Don’t be fooled by the Sa Calobra love stories
It took me 47.26 minutes to get up the official 5.9 mile Sa Calobra climb, according to Strava. That ranks me at number 8,316, which you would be forgiven for thinking is nothing to write home about and certainly nothing to actually write publicly about, but considering 16,701 people have done it, I have achieved a mid-table position. As someone who doesn’t usually bother with this sort of thing, I reckon it wasn’t a bad effort.
But it was a damn sight tougher than I had been led to believe. No one mentions the little 10 and 11 per cent kick-ups when you get into the switchbacks, or the relentless early afternoon sun that threatens to fry you like a piece of breaded chicken. And the coaches. Four of them coming up the mountain at once, I could see them creeping up after me like a quadruple-vision, tourist-heavy version of that lorry in Stephen King’s Duel, sounding long bellowing horn blasts at every corner. When the first one came alongside me and let off a ten-second honk I almost wobbled right off the mountain.
I should have known Sa Calobra would be worse than people had made out, because Team Sky use it to TRAIN on. How can a training mountain ever be that tough? It’s just a gentle slope, an easy spin. Everything from spectacular to glorious and beautiful has been used to describe that climb, but no one mentioned tortuous, or relentless, or bleedin’ painful. Cyclists can be like that sometimes - pain is for wimps, just weakness leaving the body, shut up legs, that sort of thing.
I’m not going to pretend I didn’t want to get off at least once, that I didn’t consider pulling over at that little cafe where the road curls over itself in a most pleasing manner and ordering a cheeky espresso, but I didn’t, and it’s a good job. Because it turns out my mate was only three minutes behind.
That would have really narked me, him catching up, especially when I let off a little Dastardly and Muttley snigger when I caught sight of him a couple of switchbacks down the hill. Poor old John, struggles with his descents, not to mention his corners. Tries to make up for it with the climbing and he had hold of my wheel for at least a few minutes.
I wasn’t looking back at that point, just chundering on regardless, knowing that he would fall back. I’d already been playing psychological games with him on the climb up from Pollenca, merely shifting my position to the drops to get rid of him (he told me that was when he knew he was done), so I’d worked out he wouldn’t hold on for that long.
Proof if it were needed that when someone’s clinging on to your backside like a clegnut, there’s a Chris Froome in all of us. I was able, with clarity, to see how the great man was capable of holding his pace and his line and his nerve to slowly batter his cycling opponents into submission with sheer tenacity.
Team Sky have made Sa Calobra famous, in fact they’ve made Majorca famous. They stay at the Vanity Golf resort hotel down near Alcudia while they are zipping around the roads. We rode past that. Nothing much of note going on there in September.
I bet they don’t have to contend with devil coach drivers when they are training on Sa Calobra, I bet the King of the Mountains, Team Sky’s David Lopez, didn’t get stuck behind a couple of pensioners in a Fiat Panda. In fact I know they don’t, because the other spring some of the lads were about to go down it when the road was quite aggressively blocked at the point it goes through the rocks at the very crest. As they stood there wondering what on earth was the matter, up floated the Team Sky helicopter, Air Wolf style, from behind the mountain. Now that’s a team bus for you. None of that return journey back across the island, just jump in the chopper and back to the pool in time for tea. Dave can unload the bikes.
I could get used to a Majorca trip like that. I might float the option of helicopter rental by the chaps before our next outing. If you’re going to do it you might as well do it in style.
But then what about the garage where everyone stops for a coffee, or the dodgy mountainside restaurant which was built around some sort of rock face grotto, or the truly uncomfortable feeling of eating too many gels and doing far too much riding on the verge of sunstroke? And the mad tourists in rental cars looking for parking spaces?
And being honked by a coach when you’re a metre from a sheer drop?
That Team Sky, they haven’t lived. But I bet they still moan about how hard Sa Calobra is.
This column first appeared on www.thetimes.co.uk/onyourbike on September 25 2015