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The Ultimate Guide To Road Cycling Around Puerto Pollensa (That’s In Mallorca…)

The eagle-eyed amongst you might have noticed mention on this ‘ere blog of an upcoming family holiday (training camp) in Mallorca. That holiday has come and gone. Thankfully I am pleased to report that quite a bit of road cycling took place.

Since I’ve road bike holidayed in Mallorca twice now, I feel (semi-)qualified to present my “ultimate” guide on the subject. My aim is help you get the most road cycling goodness out of your holiday to the island, particularly if you have to work around other non-cycling family members who apparently just went there for a bit of sun…

My report will be structured largely as a report on my own holiday because i) it worked quite well; and ii) I haven’t done an exhaustive study of all the road cycling opportunities on the island. So put that in your inner tube and pump it.

What You Will Learn

  • Which mod-cyclist is a huge fan of Puerto Pollensa (by all accounts…)
  • The best road bike routes around Puerto Pollensa (including how to get to Sa Calobra)
  • Where to hire your bike (and why you shouldn’t bring your own bike)
  • Notable cycling pit stops (including a petrol station with a rack of shelves dedicated to energy gels)
  • Where to stay (well, some general thoughts anyway)
  • Suggested week’s itinerary

Why Mallorca and Why Puerto Pollensa For Road Cycling?

Well, surely a certain hyper-successful British professional cycling team (and the associated national cycling federation) can’t be wrong, can they? Of course not.

So what’s the attraction?

2016-08-25-07-59-55For me (and most) it’s the combination of nice weather, smooth tarmacked roads, little traffic (if you can avoid the coaches), beautiful scenery, long climbs with muchos hairpins, all backed up by a cycling infrastructure that makes it easy to hire a good quality bike.

(Oh yes, and all this whilst masquerading as a family-friendly summer holiday destination.)

As far back as 2009, the Telegraph has (the pre-enoblement) Bradley Wiggins talking about coming to Puerto Pollensa twice a year, once for a pre-season training camp and, later in the year, for a family holiday (where presumably he, like me, found himself under pressure to perform family duties whilst maintaining his Olympic-standard conditioning….).

It’s worth noting that cycling in Mallorca in late July/August (for those of us restricted to the school holidays) is not ideal due to the heat. Temperatures in the 30s are pretty common. That said, there are still plenty of cyclists around. It just means getting up and out early doors (which you may want to do anyway if you’re on beach/pool/kids/partner duty for the rest of the day).

Where To Hire A Road Bike In Mallorca?

Given we were staying in Puerto Pollensa and didn’t have ready access to a car, it made sense to hire a bike from a local shop. Luckily (and not coincidentally, since I organised the holiday), Puerto Pollensa has a few bike hire options.

Of course I can only talk knowledgably about one of them.

We hired bikes from Pro Cycle Hire back in 2013 when they operated from a small shop on a road set back from the sea front.

Business has clearly been strong in the intervening period. Pro Cycle Hire now operate from a large shop and workshop on another road set back from the sea front. There is an on-site cafe (more on that later).2016-08-24-12-20-03

Organising the bike hire was simplicity itself, all done on Pro Cycle Hire’s website. Putting in the dates revealed the bikes that were available for my week (there was plenty of choice) and the prices for each option. I selected a frame size based on the guidance notes provided and opted to bring my own pedals (whilst they do supply some pedal types, Speedplay is not one of them). Credit card number. Bosh.

Once you’ve made the booking, you can submit three measurements that you take from your own bike set up (you have had a professional bike fit haven’t you…?), which enables them to set up the bike for you to be ridden away immediately (well, once the pedals have been fitted).

As an aside, the last time I booked with Pro Cycle Hire in 2013, on receipt of my measurements, owner Bruce emailed back to say that the frame I’d selected wasn’t the correct size. So he just booked me in for the correct size frame and we all moved on with our lives. Which is helpful to know if you’re nervous about selecting the wrong-sized frame (and an incentive to get your measurements in early in order so that other frames are still available should you need to change).

Our bike pick up took up all of five minutes. Which was good, as my brother-in-law and I had let time slip away from us, such that a 35 minute Cockney speed walk was required to get us across town before the shop closed at 7pm. The (English) lady there certainly didn’t seem phased by our Spanish-style arrival time, and we had our steeds ready for the next morning.

In case you’re interested (and I accept you may not be), my brother-in-law went for the more expensive titanium-framed Van Nicholas bike, by way of an attempt to determine whether Ti could be the material for his one bike to rule them all (answer: inconclusive).

Why You Shouldn’t Bring Your Own Bike To Mallorca

Alright, well you can. Though first have some maths inserted into your piehole.

It currently costs €60 each way to transport a bike on a Ryanair flight (who we flew with). Jet2 charges €43.

So that’s a starting cost of €86-120 for taking your bike, even before you factor in the need for a bike travel case (surely you weren’t thinking of just wrapping it in cardboard?), plus all the attendant stress that comes from carting *another* large case around two busy airports, plus across Mallorca itself.

Compare that with the cost of a week’s road bike hire at Pro Cycle Hire, which varies between €140 and €182. For the lower cost you get a Massi carbon bike with 11-speed Ultegra; at the upper end of the scale you’re either looking at the same Massi carbon frame with Dura-ace gears, or a Van Nicholas titanium-framed bike (or a Colnago carbon frame) with Ultegra.

