EARLY MORNING CYCLING IN MALLORCA
Early-bird John Campbell set out early to keep family happy and instinct satisfied on summer holiday in Mallorca.
Puerto Pollensa, situated in the north east of Majorca, was the chosen destination for our two week summer holiday. By coincidence, you understand, it is a well known cycling destination; it would have been negligent of me not to have swung my leg over a frame while there.
As with most things, a modicum of preparation and compromise goes a long way. Preparation took the form of sourcing a bike hire shop and a suitable steed before arriving; compromise was making sure my hours on the bike didn’t unduly interrupt our treasured time on holiday together as a family. As it turned out both were easily achieved and the resultant bike rides simply sublime.
Opting for hiring negated any need to take my own bike, bagging it, paying the airline fee and worrying like an expectant father that my baby would not be all right on delivery. Thankfully, hiring a bike is easy in Puerto Pollensa. There is a multitude of hire shops on-line (and more besides, once you get there).
I opted for a treat – A Kiral full carbon XL with 11 speed Ultegra gears, Look Keo pedals, and which I found out when I picked the bike up, came with the same specification Fulcrum Quattro wheels I have on the Ridley Fenix I use back home when I’m not commuting or touring. All that was left to do was sit back and wait a few months.
Arriving on a Saturday, after ten minutes chatting to Miguel at the cycle shop, confirmed I’d chosen well. Very professional, paperwork already all in place, bike size confirmed and a quick handshake saying I’d see him at opening time on Monday morning, the first of my three scheduled days with our new addition to the family.
The glowing orb
Two days later and I’m back. A quick walk back to the apartment with the bike (accompanied by one of the best sounds in the world of a back wheel purring contentedly); into my cycling gear and off I went.
Within minutes of leaving the apartment, I’m swinging round a few roundabouts and cycling on a dedicated cycle lane alongside the MA2200 heading inland on a large flat plain, the smile already firmly planted on my face, the strange and unfamiliar cycling sight this year of a glowing orb in the sky making things feel very pleasant indeed. Before long I roll up alongside a couple, who it transpires were from Brighton and were making their way to a cove for a spot of lunch and sunbathing. We chatted as cyclists do before parting company.
My first stop was in the town’s central square known as Placa Major, dotted with numerous small cafes, a dull-looking church and the distinctive cypress tree-lined 365 steps up Calvary Hill to the chapel at the top.My new carbon toy was undoubtedly light but there was no way I was slinging it over my shoulder to walk the steps to the top of the hill, so I found the road on the other side of town which snaked its way up the hillside towards the church, the route easy to follow as there were 10ft high concrete crosses periodically along the roadside.
By the time I veered left towards Pollensa, some four miles had passed under my wheels and I had spoken to a number of other cyclists, all of them on shiny carbon hire bikes, many complaining it was too hot. We Brits are a fickle bunch. Having had a summer in Scotland as cold as barbed wire I begged to differ. The warmer the better, bring it on.
Christians and Pirates
The narrow tree-lined road into Pollensa is a bumpy ride, the surface dotted with patches, ruts and holes but soon enough I was over a small bridge, safely beyond the clutches of the rotten road surface and had entered the atmospheric narrow streets of the old town, the honey-coloured sun bleached buildings on either side full of character and bedecked with flags.
Most houses had two flags. One made up of red and black squares, the other a yellow background with a white crescent moon and star. We had already seen many of these same flags in Puerto Pollensa and had discovered their significance. Pollensa had in the past successfully repelled a succession of pirate attacks, the last in 1550 when the notorious Turkish Corsair Dragut almost captured the town. In the festival of Mare de Deu dels Angels on August 2 each year, there is a celebration of their escape with enthusiastic street battle re-enactments, the Christian townspeople (red and black flag) dressed in white to represent their pyjamas (the battle was in the early hours of the morning) and the pirates (yellow flag) reassuringly bedecked in pirate outfits. With six days to go till the big day dress rehearsals were taking place in the side streets – not every day you see Ebenezer Scrooge squaring up to Jack Sparrow.
The crosses ran out and the summit was reached, the reward were stunning views over Pollensa, the Puig De Maria hill and the Bay of Pollensa in the distance. Shortly after, I was joined by a family from Torquay, who were in need of an additional oxygen supply having just ascended the afore-mentioned 365 steps, and that was without a bike on their back.
The chapel of Calvary, at the top of the road end summit is another dull affair, the murals on the walls surely some of the worst ever to adorn any building. Never mind, directly opposite the front door you get another chance to look at the 365 steps, much more impressive looking downwards, especially accompanied, as it was today, by traditional Spanish music being played by a busker.
