Big Miles, Big Climbs and a Big Reality Check

It was a long day yesterday as I travelled back from Mallorca, so apologies for not sending out my normal Sunday Blog, so here is my first Monday Blog about my experiences from the last week.

Over the last few years, I have travelled to Mallorca to cycle the lanes and mountains of perhaps the most iconic cycling destination there is. From all over the world cycling tourists, clubs on organised trips, amateur racers and even pro teams all visit the island which has everything to offer the avid cyclist. This year was a little different to our normal mixture of fast paced flat roads and mountain efforts, not least because I was wearing my new Santini Cure Leukaemia Tour 21 kit. Over the six days there was to be no rest day, and no late nights in the hotel bar, I wanted to take every opportunity to experience long days in the mountains.

My support rider and mentor for the week was Tour21 rider Mike Hopkins whose advice from his experiences from the 2021 event gave a great insight in to what to expect. Some club mates: Dave, Laura and Kelvin, a friend Mark and his nephew Matt from Ireland, along with two new friends, John and Steve, joined Mike, Andy and myself for some rides in the spectacular scenery of the northern area of the island.

Day 1 (Monday) Arrival day, meant a relatively short ride of 45 miles, just to make sure my bike was OK after the flight. No problems with the bike but a puncture halfway around caused some problems. The first replacement tube punctured as I inflated it (due to a short valve it hadn’t seated properly), and the second had a leaky valve lasting no more than 200 yards before going flat again. But out of every experience you learn, I’ll be changing my spare tubes making sure I get the longer valve lengths.

Day 2 (Tuesday) took us along the foothills of the mountains that dominate the view of the north of the island, through to the village of Bunyola. Those that have cycled on Mallorca will know this as the start or the climb to Col D’Honor and the Orient valley. If you’ve never ridden this route, make sure it is on your list for your next visit, it is an achievable climb for most cyclist with the hairpins, long straights and twists and turns you would expect on any mountain in the Alps or Pyrenees. You then get the bonus of a steady ride through the beautiful valley to Orient and then it’s down a fast descent off the mountain. For me however this was not going to be enough, not enough distance and not enough climbing, so we split the group and whilst the others went through the Orient; Mike, Mark, and myself headed off to Valldamossa, Deia, Soller and the 9-mile climb of Puig Major. 7400 feet of climbing over 4 mountains, but the focus was not on the distance or the climbing, it was the speed of the climb. With Mike‘s coaching I slowed my climbing speed slightly to conserve energy, still maintaining a steady pace but with the objective of finishing with enough energy to feel I could do a lot more.

Check out this ride on on Relive

Day 3 (Wednesday) looked to be a write off when we woke, heavy rain over night and into the morning made the roads slippery and dangerous. By early afternoon, the rain had stopped, and we were able to fit in a 30-mile recovery ride to a café in Muro. Mallorca has many wonderful café’s and cake shops and the Panord Forn in Muro is as popular as any. After Coffee, apple cake and a chat we were soon riding back through Alcudia to our base at Porta Pollenca. It would have been nice to do something more, but safety first, in the wet some of the roads on Mallorca can be treacherous so it is far better to be conservative, the goal is to raise £1,000,000 for Cure Leukaemia which won’t be possible if I come off on a slippery corner and break a bone.

Day 4 (Thursday) was back to the mountains starting with the climb up to Lluc, again riding at a pace to conserve energy. At Lluc we had a coffee and cake before splitting in to three smaller groups for the days riding. One group went to the legendary Sa Calobra, a 9-kilometre road that drops from 700 meters to sea level via 26 hairpin bends to Sa Calobra. Once you get to the village by the sea, the only way out is to climb back up the hill. Another group dropped down to the bottom of the mountain range and rode to the village of Loseta for lunch. Meanwhile Mike and I reversed the route we had done on Tuesday. Mike had planned this deliberately because of the, this time, 9-mile descent. Having practiced controlling my speed to conserve energy uphill it was now time to make the most of those downhill segments. This will be the most dangerous part of the tour route, not only coping with the speed but maintaining my concentration for up to 30 minutes or more around the twists and turns, scrubbing off just enough speed at each turn. All went well, as we dropped on to the flatter route back, we picked up a strong tail wind, and another rider who drafted our back wheels for several miles. As we came to a junction where we would head off in different directions, in a German accent, he thanked us for helping him along and praised Mike for his strength on the front. A great thing about cycling is the camaraderie amongst riders, helping or being helped transcends language and cultural differences and this was a perfect example.

Day 5 (Friday) Andy hadn’t slept well and woke with a stomach bug. Today was to be an easy ride to Petra for lunch and return, not the toughest day but another lesson. Andy came on the ride despite not being well and at 15 miles had to stop for a break. When we ride for Cure Leukaemia we will ride as a team no matter what, we will have to change our riding as we did for Andy with a slower pace, especially up any climbs. Many see cycling as an individual sport but at these times teamwork comes to the forefront. It was not about the ride, the speed, or the distance, it was getting everyone around the route. It was not Andy’s lucky day, a puncture about 6 miles outside of Petra was not ideal, although the stop gave him a break and by the time we reached Petra he was beginning to feel better. Petra is another must for any trip to Mallorca, a large fountain in the middle of the square surrounded by Cafés and bars, on a normal day you’ll find a hundred cyclist there, on a sunny day 200. After lunch Andy was ready for a fast return journey, averaging over 20 mph for the 27-mile meaning in less than an hour and a half we were back at the hotel, although the trip was not without incident though – another puncture, this time for Mike, delayed us a little.

Day 6 (Saturday) our last day got off to a slow start, John’s battery on his electronic Di2 gear had run flat so a 30-minute charge was needed. As we started our ride it was Deja-vu as Mike’s battery ran out as well, so another 30 -minute charge was called for.  We cut the ride a little shorter direct to the bottom of our final climb from Cairmari to Lluc. John had recommended a Café to Andy earlier in the week, so we decided to try it out. Right at the foot of the Col de Sa Batalla, the Ruta Verde has a little courtyard serving Vegan and Gluten free options and is a great fuel stop before the climb.

At the end of the ride we packed the bikes and reviewed the week – 364 miles with 20,000ft of climbing, but more important was how I felt at the end, which was surprisingly good. Normally I would have tired achy legs but would have done less mileage and less climbing. The tips and training from Mike really helped, controlling my efforts and descending better than I ever had before, along with my training from the last few weeks gives me the confidence that I can do this – it won’t be easy but for the first time I feel that this 60 year old body can ride the route of the Tour De France and raise that £1,000,000.

Boarding the flight home, I was full of confidence, then came the big reality check …

From Mallorca, before turning northward at Bordeaux, the flight path takes you northwest across the Pyrenees. As we looked down to our left, we could see LOURDES and nearby the Hautacam – Stage 18 of the tour, and to the right was PEYRAGUDES the Stage 17 finish. In these two stages the tour21 team will be climbing 19000 feet in just two days – the same as I’d just done in 6 days. Whilst relatively short stages at just under 100 miles each, by this time we will have already ridden 1500 miles. So, whilst happy with my week of training there is still a lot to do.

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