Yes, I accept that I have committed the heinous cyclo-foto crime of taking the picture with the bike facing the wrong way around...

Yes, I accept that I have committed the heinous cyclo-foto crime of taking the picture with the bike facing the wrong way around…

I’m sure the prices at alternative bike hire places are broadly equivalent.

So, for me, given I went for the cheaper Massi frame (Yorkshireman; deep pockets; short arms), the net cost for hiring a bike for the week was €20 (we Ryanaired). Even the Brexitendum wasn’t able to turn that into a bad deal.

But surely, you say, I’ve missed a golden (tarmac) opportunity to ride my own finely-tuned velo on Mallorca’s magic carpet roads, and instead have had to make do with a sub-par steed?

Well, whilst the Massi frame may not have been objectively as good as my own Trek Domane (a guess – I’m no bike reviewer), I’m not sure it needed to be. It didn’t have to contend with the same crap UK road surfaces. So I was quite happy with it.

On the other pedal, the Ultegra compact chainset was an upgrade from the Shimano 105 that I have on the Trek and therefore presented an opportunity to indulge in a better (or at least lighter) set of gears, and compare them with my existing set up (I compared Ultegra and 105 in this previous post, in case you’re interested).

I *think* I took this photo in order to show the Ultegra gears. Otherwise it's just a poor photo...

I *think* I took this photo in order to show the Ultegra gears. Otherwise it’s just a poor photo…

So, for €20 I got the use of a perfectly functional carbon-framed bike, the chance to try a better groupset and the opportunity (but not the certainty) of retaining my sanity whilst transporting a family of five and their luggage from the wilds of Derbyshire to the middle of the Mediterranean (the Medi-Mediterranean?).

The Best Road Bike Routes Around Puerto Pollensa

Okay, who knows if they’re the best. How about *some* road bike routes around Puerto Pollensa.

Actually, in defence of my ‘best’ claim, two of my routes were featured in a recent issue of Cyclist magazine (in their case they did them together as a single one-day ride, which is certainly feasible for the fenominally fit).

Further, there are only so many roads in that part of the island once you discount the main road back to Palma (some of which is perfectly rideable). So you’re essentially stuck with these routes. Luckily they are estupicifent (Mallorquin for, er, great).

Here goes.

Day 1: Puerto Pollensa to Cap de Formentor (and back)

Pan O RAMA!

Pan O RAMA!

Distance: 36.6km

Ascent: 967m (according to the route I plotted on RideWithGPS.com)

My first ride of the holiday and I was quite impressed that I was motivated to get up and out of the apartment before 7.30am.

So early that I'm still in shade...

So early that I’m still in shade…

Here’s the elevation profile of the route (ignore the four spikes – they’re glitches on the map’s height data):

puerto-pollensa-formentor-lighthouse-elevation

And the map (not that you need one – “go to the end; turn around; ride back”):

puerto-pollensa-formentor-lighthouse-map(And here’s my ride on Strava)

The first section of this route, up to the viewpoint just above Puerto Pollensa (“PP”) and down the other side to Formentor beach, was a mainstay of my previous holiday in Majorca, done a few times in the early evening to build fitness (to be clear though, once and back each night – I’m not a masochist).

From PP up to the first viewpoint there are a few switchbacks, but it is essentially a steady effort at a steady gradient. Maybe a 3.6km climb at 5.4% (he says, after working it out). Pace yourself (if you’ll accept advice from an idiot).

The other side has a few more hairpin sections which are fun to practice cycling down, and allow you to pretend you’re a (sort of) continental pro cyclist coming back up. There are some flatter sections that allow you to catch your breath (which is nice).

Hairpin bend on the way down to Formentor beach.

Hairpin bend on the way down to Formentor beach.

The key development since my 2013 visit is that the road from the Formentor beach car park to the lighthouse at the very tip of the island has been resurfaced with smooth Mallorquin black top (which is the name of my new cigar brand).

*Cliche klaxon*

This. Is. A. Game. Changer.

Smooooooth ridin' (my porn name).

Smooooooth ridin’ (my porn name).

Whilst before the road was rough and potholed, now it is as smooth as my milky white but-tocks. And this carreens the route right to the very top of those on offer in Mallorca (certainly of the ones I’ve ridden).

So, from Formentor beach, towards the lighthouse there’s 4km of very slight uphill as you ride up the valley. Where, 3 years ago, this might have been a somewhat tedious bumpy rumble, nowadays (particularly on a quiet Sunday morning) it allows for a meditation on the quality of Mallorquin roadbuilding (and why anyone would want to invest the money on what must be a relatively infrequently used road).

You can also meditate on which ‘big game’ might be lurking just off the road. Suggest you keep those pedals turning…

I don't know. Maybe tigers?

I don’t know. Maybe tigers?

Then you’re back into the climbing. Though it’s so up and downy (and the surface is so smooth), you could hardly call it a heavy road. In fact, the only challenging aspect of the road is the 300m tunnel plonked some 6km from the cap.

Be at one with the mountain. By going inside it. Without light.

Be at one with the mountain. By going inside it. Without light.

Which is unlit (and there lies the problem).