Romans and roads
Coming back down the hill I came across a sign for Ponta Roma. I went to investigate. It’s an old Roman Bridge spanning the Torrent de Sant Jordi (not even a trickle, never mind a torrent). The Romans conquered Majorca in 123BC and against all the odds this little double arch bridge is still intact. In addition, just a few metres from the bridge is a gnarled olive tree reputed to have been planted by the Romans when the bridge was built – I confess to not being entirely convinced.
Figuring it was time to roll on; I was soon on the M2201 heading towards Alcudia. Avoid this road if you come over, cycling along it was like being in charge of a pneumatic road drill, a demented rodeo beast and an out of control trampoline all at the same time – the bike and my fillings, not to mention every other body part, were rattling over the potholes. These were, thoughtfully, intermittently interspersed with the occasional piece of road just to reassure me I hadn’t veered off onto someone’s vineyard field, of which there were plenty roadside, by accident.
Bike and fillings survived the onslaught and I soon found myself on the much more amenable velvet carpeted MA13 road. Three roundabouts safely negotiated and I was heading north along the MA2220 shore road towards Puerto Pollensa.
Once more, safe passage came in the way of a segregated lane for cyclists, of which there were many.
I soon stopped at the Albuferta Nature Reserve, a protected area of beach and home to the plovers. Sadly, none were at home, though I did get treated to tremendous views across the Bay of Pollensa and further on enjoyed the antics of kite-surfers making full use of the strong wind hitting the shore.
Before I knew it I was entering the outskirts of Puerto Pollensa along the sea front, the beach an extensive narrow strip of sand full of slow-roasted bodies. I was on the lookout for Tolo’s, a restaurant owned by a millionaire cycling fan and a friend of Sir Bradley. Wandering in is akin to entering a Wiggo shrine – jerseys from the Tour De France, Criteruim De Dauphine, La Vuelta, The tour of California and the Worlds adorn the walls as does the 2012 winning Tour De France yellow Pinarello with the 101 number still attached under the saddle. However, for me the best of all was the bike used by Wiggo to win the World Individual Time Trial in 2014.
Considering today was primarily about familiarising myself with both the bike and cycling on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, I was more than happy with what I’d ‘discovered’. Within the hour, all the family were enjoying lunch, followed by a snorkelling session, before adding ourselves to the slow-roasting bodies on the beach.
Late July in Majorca and its approaching quarter past six in the morning before its light enough to get going without any lights.
Today I turned right, instead of left when leaving the apartment, and within minutes I’m at the end of the resort and a sign announces entrance to the Serra De Tramuntana World Heritage Site, a mountain range which extends along the north coast of Majorca reaching the sea at today’s destination, the lighthouse at Cap De Formentor.
The first challenge came soon after, the road ahead, high above me, a clear scar on the hillside. With an average gradient of 6% I got myself into a steady rhythm for perhaps two miles before reaching the top where I witnessed a magnificent sunrise at the Mirador De La Creueta, a string of lookout spots perched high above the sea cliffs.
Nearby, I look over the stone monument to the Spanish Civil Engineer, Antonio Parietti, designer of the road I was following. The talents of the man become clearer as my journey continued (and by the end of tomorrow will be elevated in my estimations to genius – more of which under Wednesday’s exploits) the road threading it’s way somehow through the peninsula with, firstly, a thrilling, winding descent towards Formentor Beach, then an undulating section through a tree-lined route, followed by El Fumat tunnel – all the while supplemented by stunning view after stunning view, of sea, cliff and tiny islands. Often I ground to a halt to savour the scene and take yet another photograph, all the while attracting nonchalant looks from the vast wild goat population.
High, low and detour
Far too soon the lighthouse came into view, a big descent followed by a climb up the winding road deposited me at Majorca’s highest lighthouse, almost 200m above sea level and protecting passing ships for over 150 years (Incredibly a week later, we were on a fishing/swimming/snorkelling boat trip and got the surprise opportunity to enter the so called blue cave directly under the lighthouse by swimming 50 yards from the boat to the cliffs then diving under the water, to emerge into a cave, where the sunlight reflecting off the limestone creates a dazzling blue effect as we rocked among the waves).
