Contributed by Paul Smeulders of ErgVideo
It’s more famous for the pre-season Tour of Mallorca, which follows its own revised stage-race rules (“ride the stages you want”), reflecting perfectly the laid-back lifestyle on this welcoming island. The more-informed pro-cycling fan will know that Mallorca is a favorite pre-season training destination.
Mallorca is located due-south of Barcelona in the Mediterranean sea. From Barcelona, it’s about an hour by plane, or about 6 by ferry. It is the largest of the Balearic Islands, a four-island archipelago including Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera. The islands are well-known for their spectacular weather, unique scenery and beaches, beaches, beaches. It is a vacation destination for much of Western Europe, and its economy relies on summer tourism. It is also world-renowned for its sailing and yachting. Check-out the dйcor of local bars and cafйs, and you’ll notice photos and jerseys of local cycling legends and pros who frequent the areas.
Cycle-Tourism Encouraged By The Local Government! Imagine It!
The beach-lovers typically arrive after Easter, and the temperature is comfortable for riding long before that. The sun shines, the roads are smooth and traffic-free, and cyclists rule. Several commercial operations rent first-rate bikes at reasonable rates. Some offer complete packages of hotel, bike, airport pickup, and supported rides. In one day, a very experienced and fit cyclist can reach anywhere on the island, but the ride back home may be more than you can take. Many tour companies will bus you to a remote start location for long day trip making your way home.
The island has a vast network of restricted-access roads designated as bike routes. Don’t mistake these for the bike paths you may be imagining; they are full-fledged roadways, euro-narrow of course, with restricted access to cars and low speed limits. On Mallorca, you can ride among 1000m+ high mountains, and on empty arid plains near sea level, all in a single ride.
These riders were surprised to see me laying on the road with my camera. I let them think all Canadians are a little eccentric.
To the North American cyclist, it is an unusual experience to ride where you and your bike are welcome on the roads as part of the culture. Cycling spreads tourism wealth into the center of the island, instead of leaving it concentrated at the coastal resorts. I’m convinced that at some point, amid the familiar political struggles between road users, somebody here actually counted the beans. It appears the conclusion was that supporting and promoting cycle-tourism, rather than discouraging it, was more economically astute. The island as a whole benefits from a longer tourist season, a high density of tourists with low density of traffic, and cleaner, fresher air for sure.
How I Discovered Mallorca, And Why I Love It
I was introduced to Mallorca in 1998 by John Large and Peter Metuzals of CyclingAdventure.com. John and Peter have impressive racing resumes dating back to the early 80’s, including Canadian National Team projects and euro-racing experience. I call them cyclist’s cyclists: their faith in your potential generally exceeds your own. They are always in good humour. These guys realize long before you do, that an epic day, whether due to harsh conditions, massive mileage, or a streak of hard luck, will be remembered and cherished forever in your own “Tales from the Big Ring™”. They’ll take you looking for these, and the laughing begins before you roll into the pub for happy hour. You will be challenged, and unlike some touring companies, they won’t condescend to worry about you in ways only your mother should. In 30 years of riding, I’ve had some of most enjoyable and challenging experiences with these gentlemen, at home and in Mallorca.
Peter Metuzals and John Large sharing coffee and Pa amb Oli with Paul (back right) and Ken Clement.
“Experience” Means You Know Stuff Will Go Wrong
I arrived in Mallorca a week earlier than the CyclingAdventure group. I was hedging my bets against the weather and the filming gremlins. While weather is generally great on the island, when you consider how much can go wrong with lightweight portable camera equipment (batteries failing, cameras failing, incorrect aiming, a lens collision with a bugs you don’t notice for hours) and you add the possibility of poor weather, then you know that spending only a week on location is gambling against long odds. I was also eager to gather some “solo riding” footage. Some ErgVideo customers have indicated they might like more of these rides. While I prefer to have riders in frame, the “solo ride” point of view showcases the landscape a little more. It’s interesting as long as the scenery is particularly beautiful, and certainly Mallorca qualifies.
Mallorca allows everyone to ride (and live) at their own pace. This scene is common.
I spent my first week just to the east of Palma, Mallorca’s largest city. This area has several seaside hotels and a beachside-strip where you can watch peloton after enthusiastic peloton leaving each morning. They arrive back each evening a little more splintered and sullen. Without exaggeration, you see several hundreds to thousands of cyclists here. Staying in this area was new to me, and I chose it to be within easy reach of several spectacular climbing rides among the Sierra Tramuntana. I would cover the solo-rides from here and likely meet up with many riders and new friends in the process.
A narrow road and a tour bus can help you catch your group.
In that first week, a weather system lingered over the island in a way that irritated the tourists and locals alike. A circulating system alternately brought rain and sun, but never really moved east and away from the island for 5 days. Clearly it was embarrassing to the hotel concierge, who actually apologized for it! That’s so…so Canadian, I think. Mallorca is typically dry, so much that when rain arrives, the fine-grained, smooth asphalt roads are especially slick as the oily detritus from cars is liberated. Riding in the mountains is discouraged in these conditions. Switchbacks are sharp, narrow, frequent and steepen severely in the apex. It’s tricky indeed, if you are caught unaware. Nevertheless, I managed some long satisfying rides under sunny skies that burst into warm showers, and once, a pelting, stinging downpour.