Despite being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel (no cliches were harmed in the writing of this post) as you ride in, once you’re in the middle it’s pitch fugging black! You literally cannot see your hands, the bike, the road surface, the walls of the tunnel.

Which is somewhat discombobulating.

If you’re riding towards the lighthouse then you’re going uphill. The main issue here is whether there is a car coming, either towards you or from behind (which admittedly has not happened to me in the handful of times I’ve been there). You’d like to hope that with headlights on, a vehicle driver would spot you.

The problems start when you’re coming back. Downhill. At speed.

You’d think that all you have to do is keep the handlebars facing forward. This is true. But when you get to the ‘pitch fugging black’ bit, this is easier said than done. Devoid of all the little signals (like sight) which allow you to helm the bike, you (or maybe just I) get this disconcerting sense that you’re going to crash. Which thankfully I did not.

Next time I might take a bike light (or even turn on the torch on my iPhone).

I don’t think I need to describe the rest of the route. The glorious rolling tarmac extends all the way to heaven the lighthouse. Maybe sir and or madam would enjoy a selection of photos to get their juices going?

Mmm, smooth...

Mmm, smooth…

2016-08-21-08-59-07

The approach to the lighthouse at Formentor

So green. So verdant...

So green. So verdant…

What's that coming over the hill, is it a lighthouse? Is it a lighthouse?

What’s that coming over the hill, is it a lighthouse? Is it a lighthouse?

Oh, I should say, according to reader (and Strava-friend-of-the-blog) Ian, the lighthouse at Cap Formentor has a cafe that serves some of the best carrot cake he has ever tasted. Which doesn’t strike me as a particularly Mallorquin delicacy (or vegetable).

I never went to the cafe (it was early; I needed to get back; I didn’t see it) but it might be worth you knowing that it’s there.

Day 2: Coastal bike path to Alcudia then quick explore of the ‘hinterland’

I wouldn’t have said this is the most coherent of my bike routes.

Instead my main objective was to have an easy day, not spend too long out of the apartment, and to meet my brother-in-law for a post-ride coffee in ‘Wiggo’s favourite restaurant’ (TM).

It was another early start, albeit closer to 8am than 7am once I was out and rolling.

I managed, with a few wrong turns and illegal rides down (deserted) one way streets, to navigate through the centre of PP and onto the coastal road around the bay. There is bike lane here, of varying widths, road surface qualities and road surface colours (bits of it are ‘Cycle Superhighway Blue’).

Yeah, so that's the bike path. Just not the blue bit...

Yeah, so that’s the bike path. Just not the blue bit…

The cycle lane runs all the way around the bay down to Alcudia (it’s somewhere in Alcudia that Team Sky rent out a hotel each year for pre-season training and media stuff). I turned around when I got to the outskirts of Alcudia, backtracking to a turn off away from the coast (into the ‘hinterland’) where I had spotted a distinctive wooden sign.

The bay at Puerto Pollensa

The bay at Puerto Pollensa

It’s worth recognising these wooden signs (which, unhelpfully, I failed to take a photo of) because they perform a key directional role (they are signs after all) on tomorrow’s ride.

I think the sign in question pointed to ‘Pollensa’ (distinct from Puerto Pollensa, the town of Pollensa is 5km back inland from its boaty beachy namesake).

I followed those signs for a bit around the quiet country lanes on the flat area of land inland from the coast but before you get to the hills (and the main road). I could try to describe where it is, but here’s a map:

Pootle. Poot poot!

Pootle. Poot poot!

And this is what a Majorcan country lane looks like:

"Hinterland"

“Hinterland”

After the optimal amount of pootling, I backtracked and took the turning back to Puerto Pollensa (again denoted by a magic wooden sign).

And had that coffee at Wiggo’s favourite restaurant.

"Arty" shot whilst I waited for bro-in-law to join me fu coffee

“Arty” shot whilst I waited for bro-in-law to join me fu coffee

Day 3: Col de Sa Batalla loop

Distance: 67.1km (route plotted on RideWithGPS.com)

Ascent: 922m

Now this is a great ride.

I mentioned that a recent issue of Cyclist magazine had an account of a Mallorcan ride. This Sa Batalla route formed one half the ride (the first part I think). The out-and-back to Cap de Formentor made up the other half.

The ride starts from Puerto Pollensa, with the key being to find the turning off the (half) ring road that takes you onto those backlanes that we (I) encountered yesterday.

col-de-sa-batalla-puerto-pollensa-cycle-loop

Then it’s a case of following the signs to Castanet Campanet. The roads become progressively more rolling as you go further inland (and, shock horror, some of road surfaces aren’t quite the gleaming blacktop that we’ve come to expect).

There is a short section on the main road towards Sa Pobla (keep a look out for a right turning with, yes, a wooden sign) but otherwise it’s largely car free jaunt (particularly for us, given our 7.30am start time).

Having climbed up to Campanet (which is on a little hill) and then onto Selva (which is also positioned on a little hill), it’s a right turn north towards Caimari, where the Sa Batalla climb begins.

The view towards Caimari and the Sa Batalla climb beyond...

