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Balearic Bicycling: Cycle Club Mallorca
WORDS & PHOTOS: Joe Hall
The Balearic islands, the Islas Baleares , are a desirable destination for many. Known as the “naked islands” (perhaps due to the agreeable climate), some travel to Ibiza for house music and hedonism, others to Minorca for steak and chips by the beach. Mallorca, the largest of the islands, seems almost purpose-built for the road cyclist, a theme park for road riders with its smooth tarmac, steady gradients, snaking climbs and countless switchbacks. And if you get the timing right, non-stop sunshine. In short, it’s the perfect place to prepare your legs for the summer season.
Ownership of the island has bounced between the Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Catalans and Berbers. Today it is technically a Spanish province but on the roads it is British, German and Scandinavian cyclists that seem to rule.
Driving from Palma towards the mountains, the rocky profiles are a welcome site in the evening sunshine. Alex Ceselli, Rapha’s Scandinavian agent and sometime poster boy is busy explaining the benefits of his collection of deep section wheelsets on the roads here. He also runs through a few of the rides that set off from Port de Pollença, where the Rapha Cycle Club Mallorca is based and which we are now hurtling towards.
As we arrive at their apartment, Kieran Riley, Rapha’s Europe Manager, is pulling into the driveway on his Cervelo. Kieran has been guiding Rapha chief Simon Mottram’s ‘Ride Easy’ group all day. Upstairs, we greet the other two Rapha Mallorca crew members: Jack Briggs, Cycle Club manager; and Ben Lieberson, a Rapha Continental rider stationed in Europe this summer. I put my bike together in anticipation of my first ride on the island, a Gentlemen’s Hill Climb, and which are run by the Club every Wednesday.
We arrive at the start, outside Hotel Sis Pins, at 9.30 the following morning. The sea is glinting and the Ride Easy chaps are sipping espressi and cappucini. Kieran explains proceedings and, after a touch of bike fettling, we head up the road a couple of kilometres to the start line. Teams of three set off at intervals (it’s a team time-trial of sorts) to tackle the Cycle Club’s local climb of Sa Talaia. About half way up the road surface deteriorates, up to the watchpoint once used as a lookout for marauding pirates. The climb is a nice, steady gradient and leads up to a magnificent vantage point which looks out to sea and down to Hotel Formentor, set into a secluded bay where you could imagine James Bond might pitch up. Winston Churchill has, so has the Dalai Lama. I’ll be climbing up here several times during my stay. The result of the Hill Climb is insignificant; as with all Rapha Gentlemen’s events it’s the camaraderie (and cheating) that matters.
The next day the weather is even more perfect for riding, with blue skies, a gentle breeze and the temperature in the low 20s. We set off with the Ride Easy boys led by Ross Muir from La Fuga (it seems everyone’s here on the island). A nice roll past orange trees, vineyards and small villages we don’t know the names of, to Sineu, where we stop for coffee (it is a Ride Easy route, after all). A quick discussion over a map leads myself, Jack, John and Ben to form a breakaway. We’re hungry for some climbing and so head west in the direction of Bunyola, up to the Sollér climb and then the biggest climb on the island, Puig Major. We time-trial along the main road to Inca, then once more meander through sleepy villages, past yet more orange trees and lush rolling landscape.
This side of the island doesn’t seem as densely populated with cyclists, although we do see plenty of other riders. Two large Dutchmen appear on the first couple of climbs, riding with us up switchbacks shaded by pine trees. We have a quick chat at the crest before making our descent to Bunyola.
The Sollér climb is a very steady affair thanks to all the switchbacks, and the view across the valley in the mid-afternoon is pleasing to the eye. The descent seems to have even more hairpins and we quickly lose count, mainly because it’s such an enjoyable flight down the other side.
Soon enough we are climbing the Puig Major, 14 kilometres up the highest peak on the island (the road doesn’t go all the way, of course). Again, the tarmac is smooth and the gradient pretty consistent. With well over 100 kilometres in the legs the climb begins to make us suffer. Still, there’s plenty to occupy the eyes and which eventually makes for a glorious rise. There’s the dappled sunlight through pine trees, newborn lambs sleeping among olive groves and tunnels blasted out of limestone. The view out to the ocean that reveals itself as we get closer to the top isn’t bad either.
Riding a bike in this Mallorcan range is undoubtedly the most rewarding way to see the island; the ride back towards Port de Pollença provides yet more rolling landscape, twisting roads and general good fun, even with heavy legs. At one point a car zooms up beside the four of us and a photographer leans out with a hefty lens to take a few shots. With our minds slightly frazzled by the sun and the distance we’ve clocked up, some of us are startled by the weapon being brandished, although others imagine themselves on a Rapha photo shoot. After nearly 180kms, we arrive back at the port feeling the sort of tired elation only cyclists can.
Friday is time for a short recovery climb back up the Talaia followed by a complimentary massage at the Cycle Club courtesy of Christina. She’s good, if the burning feeling in my legs is anything to go by. Port de Pollença harbour is an agreeable place to sit and sip a coffee or beer after a ride, and if you time it right, a free massage at the Club and a spot of racing on the TV helps to unwind even more. With the famous Tolo’s restaurant up the road (Tolo himself being the godfather of Mallorcan cycling), and a very laid back community of cyclist-friendly restaurants and hotels, the Cycle Club is in the perfect spot.
Saturday is a slow ride out to the Cap Formentor (I’m still recovering from Thursday’s big one), up the Talaia climb once again but this time down the other side. Our descent is followed by an absolutely stunning two-hour ride out to the lighthouse, taking in idyllic coves where shiny motorboats are moored on a twinkling Mediterranean, views suffused with the beautiful aroma of pine forests. It’s still a test for the legs as there ‘s plenty of climbing, the terrain constantly rolling up and down, but it is certainly one of the most picturesque routes on the island. It seems even better on the way back.
Sunday is an early start with Kieran, Ben, Jack and Alex. We take the back route over to the climb of Lluc, another twisting, steady ascent with smooth, black tarmac that affords more brilliant views of the island. It’s the Tour of Flanders today so Alex, Jack and Kieran head back to the Club to set up and fetch beer. Ben and I continue across to ride the infamous Sa Calobra. As it’s still early morning when we arrive, we have the entire road to ourselves.
Sa Calobra is a magnificent spectacle, a spiralling, ribbon-like road through dramatic rocks and down to the cove of Sa Calobra itself. The road looks like it has just been dropped into the valley, a work of art. The only trouble is you get to enjoy the descent before you toil back up. As the only way out of the valley from the sea, my best guess is that it started life as a track for was for smugglers. Anyway, if you visit the island you must ride here. It’s an icon of Mallorcan cycling.
On Monday I ride out to the lighthouse again, then back to the Hotel Sis Pins before heading to the airport; this time I trying to hammer it as fast as possible. It really is a brilliant route and as I come back over the last climb before descending into Port de Pollença, I feel privileged to have been out here riding in such great place so early in the season. Now I understand why so many of my cycling compatriots ritually flock here each spring.
Photo: Ben Lieberson
Visit the Rapha Cycle Club Mallorca page » www.rapha.cc/mallorca
Total kms: Err, 500ish
Climbing meters: Plenty
Pork consumption: A little too much
Sun burn: 60%
Riding satisfaction: 97% (you can always do more)