When a friend offers you a last minute opportunity to join him for a long weekend in Mallorca with work colleagues you don't turn it down. When the trip legitimately counts as business and your company pays, it feels like it's too good to be true. (Note to HMRC forensic accountants - I was at work, these people were clients, we started a new project, I have the evidence).
After an early morning start and flight from East Midlands, we arrived in Palma and met up with the rest of the group. I knew three people out of eight on the trip, most of whom were old friends who get together every year for a ride. As they are mountain bikers, in the past this trip has mostly been about hurtling downhill at hill speed on bikes with full suspension. Definitely not my thing. I have nothing against 'baggy shorters', just no interest in riding over ground that can move while you are riding over it. Over our first morning coffee I realised there was an established pecking order in the group when it came to climbing hills and that nothing gives them greater pleasure than beat 'roadies' up hill. My card was therefore marked before we had even picked up our hire bikes.
However, their enthusiasm for riding on the roads did not extend to a late afternoon spin on the bikes once we had arrived in Puerto Pollenca, as they all opted for beers instead. I came to ride, so I went out with my friend Ron for the now traditional short ride up the first climb of Cap Formentor out of the town. The climb is 3.3km at an average of 6% and is a great introduction to the island.
Day one proper started in a torrential downpour with a ride out through Alcudia and up a previously unknown (to me) climb Ermita De La Victoria. The cafe there was closed and so we had to turn around and head back to Pollenca and out again on the road to Cap de Formentor lighthouse. Rather than the familiar riding in a group effort I am used to, it seems like its every man for himself there and back. I wasn't first up any climb, but I wasn't last and I racked up a few PR's along the way. The highlight of the ride was the group goading the last two guys on the road to race each other over the final 200m uphill to the cafe at the lighthouse. They were already knackered but responded to our cheering them on. This was a doubly cruel act though as the rest of us knew that the cafe was closed and there was nowhere to get a drink or something to eat. As the road to Cap Formentor is one-way, you have to face the same sequence of climbs and drops in reverse on the way home. Not something you relish with empty water bottles. This felt like paying two tramps a tenner to have a fight - cruel and unnecessary. But a little bit funny also.
Day two was all about climbing. The intention was to ride out to the famous Sa Colabra climb and then decide if wanted to do it. Some of the group had declared over breakfast that they were not going to even try. I have avoided this climb every time I have come to Mallorca. I am just not built for climbing and this one filled me with dread after hearing horror stories from others. We rode an hour out to the village at the bottom of the Coll de sa Batalla, an 8km climb at 5% with lots of switchbacks as it rises up through woods. Inexplicably the baggy-shorts brigade decide to stop for a coffee at the bottom. These days it takes my an hour to get properly warmed up so I went on alone up the mountain. As a result I would spend the next four hours riding alone, which may not have been my best decision. At the top of sa Batalla there is a petrol station that almost every cyclist who has been to the island stops at. I have never actually seen a car filling up there, but even at this time of year there were 20 or so bikes on the forecourt. I have always previously turned off at this point, never venturing towards Sa Colabra, so I was stunned to find it was another 21km to get to the mountain. I had always assumed it was just around the next corner. My lack of knowledge turned out to be even worse once I discovered the route to Sa Colabra was bloody hilly and required a final climb up a 2km 7% gradient, before the long 20 minute plunge to the bottom of the official climb.
I was already deeply regretting my decision on the way down before I reached the bottom. I imagine many others go through the same thought process as me: is it too late to stop and turn around? Jesus this is a long way down. Why have I done this to myself?
After one massively overpriced slice of pizza and a coke at cafe at the bottom I built up the courage to try the return journey. I was in bottom gear just getting out of the car park. What followed was a brutal hour of climbing at a snails pace where I had plenty of time to recall my conversation with the guy at the bike hire centre who convinced me that the gearing on the Giant Advanced I had would be fine. I needed a 32 tooth rear sprocket. I had a 28 on the Giant. I cursed his lying bones all the way up the mountain. The final insult was the last few corners at over 10% including one with a photographer getting snaps of everyone that passed. More eagle-eyed readers will note I had time to zip up my jersey and apply my race face as I went past him. What a poser/knob.
The rest of the ride back to Pollenca was painful but thankfully incident free. I have vowed never to ride up Sa Colabra again. Until I go there in April next year when I will start the hopeful-regret-pain-anger cycle all over again.
The highlight of day three was climbing the Coll de Feminia and actually crossing the correct finishing point on the Strava segment instead of stopping 10 metres short for a photo as I had done in April. Is it important to have the Strava segment time? Couldn't I just enjoy it, knowing I had done it? The answers are obviously 'yes' and 'sort of'. I am a slave to Strava and I know it. I had time to get to the top and then go back down to encourage Ron up the final 2km. Once again he was the only other person in the group and once agin he pushed himself hard to get up a big climb. One he is even less suited to than I am. I love that kind of determination.
Four days of riding and over 270km covered with lots of climbing. All while I was at work. It doesn't get much better than that does it?