The view towards Caimari and the Sa Batalla climb beyond…

I won’t describe the climb in infintessimal detail (or indeed any detail). Just know that it’s a nice one. It’s a reasonably long climb with plenty of switchbacks (so you feel like a pro cyclist), lots of shade, mainly free from traffic despite, theoretically, being a main road. Gradients are generally kind throughout, and there are some flatter sections for you to catch your breath.

col-de-sa-batalla-puerto-pollensa-elevation

As the Strava file evidences, I took things very easy (I’d like to claim I was climbing well within myself…). It’s the sort of ride that doesn’t require uber-high levels of fitness just to keep moving forward. Take things at your own pace.

El top. Or at least El Sign.

El top. Or at least El Sign.

At the top of the climb sits a (semi) famous Repsol garage. Seemingly normal on the outside, it must be one of the few petrol stations in the world that has replaced shelves of chocolate and sweets with racks of energy gels and bars (though ne’er fear – they still sell Haribo).

Mmm, tasty...

Mmm, tasty…

There is a workbench outside with a range of cycle tools tied to it, as well as a track pump (I think). Next door is a cafe which, judging by the metres of bike racking outside, must count cyclists as their core clientele. The cafe toilets come with the SportiveCyclist.com seal of approval (which doesn’t really bear thinking about).

Monty's Massi looking rather forlorn in such illustrious company

Monty’s Massi looking rather forlorn in such illustrious company

The route back to Puerto Pollensa is via the Col de Femenia (thankfully in a downwards dog direction rather as an uphill goat). To get there it’s a right hand turn close to the Repsol garage, followed by 6km of fast rolling roads across a plateau of sorts.

If your legs are feeling strong, this section is quite fun. The roads are reasonably straight, so you can carry a lot of speed from the short downhill sections and then power on up the other sides.

If your legs are feeling weak, this section is a bit of a chore. You feel like you’ve done the main climbing of the ride and all you want is for the Femenia descent to start, yet here you are chugging through annoying little leg sappers.

It’s a similar story once you get to the bottom of the Femenia. It’s a long straight hack, first to Pollensa (again, 6km) and then on to Puerto Pollensa (an almost as bad 5km).

The Pollensa to Puerto Pollensa stretch is on the busy main road, albeit with a cycle path. Each time I’ve ridden this stretch, it has felt like it’s into a headwind. In this case I got to benefit from drafting behind my much fitter brother-in-law.

Day 4: Another Rest Day Ride Pootle…

… which is not very interesting to anyone. So instead, I’ll do a (mini) review of the Pro Cycle Cafe. Which is cunningly located next-door-but-actually-joined-up-with the Pro Cycle Hire shop.

The Pro Cycle Cafe at Pro Cycle Hire

The Pro Cycle Cafe at Pro Cycle Hire

So it’s a cafe. It serves coffee. And cakes.

I had a cafe cortado, which I recommend if only to send the message to the barista that you know a little more than the average bear when it comes to coffee serving methodologies. I also went for the brownie, which, unlike the coffee choice, sent no hidden messages to the girl behind the counter, allowing me to maintain my air of mystery.

What would have been useful is if I’d taken a photo of the coffee and cake. Not that this would have told you what either of them tasted like. Instead I took a photo of the table.

2016-08-24-11-56-58

Some not-so-interesting observations:

  1. That Garmin bike mount – Pro Cycle Hire will lend you one for free if you’ve hired a bike from them;
  2. The water bottle also came gratis with the bike hire;
  3. The cycling cap was not free. I bought it because my sister bought one the previous day for my 7-year-old son and I thought it looked cool. I have yet to wear it in anger.
  4. Those are my sunglasses, rather than belonging to my mother. They’re prescription ones that I got free with my normal glasses a few years ago. I can’t be bothered to put in contacts in order to wear funkier shades. Bite me.
  5. I took my Lezyne mini pump on holiday with me. First thing I put in the suitcase.

I should probably say, the coffee and cake were both excellent. Worth a visit (and, for me, PCC is a significantly better cafe than Wiggo’s favourite restaurant (TM).

Day 5: Col de Sa Calobra (And An Uber-bonk)

Distance: 100.5km (route plotted on RideWithGPS.com)

Ascent: 1,988m

Yeah, so this day didn’t go as well as I hoped.

I’ve ridden Sa Calobra before. I remember finding it quite hard. Somehow, this time, I contrived to make it even harder for myself.

Sa Calobra enjoys a getting-on-for-mythical status amongst British road cyclists. We seem to have adopted it as our own, despite the little slice of Britain it occupies being claimed first by the Spanish.

2016-08-25-12-27-22Each spring, British Cycling and Team Sky launch campaigns to reassert ownership and plant the Union Flag upon the Coll dels Reis (the actual name for the climb – Sa Calobra is the seaside village at the bottom).

Again I elected to make an early start, leaving the apartment at 7.30am. This was more than just a desire to avoid the August heat.

There is one road in and out of Sa Calobra. And coachloads of tourists want to visit. So they come in loads of coaches.

Start your ascent back out of Sa Calobra too late in the day (morning) and you’ll face all of these coaches as they swing across the width of the road on each and every hairpin bend. Which is nerve-wracking, even when your balance is not impeded by being on the verge of heat exhaustion.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Route: Puerto Pollensa – Sa Calobra

The route I chose was a straight out and back, following the same route I did with my sister and brother-in-law three years ago.

puerto-pollensa-sa-calobra-map

This is probably the shortest and quickest way to ride Sa Calobra from Puerto Pollensa. The first 15km follows the long straight (main) road out of Puerto Pollensa, past the port’s inland namesake, Pollensa. This is a flat ride and, at 7.30am on an August morning tends to be cool, traffic free and free of headwinds.

