I didn’t want to go to Mallorca. I wanted to go to Tenerife. I wanted to go to Tenerife to climb 3718-metre Pico de Teide, and thus have stood on the highest slab of ground in Spain. I was overruled. We went to Mallorca. As I said, I didn’t want to go Mallorca. When I thought of Mallorca, I thought of Magaluf and Palma Nova, and, consequently, the very worst of Brits abroad.
Mallorca appeared respectable from the plane. Are those mountains? High, snow-capped mountains? Not that I could appreciate them much. I’ve never been a good flyer. This time, I genuinely thought my ears were going to explode. I’d spend the next three days recovering, half-deaf. We’d gone to Mallorca to cycle. We didn’t take bicycles with us, however. The destruction of the front forks of my previous bicycle by an over-zealous baggage handler at Marrakech airport taught me two things: one, always buy insurance; two, there are no cycle shops in Marrakech (if the front forks on your cycle are smashed, so is your cycling holiday).
We caught a bus across the island to Port de Pollenca and picked up our hired racing cycles. They didn’t look quite as glamorous as their images online, but – thankfully – front forks were in full working order. Day one started badly. I was first in the shower, using all the hot water, which wasn’t so bad. I was merrily scrubbing an armpit when I noticed something horrible crawling up the shower curtain: a cockroach. I flicked it to the other side of the bathroom. Mr Cockroach re-appeared a few minutes later in the kitchen (of course, it is perfectly possible that this was a different cockroach; I find it hard to tell them apart). I had the chance to end the insect’s life – with the stubby end of a broom, incidentally, but chickened out. That decision and that damn cockroach plagued me for the rest of the time in Mallorca. When I went to sleep, I fancied it was crawling all over me, in my ears, up my nose…
We cycled along the coast towards Alcudia, the winter training base of Bradley Wiggins, with Tom assuring Rich and I we were going the ‘right way’. I knew we were going the ‘wrong way’, but I didn’t want to verbalise my thoughts, seeing as Tom was so blindly confident. Ever the optimist, he assured us that this ‘wrong way’ was actually a ‘short cut’. I took over the map-reading.
All was well until about 15 miles in when we reached a T-junction. I went one way, up a hill; the others another; down a hill. A couple of minutes of confusion later, spying two cyclists coming up the aforementioned hill, without even glancing at faces, I latched onto their back wheels, then huffily shouted: ‘Are you sure this is the right way?’ Two Spanish cyclists peered back, apologising profusely. I mumbled something, did a U-turn and swept downhill.
Soon after came magnificent cycling: over the 490-metre Coll d’Orient, then the slightly higher Coll d’Honor, reached by a series of hairpins through forest. And so onto the Coll de Soller, a 497-metre pass famed for its 50 hairpins. There were numerous cyclists on the roads now, many of them clearly top amateurs or professional teams training for the upcoming season.
Rich approaches the final hairpin of the Coll de Soller
Puig Major awaits
The long climb to the tunnel beneath Puig Major, the highest point on the island, remained. The top of the road would touch the 870-metre contour – still hundreds of metres lower than Puig Major. The military road to the summit was shut by snow (the worst in 50 years, we were told). The climb to the tunnel was a joy – in a sadistic sort of way. Snow was banked up on either side of the road; the Soller valley now far below. Tom and I arrived at the top long before Rich; he got there, eventually, some 30 minutes later. He wasn’t happy. His longest previous climb before today was Devil’s Dyke in Sussex. Incomparable. Laughably so. Unfortunately, for all of us, we were still some 25 miles distant from Port de Pollenca.
The tunnel beneath Puig Major, the road’s highest point
The closed road to Puig Major
Next came an entirely predictable race against time: a race to beat the ice freezing on the road, a race to beat nightfall. The scenery was startling: snowy, awesome mountains, while the Mediterranean had appeared on our left shoulder. It was bitterly cold, though, and I was bonking. Never has a single finger of a Kit-Kat, devoured on the Coll de Femenia, been enjoyed so much. Albeit a meagre number of calories, it was enough to ensure survival. We made it – Tom and I, at least – back to Port de Pollenca before darkness. I wandered around the supermarket plucking food off shelves in a daze; Tom stood outside, similarly, in a daze.
The race against sunset begins…
‘How do you think Rich is?’ Tom asked on the way back to our cockroach-infested apartment. We hadn’t seen him since pedalling away from the closed access road to Puig Major.
’90 miles of cycling in one day? More than 2000 metres of climbing? Devil’s Dyke? Not good, I’d imagine.’
We waited, quietly, scoffing biscuits. Rich had actually made good progress. Some 30 minutes after we’d arrived home, in he came and propped his cycle in the corner, uttering some Steve Redgrave-esque comment: ‘If you see me on a bike again, you can shoot me.’ At this point, it was probably more likely that he wanted to shoot Tom.
Rain was falling on day two. Rain! I said we should have gone to Tenerife. We set off late, therefore, this time towards Cap de Formentor, a bluff containing the northernmost reach of Mallorca. I started way too fast, sprinting a sea level to 225-metre Coll de la Creueta (not to be confused with the massive one on mainland Spain) in an unsustainable pace. The col was a tourist spot, for Germans, in particular, and a narrow walkway took walkers along a cliff edge atop a forbidding, sheer drop to the ocean. The road descent was like a film set. ‘I can imagine a James Bond car chase down here, ‘ I shouted to Tom. My words were lost on the breeze of downhill motion.
Shoes off on the Cap de Formentor
Looking west from the Cap de Formentor
The road was immaculately tarred – then all of a sudden, the money for road improvements had clearly ran out. The road became rutted and pitted, slowing progress markedly. Nor did it help that we were being sent uphill again. After beating Tom to the tunnel yesterday, the race was on (although this was unsaid, we both knew that). He slipped away from me on a steep section of hill and suddenly I was playing catch-up. I gave furious chase: through a tunnel, up and over and down undulations, rattling and jangling on a rubbish surface, all the way to the lighthouse on the top of the cape. It was a fruitless chase; I couldn’t breach the gap.
He got the better of me again on the sharp, lactic-inducing climb back to the Coll de la Creueta. Here, rather than descend immediately to Port de Pollenca, we climbed a side road to a watch tower atop 381-metre Talala d’Albercutx. Two sets of iron ladders led to the top of the tower and, from this lofty perch, we could survey a sparkling world beneath us. I had been hard on Mallorca, I realised. Ignorant is perhaps a better word. I had experienced two of the finest cycling days I had encountered anywhere in Europe. Mallorca’s quality lies in its landscape and cycling through it, I saw traces of the Lake District, the magnificence of the Highlands and even glimpses of the Alps. I can’t pay the place any greater complements than those.