By day’s end it’s a treat to join into the accumulating pelotons, converging miles-out from the beach strip. You can hammer out in front with the smiling faces, or sit at the back among those looking a little torn-up and from the day’s efforts. They’re still in denial that they’ll look back fondly on this day. I picked the front, realizing my mental acclimatization was complete. Nothing but gits and shiggles from here on in!
Joining up with returning pelotons.
Transition Day: Mis Amigos From CyclingAdventure.com Arrive
Home base for the CyclingAdventure.com trip is on the southeast coast in Cala D’Or, literally next door to the resort frequented by the former T-Mobile, now Milram and other pro teams. For me, it meant a transfer from Palma with luggage. Peter Metuzals was meeting the guests at the airport, about 5 minutes from my hotel. He picked up my things so I could take a solo, unloaded ride across the island. A sunny, beautiful day greeted me, which meant only one thing: I had to take the harder, longer way! I followed an epic 160km route used as a final-day flourish on my first visit to the island, but starting from Palma meant a 30km discount. I glommed onto a group from Germany in the first 30 minutes north from the city. These folks picked-up the bike routes with aplomb, and I was quickly on familiar roads. I split off from them near the town of Bunyola, seeking to hit Orient, Alaro, Lloseta, Inca, and then a mad dash across the middle of the island in rolling terrain via Porreres, Felanitx, and home.
This ride is split into ErgVideos “Solo Climbing Adventure” and “Solo Island Crossing”. The two are distinct for their difficulty and training-zone focus. Climbing actually begins before Bunyola, but it really hits hard upon the turn away from town centre. The first switchbacks are densely populated, and little dogs watch you struggle past. They don’t bother to chase, first because they see hundreds like you every day, and second, because it would be just too easy catch you. It’s beneath their dignity to try.
You will be greeted warmly by ALL of the locals!
I love Bunyola for the memory of my first ride through, with John Large, a fellow named Marco and our perennial party-animal Rick. Tasked with getting the water after a cafй con-lechй break in town, I returned with two 2 litre bottles hurriedly purchased at the adjacent shop. I got only half credit for execution, but full marks for stupid, when we discovered one was solid brick of ice! “Carry it” said Large, “it’ll melt and we’ll drink it at the next stop”. With an extra 5 pounds in my jersey pocket, we continued on. I could have complained about the weight, but the extra cooling on my back was welcome on a sweltering day. Once melted, I schemed to make everyone thirsty by talking a lot about water, heat, thirst, and that hot sun above us. This ride today not only provided video-encoded memories, but mechanical surprises, too.
I’d had a mysterious flat the day before, and even a flat tube upon retrieving my bike from the garage that morning. Adding insult was a detached crank at the furthest, most remote point of my ride. It wasn’t the first time for this crank, and I later learned from Vince (owner of the Cyclery in Ottawa) that it was a known defect for this crank. Fixing it on the pass meant possibly snapping a pinch bolt, but I lacked the luxury of other options. Once reattached, I set off again only to find my tire flat. Again. Careful inspection of the rim strip revealed the problem. A completely un-needed snack on a powerbar provided suitable repair material. I set-off hoping to reach one of the excellent shops in Inca before afternoon siesta, and before this fix squirmed and wiggled itself out of place. When your luck is this bad, you need to dig in and hope it turns around in time.
Plenty of places to stop and re-caffeinate, once you are out of the hardest mountains.
Sure enough, after several miles of ups, downs, and a long, full-speed, “I-know-this-road-so-no-brakes-needed” descent, I found everything I needed in a well-stocked shop, serendipitously located beside a smart cafй with outdoor seating. You could sit inside and watch the dorky Canadian with the camera on his head. You could watch him replace all his batteries, clean and slather the junk-standard crank’s parts with loctite, replace his rim strip with Velox tape, and pump his tire with a curious mini-pump that folded out cleverly into a floor-pump.
All this was choreographed with a meal of pa amb oli, heaps of delicious olives, and a cafй con lechй. I resolved that the last olive of the day would be well saturated by a very cold, very dry martini or six. About 80km of crosswind-swept roads still lay ahead. I was far behind schedule, much could still go wrong, but no way will I be calling Peter for help. Some of my favorite roads in the whole world lay ahead; it’s too perfect a day to miss them. Refreshed and invigorated, but not at all feeling lucky, I hammered out of Inca away from the mountains toward Porreres.
Keep your eyes open for great photo opportunities.
The adventures continue next time in Part 2 – but for now we’ll let you get back to work. And if you haven’t already, check out our reviews of ErgVideo’s awesome collection of training dvds, and see their website at: ErgVideo.com