Then it’s up the Col de Femenia, the first climb of the day.

The bottom of Col(l) de Femenia

The bottom of Col(l) de Femenia

Femenia is a 7km climb, gaining around 400 metres in height. I find it hard to assign a difficulty rating to it. Personally I always seem to find the lower slopes, switchbacking amongst the pine trees, quite hard – it was the same back in 2013.

2016-08-25-08-42-33

I’m not sure whether this is because I’ve tended to go out too hard (Strava says not) or because I’m not yet fully warmed up (despite being 40 minutes in?), or because I’m still sweating out last night’s bottle of red wine.

As I write it down, option 3 feels like the main issue. Evidence:

2016-08-25-08-40-15

Thankfully the gradient eases off as you reach the middle and upper section of the climb. The climb took me 38 minutes (which Strava told me was my third best time… of three attempts.)

Then it’s the same rolling roads from day 3’s ride, ridden in reverse, before you reach the junction with the Ma-10 and the Repsol garage / cycling cafe.

Now it’s still some way to go before you even reach the Sa Calobra descent. There is a 10km section of the Ma-10 – theoretically the main road but, if it is, a very quiet one. And slightly downhill (if Strava is to be believed). And blessed with some stunning scenery:

2016-08-25-09-48-26

2016-08-25-09-48-12

This brings you to the turn off to Sa Calobra, easily identifiable by the viaduct spanning the road and the large roadside refreshments stand (which has toilets, albeit with something of an ‘agricultural’ flavour).

2016-08-25-10-07-20

Even then you’re not there.

From the turn off, there is a 2.5km climb to the pass that finally takes you down towards Sa Calobra, albeit at a reasonably steady gradient. This pass is the Coll dels Reis, the point that marks the top of the Sa Calobra climb, and a place that you’ll spend the next hour (or more) wishing you were back at the top of.

2016-08-25-10-22-28

Cycle through this pass. Spend the next 60-90 minutes wondering whether you made the right decision…

The Descent of Sa Calobra

Look, I am no pro at descending. I’m not even passable. I could blame the lack of long descents in the UK to practise upon, but that would be a smokescreen from the simple fact that I am weak and tentative.

(But not in the bedroom).

Which is a long way of saying that I have little of value to say about the ride down from the Coll to the sea.

That big V-shape in the middle is down and then the climb back up from Sa Calobra...

That big V-shape in the middle is down and then the climb back up from Sa Calobra…

If you’re like me, you’ll be expending quite a lot of brake block.

You might develop a strange sort of tunnel vision whereby switchback after switchback results in a sort of hypnotic state, broken only when you realise that you’re riding into a 180 degree bend at 60km/h and you can’t remember the last 5 minutes of riding.

2016-08-25-10-30-36

You’ll may find the words, “I have to ride back up this”, going round your head… and round… and round.

Strava tells me I took 21 minutes to descend Sa Calobra. That’s a lot of thinking time.

The Sa Calobra Climb

I don’t where the climb officially starts (there is some suggestion that it goes from the car park positioned at the entrance to the village).

Sea level. The bottom. Joy.

Sea level. The bottom. Joy.

If you wish to maximise the amount of climbing (in for a penny, in for a pound), you’ll want to ride right down to the sea. There’s no beach, so you can’t start with your back wheel in the sea. Instead a loop of road, with a few cafes and restaurants where you might want to take on some calories.

Like the descent, I won’t talk about the Sa Calobra climb in any sort of detail. This is partly because my memory remains somewhat hazy of both of my ascents. Maybe my psyche is protecting me from myself.

2016-08-25-10-52-59

The lower slopes are tree covered, which provides protection from the sun but (in the height of summer) reduces the opportunity for a cooling breeze. As you ascend, the number of trees reduce, but the steep slopes in places provide some shade*.

(* As you’ll read below, on this particular ascent I was quite focused on finding shade).

Then it’s switchback, climb. Switchback. Climb. Stop to allow the approaching coach make it round the next u-bend (if you’ve not made it out before the tourists start to arrive). Switchback. Sob.

You’ll know you’re near the top when you catch sight of the 270 degree turn, where the road turns under itself and cars stop willy nilly in order for occupants to take photos. There is a cafe here if you’re struggling (on this attempt I was); if not, push on. It’s 600m of riding, and 50m more of ascent before you are treated once more to the Coll dels Reis sign.

And you’ve conquered Sa Calobra. Or maybe it has conquered you.

The Route To Puerto Pollensa…

… Is exactly the same as the one that you got here by. Only more psychologically harming.

The 10km section of the Ma-10 that takes you to the Repsol junction, whilst only slightly downhill coming, seems more noticeably uphill going home.

I talked in the account of my day 3 ride how the section from the Repsol to the top of the Col de Femenia can be a long drag on tired legs. Finally you have the 15km headwind/main road combo from the foot of the Femenia back to Puerto Pollensa.

Before tackling any of this, I’d recommend stopping at the viaduct refreshment stall for a Calippo (the cyclist’s secret weapon). Everything seems better after a Calippo. Once back at your accommodation I’d recommend having a beer. Everything seems better after a beer.

