Today is a Good Day to Ride Sa Calobra
The Balearic sun warms my face as I walk to the SportActive Cycling Centre. The warmth is joined by a cooling breeze which I savour. I feel it is going to be a good day.
I checked the bikes over last night ensuring they were in pristine condition ready for today’s ride. A few little tweaks to the cables here, a touch of oil there, and a top-up of various fluids make all the difference. The bikes are safe and roadworthy, and although this is only the second ride of the week, many of our guests are telling me how great the bikes are. This gives me a glow and a touch of pride.
I start making the preparations and get the bikes out ready. Flora has already updated the noticeboard, so the guests know who their Team Leader is and where they are heading. Talking of team leaders, they are all here now and raring to go. I can hear them talking over a cup of coffee.
Derek, my fellow pro cycling coach is taking a group to the summit of coll de sa Batalla. It is an interesting climb and the group will be rewarded with a great coffee stop.
Meanwhile, William, a native of Mallorca and qualified cycling guide is leading a group to the Sa Calobra summit. William is an avid cyclist and is a seasoned racer.
Our other Mallorca local and qualified cycling guide, Alfonso, is taking a group to coll de Femenia. This is a great climb and has a few surprises. Alfonso knows every country lane and road better than Google Maps! Some of the routes we use are coastal routes that for many are a joy to ride. Not too many people have the opportunity to ride coastal roads although many from Ireland cycle the Wide Atlantic Way which is a fantastic coastal route.
Flora, who among her other logistical duties is taking a beginners group out for a gentle ride. While many of our guests are committed to performance improvement, there are several others who just love riding in the sun. It is why we have leisure and beginner groups dedicated to this. No doubt, a good slice of almond cake will be had. And why not? It’s a holiday and they are here to enjoy themselves.
Flora is brilliant at teaching our guests safety and road etiquette, adopting the correct posture, how to use the gears, and in general how to ride a bike correctly. For many, this is their first step to taking on bigger and better cycling challenges.
The guests arrive and I can see they are eager to get on their bikes and ride. There is a good selection of cyclists. Men and women are here from all over the world. Europe is well represented with Britain and Ireland making up the majority, but some are from North America and as far afield as Australia. People from Scandinavia, France, Latvia, and Malta, are all here too. It's great.
I always enjoy getting to know the guests. I feel blessed that I get to cycle and inspire fellow cyclists to improve.
The Team Leaders start getting their groups together and reiterate road and group riding etiquette. We keep the groups to twelve or less for safety reasons. Larger groups are hard to manage as it strains communication. We’re here to ensure that our cyclists are safe, and this is a top priority.
The routes they ride today are on quiet roads as much as possible. We always try and ensure they have the best experience.
There is a murmur from the crowd. Someone has spotted one of the best cyclists ever to have lived, the Legend Sean Kelly, who strides over to us. Today, he is riding with my group and you can sense the excitement among the guests. No doubt word has spread from yesterday’s group on how cool he is. Many have come on this particular week to have a chance to ride with this legend, who despite his years, still has the legs.
He takes up his position on the bike. “Are we ready?” he asks the group.
With a nodding of heads and cries of “Yes”, we’re on the road. I take a glance back to see the other groups get underway as well.
My group is not just riding with a legend, but conquering one. Today, we take on the twenty six hairpin bends of Sa Calobra.
The Road to Sa Calobra
We snake through country roads offering the group scenic views. Sean Kelly rides at the front but every so often the peloton changes and he drops back chatting happily with the guests in his easy-going style. He often regales guests with stories of epic wins and Tour de France experiences. He holds court easily and it is clear that despite his legendary status he is very modest.
“Do you think you can take him in the sprint?”, he asks one woman indicating to her husband. She laughs and replies, “Easily”, raising a laugh from the group.
Today’s group is comprised of nine riders. Six are men, three are women. With the exception of two Canadians, the others hail from Britain and Ireland. The Canadians are committed endurance riders and are relishing taking on Sa Calobra where former Olympians have trained. The group are a joy to lead. They are spirited and are joking with Sean who effortlessly rides. He is passing on tips and they listen intently to every word.
We hit the Ma-10 and start an incline. This road will lead us into the glorious Tramuntana Mountain Range and our first destination of the day; the summit of coll de sa Batalla.
The climb is scenic and enjoyable with an average gradient of 5%, although the maximum gradient is 10%. I keep a close eye on the group using a rearview mirror attached to my bike and drop back now and then to ensure that our cyclists are doing well. I briefed the group earlier on where the tougher gradients are and they do well, appreciating the hairpin bends.
At the summit is an exquisite café where we can refuel before riding to the base of Sa Calobra to begin the ascent.
We pull in at the café and all have espressos appreciating both the coffee and a chance to rest a while. I get to know the group. Many are here with partners riding in other groups, some are partners riding together. We’re very good at placing people in the right group for their abilities, although some who can ride at a higher level choose to ride in other groups. It is totally up to them.
Sa Calobra looks like it was built by Salvidor Dali and looks “impossible.” Its name comes from the Catalan word for snake and indeed it snakes its way up and down the side of the mountain, Coll dels Reis. If you were Spanish, you’d know Sa Colabra as this.
In fact, it wasn’t designed by Dali but by an incredibly talented road engineer, Antonio Parietti. He built the Pollenca to Formentor road a decade earlier and both of his great works made parts of the island easily accessible whereas once they were remote.
Back on the road, we approach the summit. All the groups meet here. This allows riders who aren't feeling their best can ride to the base of Sa Calobra another day. It also allows those who are feeling pumped to take it on. On this occasion, none of the groups change.
Once organised, I brief the group about the descent of the hairpins. Maximum speed, etiquette, what to expect and so on.
The descent is truly fantastic and despite the focus of the group, they get to take in glorious vistas of the landscape including fantastic views of the Mediterranean Sea. I keep a close eye once more and drop back to ensure everyone is okay, and everyone is.
As we arrive at the base in the village of Sa Calobra, I look around to see who I can interview. I grab Sean Kelly and a couple and we start the camera and have a chat. Everyone seems to want to be interviewed and I make a mental note of who I’m going to interview when we reach the summit. The couple are clearly overjoyed to be here, and Sean makes a few jokes. I love it when that happens.
The sun isn't quite at peak heat but it is warm and glorious. The breeze keeps the day great for cycling as it compensates for the heat.
I brief the group on what they can expect and reemphasise road etiquette, safety, and where the Strava segment begins. A few start their devices to record their achievements as well as taking a few pictures including plenty of selfies.
And then we’re off, leaving the quirky village of Sa Calobra behind. I move up and down the group ensuring they are all ok. I can see the determination in their faces as I encourage them “to find their rhythm.” They do me proud and I can see they are awed by some of the views. I must have ridden this climb hundreds of times throughout the years and I still get awed. Sa Calobra never gets old.
I tell the group to save energy after ‘the loop’. Here the gradient hits 14% and this is where the challenge bites!
The group do it at their own pace and I’m pleased they are not intimidated by their fellow riders. Cycling is about you and your challenges and self-improvement. So it is good not to get drawn into unnecessary competition, although natural competitiveness surfaces from time to time.
The last rider reaches the summit of Sa Calobra and you can see the jubilation on their faces. For many, this is the first time they took on the challenge and I’m proud of each and every one of them. The sense of achievement here is awe inspiring.
We take plenty of pictures under the sign and I interview a few people about their achievements. They are proud, basking in glory, and they deserve to be.
I knew it was going to be a good day.