I was delighted to have been offered my first taste of Majorcan cycling, courtesy of the good people at Jet2 Cycling Holidays
. My only concern was that, in the two days of riding they had planned for me, would there be any mountains?
|Mixed group pre-mountain
I was to be riding in a mixed group, some in good shape, others less so, and would any share my daft keenness for riding uphill? Surely not. Pre-trip, I had decided that if neither day’s itinerary met my hopes then I would form a splinter group and head off solo in search of altitude.
We’d barely covered 10 kilometres from our base in Playa de Muro when the cyclists in less-good shape began to drop off the back. We stopped at the next junction to re-group and our guide for the day, Miquel, began to work on a plan B, something more serene to suit those already tired legs. I edged my way into to his personal space; muttered grumbles turned to pleading, from there to stubborn demands: I’ve not come all the way to Majorca to dodge the mountains. I want to ride a mountain!
“Which mountain?” Miquel asked.
“That big spike there,” I pointed to the large incisor on the shark-toothed profile of our plan A.
|Pick a mountain
I didn’t know its name, didn’t care that the slow bods might expire, failed to spot that there were two climbs before that big mountain I’d set my heart on.
Miquel relented. The mountain-mad idiot, Graham and James (a couple of the fitter guys in the group) would stick to plan A and head for the big mountain. The others would ‘only’ tackle the first mountain and then find a shady spot in which to sit and await their colleagues’ heroic return.
As we rode on I pulled up next to our guide and posed a few questions. I discerned that we had no ordinary guide for the day (more on Miquel
in a post to follow) and that we were headed toward no ordinary mountain.
“Sa Calobra?” I asked. “Isn’t that the
mountain on Majorca. The one I’d heard about, seen crazy photos of, had read somewhere was the island’s most feared climb
First we had to get over the Coll de Femenia. The climb that was already beginning to take its toll. I was breathing harder, talking less. Time to accept the fate I had forced upon myself. 431 metres of ascent later and we’d hit the top. I was hot, tired and as happy as a pig in shit.
As I quickly discovered, there’s only one way to climb the Calobra (also known as the Coll dels Reiss – the Strava segment is here
), and that’s up from the small seaport of the same name. That means you have to ascend a few kilometres from the foot of the Femenia and then hurl yourself down the mountain.
|pic courtesy cyclemallorca.co.uk
Those few kilometres left us in oxygen debt, dripping in sweat. The descent was steep, twisting, occasionally death-defying, with views that dangerously drew your eye from the road, like sirens calling sailors toward the rocks. Racing past a queue of cars and tourist coaches (a technique known as Cancellara-ing the descent) I should have been thinking, “maybe I’ll take a safer line round this next blind turn”. Instead I was thinking, “in a few minutes I’m going to have to turn around and ride back up all this insanity.”
The small seaside settlement at the base of the climb was maddening in its beauty. I briefly considered forgetting the climb back up and starting a new life at the foot of the mountain.
My fellow lunatic Graham intervened. “Right lads, this is it,” he stated matter of fact. “It’s every man for himself from here. Good luck and see you at the top.”
And with that he was off. I was quickly on his wheel. Quickly ahead of him. Out of the saddle. Pushing on.
“I can do this,” I thought. “It may have been a while since I last tackled a serious Euro mountain climb, but surely it’s like riding a bike, or falling off a log, or something. You never forget how, right?”
Within a couple of kilometres I was beginning to feel every inch the 40-year-old asthmatic that I am.
Another kilometre and I felt like a 40-year-old asthmatic roasting on a spit. The sun was baking hot, no shade in which to dally, no respite offered by any stretch of the road.
I gulped at the warm water in my bidon. I felt sick, like if I vomited then hot, dry sand would spew out of me.
I saw a couple of cyclists ahead, switched off the noise in my head, concentrated on their heat-hazed shapes. A few switchbacks and along straight and I’d caught them. They looked in worse shape than I felt. I rode by, just able to offer a grunt of greeting.
Another switchback and I looked back down. The companions I had departed by the seaside were twin white dots. I looked up ahead. The road was impossibly steeper, the top nowhere in sight, the scene seeming to drip and melt from my vision.
After while I spotted a small hole in the cliff face. It was shaded, filled with green vegetation. An idea fired through my smoking synapses: I would climb in there, siesta until the sun went down and then slowly make my way back to the hotel.
The doubting had started, sneaked up and over me like the patch of shade that was never going to come: I don’t know if this 40-year-old asthmatic can cope with this mountain lark any more.
I dropped into second gear, forced myself out of the saddle, fell straight back in.
“This is hot,” I thought, “but is it as hot as that awful day on the Peyresourde? Is this climb as hard? Am I going to be beaten?”
Another heated gulp and the sand in my gullet rose an inch higher. I began to drift, mentally, literally, across the road.
A blast from a tourist coach’s air horn snapped me back to the mountain. I veered back over toward the precipice as the bright orange behemoth squeezed past and lumbered on up the road, its passengers gawping from within their air-conditioned cocoon.
I spotted another cyclist ahead. That was my target.
Reeling, reeling, reeling I pulled the shape into focus, until eventually I was on her wheel. I pulled up alongside. She looked how I felt: sweltering, almost done. We chatted. Her name was Emma. She was from Plymouth (I think) had just come back from working in India. This Majorcan heat was nothing to her. She liked competing in triathlons, which made her madder than me.
Safety in numbers, we rounded another switchback and encountered a traffic jam: a queue of behemoths and cars going up as another tried to come down. There was nowhere to go that didn’t require wings or a parachute. We unclipped and waited. Stopping was bliss. Getting going again when the traffic began to edge its way forward was less enjoyable.
As the traffic pulled ahead, the summit of the climb came into view. My skin began to tingle icy cold, perhaps the early signs of heatstroke, perhaps the ecstatic relief at having made it to the top.