Which Brings Me To My Ride To Sa Calobra…

So in trying to provide a useful description of the Sa Calobra ride, should you be attempting it in the near future, I’ve missed out some key details relating to this particular ride. Most notably being the fact that I didn’t actually finish it.

Ahem.

(Feel free to skip this section. I doubt it will add much to your cycling life. That said, it might serve as a salutary reminder not to take your nutrition and hydration for granted when undertaking a bigger cycling challenge than you’re used to).

Unlike in 2013, this was a solo ride. My brother-in-law was riding an even more challenging route, taking in the climb of Puig Mayor. My sister had decided to make this a bike-free holiday.

The day started well enough. The temperature at dawn’s crack was pleasant. The ride to the bottom of the Femenia was uneventful and I tried to take things easy (which can be difficult when ‘normal speed’ maps to slow, making for only a narrow difference between ‘taking things easy’ and ‘not moving’).

I’ve talked already about the Col de Femenia. The lower slopes felt a little rough as I ‘found my wind’ (which may not be an expression). Things soon calmed down. The traverse across the Lluc monastery plateau (which sounds suitably grand) felt fine. I arrived at the Repsol / cycling cafe hub in reasonably good spirits (for someone who had spent the last hour and a half alone with his thoughts).

2016-08-25-08-33-27

Which is perhaps where the wheels started to come off (figuratively).

My plan was to have a coffee (which I did), fill up my water bottle (which again I did) and stock up on energy product at the Repsol (which I didn’t).

The 24-hour garage turned out only to be open 24 hours if you’re buying fuel with a credit card at the pump. The door to the calorie-filled shop was firmly locked and, at a guess, was not going to open until mid-morning.

This is possibly where I made my first mistake (or second, perhaps, if we include starting the ride with post-wine dehydration). My energy levels were feeling a bit low. I should have returned to the cafe and taken the time to have something to eat. Instead I pressed on.

I *think* you can see the road winding down the mountain...

I *think* you can see the road winding down the mountain…

This felt like a reasonably rational decision (it might well have been). I knew that there was (and still is) a well-stocked refreshment stall at the Sa Calobra turn off. I was pretty sure they sold Haribo, as well as ice creams and other touristy treats (they do). It was only another 10km of riding (and Strava tells me it’s mainly downhill).

And I got there fine, although I was starting to feel a little ropey. I bought some sort of fig-based energy bar (which contained fewer calories than I expended in chewing through it), a bag of Haribos and a gallon of water (or some such). I pressed on.

I seemed to get a second wind riding up to the Coll dels Reis. The Fig-ibos seemed to be working. I stopped at the top of the pass to take a photo of the summit sign (I doubted that I’d feel like taking photos coming back the other way).

2016-08-25-10-22-03

I’d spent much of the last hour wondering whether to kaibosh this attempt on Sa Calobra. It was getting late – the coaches would soon start to arrive. Whilst I might well be fine (ish) getting back up the climb (which I knew would take close to an hour), I wasn’t sure I fancied the ride home.

All good arguments. And all arguments that I ignored. I’d come this far. I wanted to write about Sa Calobra for this blog. I would give it a go. Fortune favours the bold (but sometimes kills them). Mistake number 2.

The descent was okay (though took longer than I remembered). I don’t really remember much of it. Mistake number 3 came at the bottom.

Concerned as I was with trying to avoid coaches descending towards me, as well as getting back to Puerto Pollensa by lunch time in order to resume fatherly duties, I elected not to stop and eat at the base of the Sa Calobra (which we did before my altogether more successful attempt at this ride in 2013).

Strava doesn’t easily show the number of times that I stopped over the course of the climb. Some stops were caused by coaches (so much for the plan to avoid them); more by diminished energy levels and the need to cool down. Possibly a few in order to ‘have a word with myself’.

Having a word with myself in the shade...

Having a word with myself in the shade…

It was a long, hot and stressful climb. My balance in the face of oncoming vehicles became increasingly uncertain.

By hook and by crook I got the top. Well, the cafe at the section of road which bends under itself, just below the summit of the pass.

Another coke. Another couple of bottles of water. Another solo pep talk. (And, randomly, half an orange, which came free with the coke). And I finally dragged myself over the top of the pass (where, as expected, I felt no desire to stop and take a photo of the bloody sign).

2016-08-25-12-04-08

I rolled down to the refreshment stand at the viaduct. I stopped and bought some more water. Some more Haribos. I purchased a Calippo.

Things didn’t seem better after a Calippo.

I’ll save further tales of woe (and in particular, the details of the visit to the aforementioned ‘agricultural’ toilet facilities). My ride was over. I called in the support vehicle and, using my remaining mental and physical reserves, dragged myself the ten or so remaining (and definitely up hill) kilometres to the rendez-vous point at the Repsol garage.

An ignominious end to a much anticipated ride (hell, I’d organised the whole family holiday around it). C’est la velo.