After lingering for sometime at the lighthouse, taking in the views from all sides, I made my way down and then back up the 10% gradient, initially as it happens on the wrong side of the road. I’d absentmindedly gone into auto-pilot. It wasn’t until I saw another cyclist coming hurtling down the hill, frantically jerking his thumb at me to move over, that I realised the error of my ways – easily done I suppose and fortunately a mistake I avoided repeating for the rest of the time on the bike.
Retracing my route I opted to take a quick look at the much lauded Formentor Beach, sign posted and easily accessible down a short road. No doubting it was a lovely beach, and the back drop of the mountains across the bay enhanced it further, but with only a restaurant and sand for company I was soon on my way again.
The hill where it all began this morning dictates you have your back to Puerto Pollensa on the way up. Coming down it’s there, spread out down below, in front of me in all its splendour, the town and port glistening in the morning sun. Despite enjoying the extended descent I just had to stop and take more photographs, grateful I am able to appreciate the magnificence.
A route not to be missed.
Ivan and Wallace
The final day on the bike would take me much further afield to descend and ascend the Sa Calobra, a road I have wanted to cycle for a very long time.
Once more setting off just after six, I made my way firstly towards Cala St. Vincent, a slight detour down the MA2203. Turned out the place was full of modern villas and little appeal. Strangely, one of the hotels had a collection of classic cars in its glass frontage and I have to admit to admiring a rather fetching yellow Jaguar.
Skirting Pollensa, I made my way along the MA10, the flat plain petering out within a few miles, to be replaced by my first climb of the day, the Coll De Femenia, a helpful sign telling me it was 7.7km long with an average gradient of 5.5%. What the sign didn’t tell me about was the loads of names and messages sprayed on the road – GO GO GO wasn’t helpful and it became clear why it was a struggle when on the road I come across JC (my initials) + Ivan. That was obviously what was holding me back – the bold Ivan was sitting on my back.
I actually passed a cyclist deep in his own personal hell, toiling up the hill. Still in good spirits, he sported a Wallace and Gromit cycling jersey, with both of them on his back. At least I only had Ivan to carry. Turned out he was hoping to make Sa Calobra, as well.
Continuing on alone up the climb, the sun began to penetrate the valley floor, the mountain faces and the landscape turning a warm shade of golden, a sight I would never tire of. Near the crest of the climb, I looked down into another valley and saw an extensive vineyard and started thinking about how a nice slice of Wensleydale cheese would be nice with a glass of the wine produced from the valley below.
The fantasy treats were soon forgotten when the Serra De Tramuntana’s and Majorca’s, two highest mountains began dominating the skyline ahead; the tree-lined Puig De Massanella and the Puig Major, the highest at some 1,411 metres, easily identified by the oversize ‘golf ball’ of the radar station perched on top.
Beyond the junction with the road to Inca, and in spite of trees obscuring the view, it would have been impossible to miss the massive thirteenth century Lluc Monastery, snuggled on the valley floor awaiting my visit on the way back.
Through Escorca the trees melt away, opening up a sight I guarantee to stop you in your tracks; the road perched high on the hillside, surrounded by rugged and unusual mountain peaks growing out of a tree infested valley floor below. The cyclist who had been ahead of me, and who I had glimpsed a few times on the few straight sections, had also stopped. In awe of our surroundings, the vista a talking point (my Glaswegian accent and his Geordie accent clearly bewildering the number of Spanish onlookers who were also enjoying the view) among many we shared, before we both agreed we’d never get to Sa Calobra at this rate. He pushed on, but I had more bars than a lion tamers cage with me, so decided to eat one and enjoy the view just a while longer.
Under a viaduct and all of a sudden there it was – a sign to Sa Calobra. An ambition about to be filled. The goats had already made good use of the shade, lying under lovely wild olive trees dotted by the roadside, as I made my way to the top of the Coll Del Reis, a 2.5k long climb with an average gradient of 6%, easily vanquished such was my haste to begin.
Breathtaking views lay out before me, in the distance, far below, the shimmering waters of the Mediterranean; in the foreground seemingly thrown against the mountainside and left where it fell, the road of Sa Calobra – the Cobra, so named for the way the road’s mesmerising hairpins resemble a snake.
The quirk of Sa Calobra is that to climb it, you first get the pleasure of descending it, the road plummets down the hillside to the tiny Port De Sa Colobra village where the road ends, the only way back (unless you take the boat) is to turn round and come back up.
I rolled off, picking up speed rapidly, almost immediately coming to the incredible Nus De Sa Calobra, or the knotted tie, a section of road that sweeps down and under itself through 270 degrees. Exquisite. Grinning from ear to ear I swept round it and soon started negotiating a series of fifteen hairpins, the brakes showing their true worth, my adrenalin on full throttle – this is cycling at its finest, magical stuff.
