted to make the most of my time, but the previous day had sapped a lot of energy from my legs. It had been one of my biggest climbing days in the saddle. Certainly the hardest day I've undertaken on my own. So what were my choices?
Pollenca was an option, but what had really tweaked my interest was the climb into Valldemossa from S'Esgleieta. I had not ridden this before and it would also allow me to ride the road down to Port de Valldemossa and/or Port des Canoges, routes I had not previously attempted before. Decision made.
I elected to cycle take there (Valldemossa) by going via Alaro which would mean my final climb of this holiday would be the Coll d'Honour. Arriving at Alaro, I managed to locate the back road I had ascended on day one. (Note to file, careful of the cobbles along the way). I zoomed down the road and duly noted my own advice (there's a first), and stopped in time to 'manage' the cobbles. Weird why they are there. I continued through to the Palmanyola junction and then the S'Esgleieta roundabout. It was uphill from now.
I had done well avoiding the wind until now. However I now had a headwind whilst climbing. Nice touch. The most challenging part of this hill I think was the bottom. My legs had yet to do any hill work - and they were not happy at that prospect! Taking it steady I ground out a fairly pedestrian pace, taking it one revolution at a time. A tried and tested strategy. Not too long afterwards I saw the town limits. I recalled that the last section was quite steep having picked up speed very quickly going in the reverse direction. It peaked at 11% so I was right. Soon I'd ridden over the summit and passed the coach loads of people that had arrived at Valldemossa for the day. I continued on.
I passed the turning for the Port deciding I would prefer to ride this part of the MA-10 before attempting any more climbing heroics. I should not have worried. Having not ridden this part of the road for some years I had forgotten that it wasn't that hard. A few kilometres climbing and then 7 or 8 kilometre descent appeared. Fun-time! I weaved my way downhill and before I knew it I was at the junction. Go left, I head into Esporles. Go right, I discover Port des Canoges. I went right.
It was similar to a mini Sa Calobra without the coaches trying to push you off the edge of the road. No fun really. It was just as twisty with the tightest bends I'd experienced so far. The descent was a lot of fun. The ascent would be....well....interesting. At the foot of the hill were a surprisingly number of houses along with a couple of obligatory restaurants. There was no one about, other than a lone surfer. I sat on a bench overlooking the sea, eating my isotar bar and did a little piece to camera. It started raining. I didn't care. It was very peaceful and nice to be at the coast. I spent a few moments daydreaming, thinking empty thoughts then got myself together again. There was a hill to climb. The hill kicked in immediately. Legs throbbed. They were working again. Yesterday's exploits were beginning to tell. This would be another example of slow and steady. No solo attack on the hill at Port des Canoges for me. The kilometres slowly clicked by and the view improved the higher I went. Soon I couldn't see the sea, it was hidden by the forest below. A few more hairpins later and I was back where I started, at the junction with the MA-10. Time to head back in the direction of Orient.
I thought it was pretty much downhill from Esporles and I was right. Having managed about 13 km in 45 minutes, I racked up 7 km in the next quarter of an hour. Bunyola was in touching distance and so, I decided, was lunch. I would stop there for food prior to my final climb. On the way I found a 'new' road to the town. It made no material difference to the route, it just sliced off a corner and I ended up on the usual approach. I rode to the cafe at the town square but it was busy and I'd passed a place where the locals hung out. I decided to test my pitiful grasp of Spanish and try my luck. I'd also seen they were serving Pa Amb Oli and that was just what I was looking for. Bread, oil, tomato and Jamon Serrano. Perfect. I immediately managed to confuse the waitress who wanted to serve me paella, but the barman grasped what I was after. I sat down and soon after, stuffed my face. Bang On!
Fuelled up, it was time for my last climb of the holiday. Not ideal on a half full stomach but sobeit. I started slowly (no change there) and enjoyed the ride out of Bunyola into the wild. The sun was blazing down. I took it steady and enjoyed the views; no need to rush home. The climb from this side takes about 6 km. By kilometre 4, the legs were grumbling loudly at me. Shut up legs! What do you want me to do? Stop? Unacceptable! So the voices in my head continued to moan at me until I reached the top. I did so and coasted down the backside to the hotel. That was it. My cycle holiday was over.
I'm not sure if I'd stay in Orient again. It was great as a one off and the Dalt Muntanya was excellent. The village is a limited and you need to know which places are open and on which days - otherwise you will go hungry. It's a good place as far as the cycling goes but you are committed if you stay. The way home always involves a climb therefore it's not for the faint hearted. From a cycling experience perspective I hadn't lost anything being on my own. Indeed, I might have pushed myself more because I was cycling solo. What I missed though, was the banter and rubbish anecdotes that have been part of the experience previously. I will return, for sure. However, next time I will be bringing some friends with me. Besides, why should I suffer alone?
PS. Malc, I only looked at the map once!
Statistical Summary per @cyclemeter
Ride time: approx 15:31
Distance: approx 336 km
Av speed: approx 21.68 km
Ascent: approx 6400 meters
Calories: approx 11800
(Plus 2 suckling pigs)
Words, Thumbnail and Slider Image - bikebritain ltd.
A video of this tour will be available shortly at www.bikebritain.org