A Quick Recap-alobra

Now I appreciate that my account became somewhat self-centred, with not-a-little doom, so let’s have a quick recap of the positives and some useful info for Sa Calobra tacklers:

  • Mallorca has beautifully smooth, quiet roads;
  • The scenery is glorious;
  • Get up early to avoid the heat and (hopefully) hit Sa Calobra before the coaches do;
  • Don’t go too deep on the ride to and up the first climb of the day (Col de Femenia);
  • The Repsol garage shop doesn’t seem to open before mid-morning – carry more food for the early part of your ride;
  • It takes quite a long time to ride from Puerto Pollensa to Sa Calobra – particularly if you’re trying to ‘ride within yourself’ and ‘yourself’ is a less-than-moderately fit cyclist. Take this into account when planning your day.

Where To Stay When Cycling in Mallorca

To be honest, staying anywhere in Puerto Pollensa (or the surrounding area) is good for road cycling in this part of the island. The particular attraction of the town is that you can (almost) legitimately state to your better half (your kids, your grandkids) that you’ve come on a family holiday and that the presence of world-class cycling opportunities is incidental. Puerto Pollensa is very pleasant, particularly along the seafront, with bars, restaurants and shops to suit most tastes.

British Cycling keep an apartment right in the centre of Puerto Pollensa (apparently); Team Sky stay in the Vanity Golf Hotel in Alcudia (the next bay to the south of Pollensa).

It is only by chance that I have anything additionally useful to say here.

Both of our recent holidays in Puerto Pollensa have featured a week spent staying in an apartment in the Pinewalk area of the town. Which is fine, but not particularly cycling-relevant (other than being well-located for the ride out towards the Formentor lighthouse i.e. day 1’s ride).

But for reasons that I don’t recall, each time we’ve actually gone for 10 days. Which has meant finding alternative accommodation for 3 of those nights (our preferred apartment is only available in week-long chunks). And in this case, quite by random (or rather, by booking.com) we reserved three nights at an apartment in the Duvabitat complex.

I don't have a photo of Duva. So have one of Sa Calobra. You're welcome.

I don’t have a photo of Duva. So have one of Sa Calobra. You’re welcome.

It turns out that ‘Duva’ is very well set up for cyclists. There is a branch of Pro Cycle Hire (i.e. where I hired my bike from) on site. There is a gym that offers sports massage. If you’ve paid to go all inclusive (we hadn’t), there is an all-you-can-eat-buffet to replace all the calories you’ve expended (and some you probably haven’t).

Also, given that it’s located half a mile out of town, on the main road to Pollensa, it knocks off a few minutes of riding time, if you’re heading towards Sa Calobra. And every little helps.

Now I wouldn’t necessarily recommend staying there for two weeks in the height of summer. The pools were very busy. With other people’s children. And if, like me, you are wary of ‘other people’s children’, you may wish to steer clear.

But our apartment was very clean and spacious. In fact we were upgraded to a three bed apartment from the twoser we had booked, but I’m 99% certain that a standard two bed would have been more than enough for our two adult, three children party.

So, and I appreciate I’ve taken a bit of time getting here, I would certainly recommend you consider booking either a room or an apartment at Duva if you were coming to Puerto Pollensa out of season (or ‘in season’ from a cycling perspective). Given that they seem to be promoting quite heavily to the cycling (or otherwise sporty) crowd during non-holiday periods, it’s likely you will be surrounded by your bike-riding brethren.

Finally, A Conclusion (Of Sorts)

Wowzer. This post has turned into quite the behemoth. A beast-moth. Which they may or may not have in Mallorca (I’m guessing not).

You should go to Mallorca. Hire a bike. Take your own bike. Take your family. Hire a family.

Just go. You’ll thank me.

Any questions, feel free to put them in the comments section and I’ll try to answer.

Equally, if you’ve been to Mallorca, feel free to share your experiences.

Safe cycling,

Monty

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Paul O' Brien says:

    Hi Monty,

    Cheers for posting this guide. I have only had the chance to read about 25% of it so far but it already an important weapon in my mission to get a few of my mates to go over in May next year. It’s already posted to our FB group. I look forward to reading the rest this evening. Smashing photos by the way.

    Cheers,
    Paul

  • Going to Camp de Mar in March with the first week free to cycle. Thanks for the excellent guide.

  • Mike says:

    I’m sure I’ll never make the trip, but sure enjoyed your narrative. Now about that tunnel you said “as you ride in, once you’re in the middle it’s pitch fugging black! You literally cannot see your hands, the bike, the road surface, the walls of the tunnel.” I laughed so hard, my ribs hurt. 😂

  • Gordon says:

    Just a note on Bike Hire. No experience of Pro Bike but a lot of shops in P. Pollensa, Alcuduia etc
    are German run and they have a different insurance setup. In Germany apparently they have ‘Personal’ insurance- insurance of anything up to a level of x thousand Euros. Uk users do not have this. If you damage a bike or its stolen or you hit a car you may be liable for full compensation.
    Best to check first. Also remember hiring pedals, helmets, padlocks can cost extra.
    When it rains in Mallorca its often monsoon level. Easyjet, September 2016, charge £70
    return for a bike in a bike box, plus 14Euros each way to P.Pollensa in a transfer bus additional charge
    for the bike.
    Nice blog,ta

  • Gray says:

    Enjoyed reading the blog however having done virtually the same thing as you two years on the trot I would add / amend some points from our experiences. If you take the ‘ladies’ then the Campanet ride is a must and very pleasant and easy to do. Likewise go down the coast and then inland to ‘Petra’ again another easy ish, if not a tad long for the ladies ( 63 miles) ride but worth it.

