As you will know from some of my previous blogs I recently spent some time on Mallorca on a vacation with the extended family. This island is spoken in hushed tones on the cycling forums and naturally I was hoping to squeeze in some cycling to see for myself.
Around fifteen years had passed since I was last in Mallorca on one of our semi-regular family holidays there and it was clear that the demographics had changed from those heady days. For a start every bar now had a bike rack outside and it was not unusual for them to bursting at the seams with lycra clad cyclists rewarding themselves after a tough cycle.
I had debated whether to take my own bike or hire one when I got out there for a while and a quick look at the costs involved showed that either way would be about the same. The obvious advantage of taking my own bike is that I am used to it and I love the way it feels but ultimately the convenience of hiring won easily. When I got to the airport in Glasgow I could see a few people with their bikes in boxes but I was happy to be without the extra hassle and luggage on top of the already vast amounts that are entailed with travelling with a child.
It should be obvious by now that cycling is something that I now fit in around my other commitments in life and this is no different when on holiday. To ensure that there was no friction I fully discussed my plan to hire a bike for four days and to get in some miles but made the promise that family time was the priority and I would work around that. I am a lucky guy and have a very understanding partner.
Being somewhat disorganised and after procrastinating about whether to take my own bike I went on line to book a bike and it was at this point it really sunk in just how popular road cycling in Mallorca now was as I couldn’t find a suitable bike to hire. Eventually I went with a Pinarello from Pinarello Experience which handily was but two minutes’ walk from our AirBnB apartment. On their booking website my finger hovered over the Pinarello Dogma but in the end I couldn’t justify the extra expense and went a model down. I was impressed with the ease of booking on their website and subsequent communication with them and wouldn’t hesitate to use them again when we go back next year (dare I get the Dogma this time).
As the holiday approached, I would spend my spare time at lunchtimes browsing the best routes and adding them to my Garmin. One route stood out time and again and so no matter what happened I would ride up the Sa Colobra. I knew this may be a once in a lifetime opportunity for me so I dedicated some time to specifically training for that kind of effort, especially using the turbo trainer since the weather leading up to the holiday was terrible.
Even when not taking your own bike it is amazing how much extra things you need to take for cycling on holiday. I certainly had to sacrifice actual clothes to fit into Ryanair’s strict luggage policy. Please see here for my blog on packing for a cycling holiday but aside from what you might expect to take I also took my saddle (and seat post in a somewhat rookie mistake), my saddle bag and my trusty mini-pump. The saddle is a very personal choice and I wanted the continuity of using my own. Although the bike hire came with a pump I wanted one that I could rely on at the risk of being caught in the middle of nowhere on unfamiliar roads. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail has always served me well when it comes to cycling.
The first day in Pollenca was devoted to just doing family stuff and basically enjoying not being in work. I purposely didn’t even hire the bike for the first day as I knew I would simply want to relax, drink coffee and beer and eat ice cream and tapas. Nevertheless the excitement of the cycling that lay ahead was growing and the constant stream of happy cyclist on the road and in the cafes was a reminder of what was to come. The mountains in the background loomed large and were challenging me to ride up them.
As I went to bed that night I was genuinely excited about what sort of cycling the next day would hold. Excitement tinged with nervousness. I cycle in isolation for the most part and was uncertain how my form would hold against guys (and girls) who clearly took their cycling seriously. The competitive part of my personality was already creeping up.
I was the first customer in the bike shop to pick up my bike. I cannot praise the efficiency of the staff enough for getting me out on the road and setting the bike up perfectly for me. And what a bike. It was aero and light and had that lovely curved top tube that is iconic to the Pinarello. Full Ultegra groupset and 25mm tires meant that if I couldn’t get up the climbs then I certainly couldn’t blame the bike.
