The Orient, Soller and Puig Major ride.
The bare statistics for our first proper ride in Mallorca promised a tough ride. Good. Just what we wanted and what the weather had prevented us from doing so far. On paper, it was over 140kms long with over 2,300 meters of elevation. We would be heading into the Tramuntana mountain range which contained many of the iconic and popular climbs Mallorca offers.
These are the bald stats of the climbs we would tackle on our chosen Day 1 route (route credit: The Legend, Swiss Phil):
The Orient: 6.85km, 290m elevation gained at at an average gradient of 4%.
Coll d’Honor 2.71km, 128m elevation gained at at an average gradient of 5%.
The Soller climb: 5.03km, 258m elevation gained at an average gradient of 5%.
Puig Major (The Pig Pig): 10.20km, 594m elevation gained at an average gradient of 6%.
Puig Major from Soller: 14km, 828m gained at an average gradient of 6.2%! Jeeez.
This route saved the best (and toughest) climb for the end. The total length of our route was over 140km and we would climb over 2,300m.
So early on Sunday, we set off after the obligatory pictures, the challenge as ever was keeping a group as large as this with varying abilities and fitness levels together. I mentally wished our RC (Ride Captain) FT ‘good luck’ as we meandered out of Alcudia and into the countryside.
The first 40km were rolling and uneventful, save for taking several wrong turns on the outskirts of a small town. We were getting into a rhythm and taking in the many sights Mallorca offers. We hit the first major climb, the Cat 3 Orient climb at about 45kms. We had agreed that the fastest climbers would wait at the top and that each person would ride at their own pace..this suited me fine as I was nursing a lingering calf and hamstring injury picked up the week before. The fittest amongst us, ‘Our Elder’, had also promised to act as the ‘sweeper’ so no man would really be left behind or alone for too long. This meant that he and the RC would do the most climbing as they repeatededly had to descend back down the climb they had just tacckled to keep the stragglers company and help them up…a very admirable undertaking and a testament to their strength.
Cresting the top of the Orient we went down a small descent to the foot of the Cat 4 climb, the Col d’Honor, over that then into the full Col d Orient downhill…wheeee! Now you are talking. These descents are the reward for making it to the top of climbs. This descent took us to the foot of the next major test, the Cat 3 Soller climb. As we began this climb, many of us were beginning to feel the effects of the heat and the climbs so far. We all made it to the top of the Coll de Soller where we stopped for drinks at the well-known Can Topa Restaurant. This establishment was bought by an English couple who gave up the stress of hectic, successful and busy careers in London to move out here, here at the summit of Coll de Soller, and they have never been happier.
Coffee (caffeine and cake) break over, we began the nearly 8km technical descent into the village of Soller. This was a very tricky descent in places, with mountain hairpin following mountain hairpin, and fast and flowing in others. As ever, technique, good bike handling skills, confidence and bravery is required. The more of these you have, the faster you descend. Ride ‘in the drops’, look ahead, brake hard and late in a straight line, put weight on the outside pedal, take sweeping lines where possible, sprint out of the hairpin. And repeat. And repeat. And….
We got to the delightful, quaint village of Soller and sat down for lunch in the town square.
After a leisurely lunch we set off again to tackle the last and most difficult climb, the Puig Major or ‘Big Pig’ as its is known. A Cat 1, 14km brute, Its summit is the highest point in Mallorca and the second most popular climb after Sa Calobra on the island. What makes it a brute of a climb is not it’s gradient, but its length.
I started off at a steady pace, the key to making it up this climb is pacing……so I set off at a pace and power output I knew I could sustain with my calf and hamstring strain. The mountain goats disappeared at the first hairpin, then one by one, the others dropped me, till I was the last man. No matter, I concentrated on maintaining the set pace and staying within my target power range. A third of the way up, I caught the first of my companions, before long I’d reeled in the next two. Half-way up, I’d caught another. This is where I first witnessed an impressive display of fighting spirit. For at least 3km, every time I looked back, he was there, even after I thought I had dropped him. I did not lose him till I started the last quarter. Bravo. As I approached the last third of the climb, I caught another and immediately passed him. Now this chap deserves special mention. He has only be riding for 6 months or so, weighs 115kg’s, I repeat: 115kgs!, had never ridden such distances and elevation, and here he was, fighting to maintain momentum towards the top of the Big Big. I mentally applauded him as I passed.
As I approached the famous tunnel that signals you are nearing the end of the climb. Through the dark and dank tunnel I went and burst out on the other side to a round of applause from my faster ride companions who had waited. I felt I had just won a Grand Tour stage. Fabulous.
I waited with the group to applaud the remaining members of our group as each one emerged from the tunnel. Eder and RC went back down to accompany the last man back up the remaining few kms to the most rapturous applause from us.
I will never forget that scene.