    We now always take our bikes as we go for 10 days. Jet2 only charge you £60 for both ways and we were lucky enough to get the loan of ;bike boxes’ although Pedal power in Loughborough do hire for about £48. The ladies did hire from ‘Pro Cycling’ but not cheap !! as a basic Massi carbon was 53 euro for just 2 days and you have to book on line you can’t just walk in when it looks like a nice day for a ride. So you have to book in advance and they do sell out often, and you run the risk of it not being nice weather when you come to collect your bike !!! Also don’t be fooled by the ‘fancy name’ on the frame as the wheels will certainly be …….. shall we say more ‘economical for hire purposes’

    We stay at the Duva spa and cant fault the place. A nice walk into town yet off the beaten track so nice and quiet etc. Food, pools etc all excellent and friendly staff. They even have an indoor pool and gym if you need it (includes an exercise bike which made me smile).

    We go early September and as soon as the kids go back to school so its nice and quiet, still warm circa 28-30 degs and sea temp is high, you can swim all day in it, Its also a bit cheaper once all the kids go back to school. Tolos ( wiggos bar) food is not great but worth a visit to see his bikes and Yellow Jersey etc.

    We did have rain showers for 3 days or so but then also had hot sunshine for 3 days, so weather can be up and down but always warm and great for cycling in. Something for everyone regardless of age or ability. Pro Cycling and Tolos both do ‘free’ ride outs which are well worth it. The pro cycling one went to Sineu and we did some 53 miles at an average of 19mph so made me ‘blow a bit’ ( i’m normally around 16 mph at home) and be warned ‘top gear’ rules apply and if you get dropped you make your own way home……

    Enjoy !

  • Paul O' Brien October 5, 2016, 1:16 pm

    Hi Monty,

    Cheers for posting this guide. I have only had the chance to read about 25% of it so far but it already an important weapon in my mission to get a few of my mates to go over in May next year. It’s already posted to our FB group. I look forward to reading the rest this evening. Smashing photos by the way.

    Cheers,
    Paul

  • Michael Crowther October 6, 2016, 8:56 am

    Going to Camp de Mar in March with the first week free to cycle. Thanks for the excellent guide.

  • Mike October 8, 2016, 1:25 am

    I’m sure I’ll never make the trip, but sure enjoyed your narrative. Now about that tunnel you said “as you ride in, once you’re in the middle it’s pitch fugging black! You literally cannot see your hands, the bike, the road surface, the walls of the tunnel.” I laughed so hard, my ribs hurt. 😂

  • Gordon October 9, 2016, 6:09 pm

    Just a note on Bike Hire. No experience of Pro Bike but a lot of shops in P. Pollensa, Alcuduia etc
    are German run and they have a different insurance setup. In Germany apparently they have ‘Personal’ insurance- insurance of anything up to a level of x thousand Euros. Uk users do not have this. If you damage a bike or its stolen or you hit a car you may be liable for full compensation.
    Best to check first. Also remember hiring pedals, helmets, padlocks can cost extra.
    When it rains in Mallorca its often monsoon level. Easyjet, September 2016, charge £70
    return for a bike in a bike box, plus 14Euros each way to P.Pollensa in a transfer bus additional charge
    for the bike.
    Nice blog,ta

  • Gray October 10, 2016, 12:37 pm

    Enjoyed reading the blog however having done virtually the same thing as you two years on the trot I would add / amend some points from our experiences. If you take the ‘ladies’ then the Campanet ride is a must and very pleasant and easy to do. Likewise go down the coast and then inland to ‘Petra’ again another easy ish, if not a tad long for the ladies ( 63 miles) ride but worth it.

    We now always take our bikes as we go for 10 days. Jet2 only charge you £60 for both ways and we were lucky enough to get the loan of ;bike boxes’ although Pedal power in Loughborough do hire for about £48. The ladies did hire from ‘Pro Cycling’ but not cheap !! as a basic Massi carbon was 53 euro for just 2 days and you have to book on line you can’t just walk in when it looks like a nice day for a ride. So you have to book in advance and they do sell out often, and you run the risk of it not being nice weather when you come to collect your bike !!! Also don’t be fooled by the ‘fancy name’ on the frame as the wheels will certainly be …….. shall we say more ‘economical for hire purposes’

    We stay at the Duva spa and cant fault the place. A nice walk into town yet off the beaten track so nice and quiet etc. Food, pools etc all excellent and friendly staff. They even have an indoor pool and gym if you need it (includes an exercise bike which made me smile).

    We go early September and as soon as the kids go back to school so its nice and quiet, still warm circa 28-30 degs and sea temp is high, you can swim all day in it, Its also a bit cheaper once all the kids go back to school. Tolos ( wiggos bar) food is not great but worth a visit to see his bikes and Yellow Jersey etc.

    We did have rain showers for 3 days or so but then also had hot sunshine for 3 days, so weather can be up and down but always warm and great for cycling in. Something for everyone regardless of age or ability. Pro Cycling and Tolos both do ‘free’ ride outs which are well worth it. The pro cycling one went to Sineu and we did some 53 miles at an average of 19mph so made me ‘blow a bit’ ( i’m normally around 16 mph at home) and be warned ‘top gear’ rules apply and if you get dropped you make your own way home……

    Enjoy !

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