Thursday, 20 March 2014

Such Great Heights

What is this, a blog that isn't related to house buying? I'm actually posting something about my regular life these days? Well yes, because I've actually got something I can be bothered writing a blog post about...

So I was relaxing in my room a few days ago, most likely watching Parks & Recreation (it's an amazing comedy series, everyone should watch it) when I got a message on Facebook from my friend and ex-housemate Peter, asking if I was doing much over Easter and might be interested in going cycling for a few days. The initial idea was that we'd take a ferry over to Brittany, do a couple of days along the French coast, and then get another ferry back to the UK. And then somehow from that idea we decided that if we were going to make the effort to go abroad we could fly somewhere and end up in a location where the late-April weather was likely to be a little bit more reliable.

After some brainstorming for places, I suggested Mallorca. It's a place I've been multiple times on holidays as a teenager and I'm pretty familiar with the island, and the weather should be absolutely ideal. It's also Bradley Wiggins' favourite holiday destination and I can't really argue with a TdF and Olympic TT winner. I worked out a rough route around the coast it came to around 300km - pretty much perfect distance for a long weekend somewhere. Sorted. It's been several months since I last did anything proper on a bike (I will very much openly admit I'm a fair-weather cyclist), but a month is enough time to train up. I'll be fine.

Then I actually put the route I'd knocked up into something that gave me an elevation profile (click to enlarge).

Holy fucking shit those mountains. In particular that Cat 1 821m ascent (for reference, the biggest climbs in the UK as far as I can find seem to top out around 650m ascent - and they're all found a long way from Cambridgeshire where the highest point is around 130m).

Like I said, having been there before I was aware that there were some pretty decently sized mountains on the island. I'd just forgotten how pretty much the entire northern coast was hilly as hell. Like, seriously hilly...


Heck, some of these mountain roads are so picturesque and epic that they get their own postcards...

The infamous Sa Calobra climb. Will probably not be attempting...

So we tweaked the plan a little bit, and rather than a tour we'll use Palma as a base and just branch out - it lacks the poetic nature and sense of accomplishment of having done a tour, but in reality it's far more sensible. It means that we can actually bring changes of clothes and netbooks and such without having to carry it all whilst riding. And it means if we accidentally explode our legs one day there's no pressure on us to actually go anywhere the next day because we don't have an airport to get back to, so we can actually be a little more adventurous without fear of it all going horribly wrong. I'll still definitely give a lot of respect to any of the climbs that have more than 500m ascent, given that my current record for ascent in a single ride stands at 600m total over a 90km ride, let alone in one single stretch of climb.

The next thing to sort was flights and hotels, which was a huge faff. In particular trying to phone up hotels to ask them if they either had secure bike storage or would allow us to keep bikes in our rooms. After looking up about 20 hotels and judging by location and amenities and tripadvisor, we finally settled on the brilliantly named Hotel Colon.

The other thing I kind of didn't anticipate was bike hire, because originally I just assumed we'd take our own bikes and hiring would be expensive. I assumed wrong. Once I actually looked things up it turned out that hiring bikes there is disgustingly cheap. You can rent a full carbon road bike for under €20 a day. Not only can I hire a bike for cheaper than it'd cost me to take it on the plane, but I can hire a bike that's better than the one I actually own (and probably in better condition; mine needs cleaning and a new chainset). Unless you were going for like two weeks or had a serious attachment to your own bike I have no idea why anyone would bring their own.

So everything is now booked and I have about a month to get from a state where the last proper cycling I did was a sickening eight months ago, to a state where I can drag myself up 500m of hill and still be conscious enough at the top to enjoy the view. Which means I'm going to have to seriously put some miles in, and probably make a desperate attempt to try and get some hill training done in a notoriously flat region of the country (basically just chucking myself up and down a 60m climb and hoping it makes a difference).

It'd be nice to go and actually get some cycling done that's a bit different and not just the kind I'd be able to do in Cambridgeshire only with slightly better weather for April. At the same time, though, some of the hills are mental. Take the climb to Puig Major from Soller, for example. For one, look at the sodding leaderboard on there - there's like half of Team Sky and a bunch of other pro cyclists at the top. And they still took 35 minutes of pain to get to the top. That climb is basically the same distance as my commute to work, except that it's a 6% average gradient the whole way. And when I get to work I'd still have another 2km left to go...

The one climb I'm hoping to be fit enough to do is the Coll de Soller, which is pretty big but at 500m not totally insane in comparison to some of the other hills. And I remember going over it multiple times as a teenager in a hire car with my Dad - there's a tunnel that cuts out the mountain and is much quicker, but also far less interesting. It's pretty much back to back hairpins the whole way up and is a ridiculous road...

After looking at this picture I'm still not sure how I can consider this to be one of the "easier" climbs on the island...
It'll depend on how much I can get done before we leave, and how I feel once we're there, but that's the personal goal and it's not too far from Palma so it's a relatively safe thing to attempt if I'm completely out of steam once I get to the top. If I can get up and down that thing in one piece I'll be incredibly happy. And if I can't, eh, I'll still have probably enjoyed the trip.

Unless something goes wrong or the whole weekend is a complete wash-out with thunderstorms or something, it's going to be awesome.


  1. I remember that route well. The prime reason for taking the scenic route was, of course, because I'm too tight to pay the tunnel toll. Happier to drive than bike it though.

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