The first ride I chose to do was a relatively short one to Formentor and back just to get me into the rhythm of cycling in Mallorca. When I set off I noticed a couple of things almost instantly. The first was the feeling of warm air against my arms as I cycled something so rare if you cycle in Scotland and it was something I was relishing. The second was the smoothness of the roads. If you have done any cycling in Scotland you will know how heavy the roads can be but in Mallorca it is as if they were laid by a cyclist, every small bump ironed out to allow you to glide smoothly.
That first ride was a great introduction to cycling on this island and despite its short length it offered plenty of climbing and plenty of photo opportunities. As I got to the lighthouse I reflected on the journey I had just cycled and it struck me that at home I would be cycling to work at that exact time. Two different cycles you could not imagine.
My form was good and I was climbing well, encouraging people up as I went passed them. The descending was nothing technical and could be taken with speed even if I was unfamiliar with the roads. The traffic was quiet at that time of the day but they were also courteous when present. That said, when I was cycling back to Polenca down the hill it was time for all the tourist coaches to ascend and ferry those who have not found the joy of two wheels to various viewpoints.
I cycled into town and met me family at the bar at the beach and it was obvious to them from the smile on my face that cycling in Mallorca had more than lived up to expectations. I had a beer or three and went in the sea to cool down. I wish rides in Scotland could finish like this.
I even managed to squeeze in an hour in the evening when everyone was getting ready to go out for dinner. It was the kind of place where I just had to make the most of any opportunity.
The next day was the big one though, the ride I had basically been looking forward to for six months, the ride that motivated me through many rainy hours on the bike in Scotland. The Sa Colobra.
The unique thing about this climb is that you have no option but to go down it before coming back up it and once you are at the bottom there is no way home except up and over except perhaps by boat. But I didn’t come here to sail, I came here to suffer. I woke up early and was on the road at first light having read about the throngs of tourist buses that descend on the road come midday.
Setting out from Polenca I had a calm headwind and sheltered behind a few groups on the flats. When the road started to climb I cracked-on by myself and left the others behind as the road gradually but not unnoticeably gained height before reaching the Sa Colobra. A quick packet of Haribo and can of coke from the opportunistically placed café and it was time to descend to the sea, wresting the bike to stay on the road around the numerous hairpin bends. I have not been on a rollercoaster that could match this feeling. It was very technical and I certainly wasn’t trying to break any records. I am a father after all.
At the bottom I took a few snaps and phoned the partner to let her know all was good and then went straight to the climb. There is nothing at the bottom that you stick around for and you will want to make sure your legs haven’t quite went to sleep after all the descending. We don’t have climbs like this in Scotland. Sure we have hills but they are the kind a puncheur would thrive on not a mountain goat and so I approached this climb with some trepidation and respect, knowing that a steady approach was needed. Find a rhythm and turn the peddles.
On the lower slopes I picked off a few cyclists and then I could see a guy up ahead doing a great pace so I dug deep and tried to catch him, careful not to go too far into the red and blow up. Try as I might he was out of my grasp and I would watch him gain time on me as we climbed further up. I let it go and settled back into my pace, trying to soak in the entire climb as best I could. It was beautiful. It was also tough but I was trying to set a good time so I knew it was going to be tough. I kept trying to trick my eyes that I was near the top but it was always out of sight. The last hairpins as you come to the top test your legs and get you out of the saddle but the top did come and with it a sense of euphoria. I was happy with my climbing legs.
As I cycled home on a gentle tailwind, reflecting on my performance I saw the guy who “beat” me up the climb in a café and stopped to say hello. He was a lovely Australian guy who knew that I was close behind him and was willing me to catch him to help him up the climb. He clearly needed no help from me though.
As I cycled the last, flat five miles or so in to town I wondered if I would ever be able to top that cycling experience. Probably not.
The rest of the holiday was a similar mix of family and cycling and it was with a heavy heart that I left the island and came back to Scotland. In fact I don’t think I went on my bike for two weeks after that trip, not through any sense of fatigue but that I simply wanted to maintain the illusion that all cycling could be this good. When I finally did go out, a howling headwind greeted me and the road surface meant I was under no illusion about where I was cycling.