Gradually the road settled into more conventional straight sections, but still managed to squeeze in another 11 hairpins or so, by the time I’d dropped 10km from 686m above sea level to the road end. The sobering statistics; Antonio Parietti, the genius Spanish Civil Engineer, who had built the road in 1932, had excavated 31,000 cubic metres of rock material to make the road!
On the descent I had passed, and been passed, by a number of other cyclists and at the road end we were now all congregated, the camaraderie and apprehension shared in equal measures. There were many whose first language wasn’t English, a real international group. It was great to hear so many accents, share stories and enthuse over the descent.
Before the inevitable do yourself a favour and take five minutes out to go along the path to the signposted Torrent De Pareis, a natural gorge gouged out of the mountainside. Having walked through a narrow tunnel to reach there it feels like another world – only thing missing is a dinosaur, or two. It’s quite something.
I really didn’t need the sign telling me the average gradient was 7.7% for the next 10km, but it did anyway. The ascent starts fairly gently, so I manage to get myself into a reasonable pedalling rhythm, acutely aware of what lay ahead.
However, by the time I passed through the giant chasm of rock, which the Sa Calobra threads its way through, the gradient was up at 12%, which when combined with the heat and exertion began to cause some suffering..
Thankfully, soon after, something more gradual found its way under my wheels for a while (this being the conventional straight sections mentioned on the way down) allowing me to get my breath back and sit in the saddle again for an extended period and enjoy the beautiful scenery surrounding me.
'All’ that is left of the climb is the fifteen hairpins – looking skywards it’s impossible to see beyond a hairpin, or two; less to do with my sweat drenched face and more to do with the mountain being so sheer. The direction I am going next not always apparent.
Amongst the hairpins the apexes where tough, the straights were tough, the whole lot was tough, by now the gradient sustaining itself in double figures for a few kilometres, till I surprised myself by popping out of the last of the hairpins, cycling under the knotted tie bridge and up the final few hundred metres to return to the sign denoting the summit of the Coll Del Reis.
Suffering over. Sense of achievement overwhelming. Ambition fulfilled.
The finale to my cycling in Majorca came, some miles down the road, in the shape of a visit around the impressive Lluc monastery before enjoying the remaining twenty miles, or so, to Puerto Pollensa.
www.pollensacycling.com at Carrer De Vicenc Buades No.6, Puerto Pollensa
There are a number of other bike hire shops in Puerto Pollensa. In addition, cycling kit is widely available, my particular favourite being Routiers at Carrer De Vicenc Buades No.18, Puerto Pollensa where I bought myself a number of treats.
In the supermarkets is a good waterproof cycling map of Majorca simply titled Bike Mallorca. The 1:100,000 scale does not allow much detail, but it has gradients marked on the roads and includes some suggested routes along with their profiles. A steal at only 6.50 Euro (you can buy the map on-line here in the U.K. as well).
Roads and terrain
With the exception of Monday’s M2201 and a very small section into Pollensa the road surfaces are terrific – no public utility tracks blighting the surface, a big plus.
Terrain-wise you will have gathered from my writing it’s a little lumpy and Sa Calobra is a big undertaking but categorically worth it. If hills are not your thing you can spend all your time on the flat plain with the added bonus of the fantastic network of dedicated cycle lanes keeping you separated from the traffic.
Food and drink
If you are an advocate of the energy bar save some money and baggage weight by buying them once you get there. The big supermarkets offer fantastic deals. I used, for the first time, Isostar bars. Nice tasting and by buying them in three packs worked out to be very good value.
My three morning cycles were cycled in temps between 26 and 35 degrees – brilliant for me but might not suit everyone. I carried two water bottles and refilled them often.
Shops are plentiful in Puerto Pollensa, Pollensa and Sant Vicenc.
On the Cap Fermentor there is a restaurant at Fermentor Beach and a cafe at the lighthouse – but be aware both were still closed when I past.
On the road to Sa Calobra you are entering a seriously remote area but opportunities still exist for refuelling with a small shop at Escora, roadside cafes at the viaduct at the Sa Calobra junction and directly beside the neck-tie on the Sa Calobra (They sell rather nice Sa Calobra t-shirts for a mere 15 Euro and the owner is rather proud of his photograph with Lewis Hamilton on the day he visited Sa Calobra).
PUBLISHED DECEMBER 26th 2015