Climbing Sa Calobra – Mallorca
Recently we took the chance to get some winter sun by heading over to Mallorca for a long weekend with 3 days of riding. We picked a good time as it snowed at home and the temperature in Mallorca crept up gradually to 21 degrees by the last day. By going at the end of January we managed to pay a visit before any of the tourist seasons started – the cycling one and the holiday makers – this has some advantages and disadvantages.
By going when we did, we avoided having reams of traffic on any of the roads. The road down to Sa Calobra gets infested with coaches making their way to the beach at the bottom. This would somewhat ruin the fun of the descent for a cyclist and complicate things whilst going back uphill. The disadvantages were that some shops/cafes were shut and most of the stuff normally open for cyclists was shut too. The place we hired our bikes from is open daily from February onwards, but in January was open only for us to collect and drop-off our bikes.
We hired from Pro Cycle Hire, based in Port de Polenca. We both wanted to try out Di2 electronic gears as it was an option on the hire bikes but not something that either of us have on our bikes at home. It felt a bit weird to begin with, pressing a button instead of pushing a lever doesn’t give you the same feedback that the gear is about to change. It was certainly noticeable though on a longer ride that it reduced the effort needed to change gears, particularly for Hannah whose wrist usually hurts when making front derailleur changes.
We sent our measurements before heading out to Mallorca, this meant they were ready to ride straight away. It also meant that my bike looked a bit weird with a large amount of fork tube sticking out the top to fit my high saddle height and low handlebars. The bikes were nice and light, didn’t break, didn’t puncture and never felt like a hindrance.
Getting to Sa Calobra
We decided not to cycle from the coast but to park the car amongst the hills in Lluc. This made us avoid the Coll de Femenia between Polenca and Lluc, a decent climb in itself. We drove up it, coming across plenty of cyclists. Straight out of Lluc we had a Cat 3 climb as a nice warm-up, 6 miles after we started we were at the base of the Coll dells Reis northbound – sort of the reverse climb of Sa Calobra. The hairpins on this climb gave us a taste of what was to come.
Cresting the Col, a cleft in the rock gave us the view of the sea and the winding road heading down to it somehow. We also came across some Trek – Segafredo riders in their new kit The descent down to Sa Calobra was technical and hard work in itself. Not knowing the descent, neither of us took risks but I still ended up going quicker. The sheer amount of hairpins meant concentration was key, traffic was low so we were able to take almost the line we wanted through the corners without fear. Once the road started straightening out, it became more fun, especially as it didn’t look like there were as many sheer drops to worry about! We made it down without issue and treated ourselves to coffee and cake at a cafe on the beach.
Climbing up Sa Calobra
The climb back up from Sa Calobra can be split into three parts. The first part takes you up to the narrow cleave in the rock, you’ll have seen it on the way down and wondered how coaches can fit through there. The second part takes you from there up to the squiggly sections, it’s nice and open and eventually, you can see the final part approaching. The third and final part is all the squiggly hairpin sections, the corkscrew and the summit. Breaking the climb down in this way helps mentally tick off what you’ve done and how much is left.
Sa Calobra is 5.8 miles at an average of 7% and works out as about 2,200ft of climbing in one go. We’d agreed to ride it at our own pace, assuming that I would reach the summit first I was to finish, turn-around, find Hannah and then ride whatever was left for the second time.
Starting quickly from the beginning of the Coll del Reis sign in Sa Calobra, I soon ran out of gears but found that the last one I had was perfect for nearly all of the climb. I was able to keep my heart rate at a reasonable level and the cadence around 90 so that I wasn’t setting off too fast. In retrospect, I probably could have afforded to push a bit more…maybe next time.
As I ascended and started rounding corners, I was able to see where I had come from. Every now and again I was even able to see Hannah down below on the other side of the valley. Looking up, I had no-one to chase but I could just about see the bridge of the corkscrew section very close to the summit. I could also see the long and winding path I would have to take before getting to it.
The hairpins started, surprisingly they weren’t too difficult to ride through with no massive gradients to power through. Riding around the outside of them definitely helps in this regard. Briefly, I saw Hannah again below before rounding a bend and going under the bridge for the corkscrew. The wind kicked in and meant I couldn’t look over the edge all the way down without getting blown around. With the top in sight, I pushed hard and made it with a time of 45 minutes and 39 seconds.