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What goes down must come up
The climb of Sa Calobra in Mallorca promised to be a day to remember. During my first taste of riding outside of the British Isles, the magnificent 10km climb was to prove the highlight of my short stay on the Balearic island. Having never ridden a major climb before, my legs and heart were tingling.
Sa Calobra, ‘the serpent’, takes its name from the winding snake-like turns and hairpins mapping out the descent right down to the cove. Italian engineer Antonio Paretti made his masterpiece on the island by observing the cliffs and mountain range and crafting a beautiful winding pass, enabling both a safe and spectacular journey along the steep features. The road winds its way down the hills just like its namesake, delivering a truly fabulous descent worthy of any grand tour. Yet, unlike many of the famous cols of Europe which you ride to the base of and then begin the ascent, Sa Calobra demands a breathtaking descent, before a leg-busting climb back up (it’s the only way back, unless you plan to take to the sea).
We arrived and passed under a set of arches, where Rapha’s Kieran Riley told me the climb, or rather the descent would begin. In a reverse fashion, the climb of Sa Calobra begins with the descent down to the cove, before a ceremonious 180° turn around to climb the animal.
I looked around at the truly stunning vista before beginning what can only be described as a colossal descent. Almost immediately I manoeuvred my bodyweight to lean the bike around an awe-inspiring 270° turn in the road, known as the ‘Knotted Tie’. The road bent around and drifted under itself as I held my line.
As the speed picked up, my hands tightened on the handlebars. Trying to keep my body loose as momentum rapidly picked up, I suddenly felt a worrying shake develop, my bike being pulled from side to side. “A puncture! you have to be kidding me….” I pulled over to the side and luckily Lars, my other ride partner, was close behind to assist with providing a tube and pump. With haste I replaced the inner tube, wanting to get back on the road ASAP and indulge the daredevil in me. Pulling over a mere 1km into the descent, it was time to get the train back on the road. I followed the line of Kieran into each corner, stealing glances away from the tarmac to indulge in the majestic setting of the mountains and rapidly approaching cove.
As we regrouped at the bottom, we stopped for a rapid refuel with water and a slab of the sickliest looking cake known to man. Remounting the bikes, the climbing began. Now it truly dawned on me what a task lay ahead. The road lifted skywards and onwards we pedalled.
Eschewing the heart rate monitor, I climbed purely on feel. The gradient was smooth and forgiving to start, allowing a conservative effort in the saddle. Tapping out the rhythm on this easy but long slope was unlike any climbs I had spent hours practising on in the UK, where it can be a sheer battle of mind over body to power up those evil anaerobic 20% brutes. The pain is intense but short, unlike the climbs of our European cousins.
The switchbacks which seemed to arrive with quick succession on the way down now became a long drawn out affair to reach and corner each one. As we reached the halfway point, we took a battering from a strong side wind, my legs ushering round the next pedal stroke as speedily as they could to reach the relative shelter of the switchbacks, before beginning another exposed stretch where the breeze would slow us.
On the ascent I was afforded plenty of time to soak in the breathtaking vista I had merely stolen a passive glance at on the way down. The incredible backdrop to this theatre of pain was enabling me to happily zone-out from the burning sensation rapidly engulfing my quads.
Before long we were making good headway when, for the last 2km or so, the road seemed to ramp cruelly up to 11.5% in some parts. This was just enough to pack a mighty punch into my virgin climbing legs. Kieran had advised me to save a little for just this moment, so rising out of the saddle and with the added impetus of having the crest in sight, I pushed onwards.
At last, we met the ‘Knotted Tie’ hugging the corner to the top, and I knew there was only a mere kilometre to go. Push Gem, push! Panting, yet not as uncontrollably as I had expected, we crested and I stood atop of Sa Calobra, taking pleasure in the moments that had passed, and the experience of acquiring my first major climbing stripes. Wind jackets donned, it was time to descend back over to Lluc and homeward bound from there. Such was the enormity of climbing my first major pass, I wore an inane grin for the rest of the roll back to the Cycle Club. My legs were heavy but my spirit was truly lifted.
- We've just added 13 new rides since the weekend to our Rapha #womens100 Find a Ride list. → http://t.co/ux8c1JCuQc
- The team also racing the Ras in Ireland this week. Currently Aaron Buggle is the team's top placed rider in 15th overall.
- Tour Series resumes tonight in Stoke on Trent. RCJ line up is House, Clancy, McCallum, English and Mellor.
- Arboretum → http://t.co/cJXOyDWnK0 #raphasurvey #sanfrancisco #sf #cycling
- There are still a few of these sweet Rapha + Raeburn jackets at the SF @raphacycleclub. http://t.co/C2d98yCRL0
- The hills above. #raphasurvey http://t.co/jlIkXowxyT
- U23 winner in 2012 what's in store for @RichHandley90 in the @anpostras http://t.co/xyZWX3NbtG
- Sunday morning race day, church car park scene. @anpostras #ras2013 http://t.co/2E1UlfAxhe
- Will all these numbers be able to wear the coveted t-shirt in one weeks time? #menoftheras #ras2013 http://t.co/ai1oqnDIyh
- Team about to start the @anpostras probably the Worlds friendliest race.