The Virgin of Sa Calobra – Memories of 2013

“If you like the ride to the Lighthouse, you should try Sa Calobra like your Bradley Weegins no?” smiled the assistant as she wheeled out my Planet X Pro Carbon.

Early morning rides on smooth Mallorcan roads before breakfast, surely it doesn’t get any better that this.  Pollenca northern Mallorca September 2013, winter training camp to many and as luck would have it our holiday destination – funny that.

Next morning, up early and off to ride the length of the Formentor peninsula to the Lighthouse.  No traffic other than fellow cyclists as the sun slowly rises, the ride is a challenge but stunning.

The first climb is compensated by an exhilarating descent which winds its way through pine woods to the bay.  Unusually the road then deteriorates from the usual Mallorcan quality to more of the Buckingham standard that I’m used to, but what a final 10k to the most northerly point of the island.  If you’re an everyday cyclist who doesn’t mind climbing, it’s doable and rude not to hire a bike and do it!

The next few days fall into a pattern.  Up early and out on the Planet X which I’m beginning to love even with its alien SRAM double tap levers.  Pick up breakfast at the bakery on the way back before recovering in the late morning sun.  Then off to the beach and back later for Tapas in the square – this is THE holiday!

Day three and it’s got to be time to give this Sa Calobra thing a crack.  Plenty of stories on the web to start making my palms sweat in the Mallorcan heat…

The ribbon of tarmac dropping down the side of Coll de Cals Reis into Sa Calobra was built in the 1930’s by an engineer who later became the president of Real Mallorca Football Club.  His strapline – “making the end of the world accessible”.  Hmmm

Next morning I’m up earlier than usual and thinking my lack of Assos cream might be a problem for this one.  Hell, moisten the chamois with a little Aussie hair conditioner that should do the trick let’s hope.

Sa Calobra is some 30k from our base in Pollenca and there is a long climb ahead towards Puig Major before the Pro Carbon and I get to drop to the world’s end, so we’d better get cracking.  The published wisdom is to get to the bottom before 9am and make your way back up before the road opens for tourist coaches an hour later.

And a nice steady warm up it was.  Roads beautifully quiet bereft of traffic and the sun – which would be the second enemy if I arrived late.  The climb from the bay at Sa Calobra up Coll de Cals is described as ‘exposed’ after the first couple of pleasantly pine clad kilometres.

Eventually we arrive at the sign for Sa Calobra, one more short climb and we should be staring into the abyss if my mapping’s right.

And there it was, we had arrived.  Not sure how to describe what I was thinking other than perhaps mild terror given that I don’t do heights that well.  There are plenty of photographs online, and my hurried effort does not do it justice.  But let’s just say the retaining walls are low and the drops buttock clenching.  Thank god for that hair conditioner.

My descent is therefore best described as nervous.  Some of the 40 + changes of direction drop sharply and then there’s the 270 degree swirl half a kilometre from the summit nicknamed the ‘Tie Knot’.  That football manager was some engineer, no wonder it took them 6 years to build the road.

Eventually we drop through the pine trees to the small bay dominated by the obligatory tourist restaurant and coach park.

There are two guys at the bottom who have been availing themselves of the toilets in anticipation of their 10k of uphill fun.  Their expressions focussed as they turn on their mobile phone apps, say a brief ‘Ola’ and depart.

Funny that.  Never had myself down as looking Spanish and judging from their club kit these guys were from Preston.  Tan must be coming on a bit and I am quite short I guess…

Anyhow, quite enough procrastination.  Caffeine gel quickly ingested and time to get moving.

Riche Port’s 23 minutes 59 second record set at the 2012 Sky training camp is quite safe today.  My challenge is more one of completing the climb before the coaches and hire cars start flying around those hairpins and it’s nine already.

The first two kilometres are fresh in my mind as we climb out through the pine trees.  I’m feeling good, but conscious that I need to keep focussed as I’m on my own and the Pro Carbon doesn’t say much.

Five kilometres in and it’s getting tough.  Out of the saddle on the bends, and back in the seat on the straights.  The sun is warming up with me and the side of a cliff is facing it.  I was well hydrated earlier but I’m losing moisture fast.

Eight Kilometres and a ramp hits 13%.  I’m feeling it now.  Back aches, and my Aussie hair conditioner is let’s just say, not up to the mark.  Must be nearly there but looking ahead the road just seems to climb and climb.

And then it comes into sight, the Tie Knot.  I AM nearly there with just half a kilometre to go.

I round the loop to the last straight and am met by a middle aged German woman walking down to the viewing platform in the Knot.  ‘Morgan’ she mouths, with one of those looks which mixes compassion with pity.  I’ve morphed from Spanish to German in just ten Kilometres.

Finally the summit.  Is there anyone taking photos, selling certificates or t-shirts?  It wouldn’t be like the Mallorcans to miss such a trick.

No.  There was only what I presume was the German lady’s better half relieving himself against the back wheel of their hire car.  And a good ‘Morgan’ to you too sir!

My time?  Ah yes my time….just shy of the hour at 58 minutes.  No challenge for Ritchie Port, but one great challenge for me.