Ride 5 – Sa Calobra
Today started out a little earlier and I pedaled a little lighter than usual — all for good reason.. I was headed for Sa Calobra, regarded by many as the most famous stretch of road in Spain and often included on unofficial “Top 20 Most Amazing and Dangerous Roads in the World”. Sa Calobra is named after a cobra snake as the 12 km section of road rises 780 meters above the sea.. however after 12.5km you are actually only 4km from where you started due to the 12 true hairpins and approximately 50 tight turns. The most dramatic hairpin is a 270 degree turn… think about that for a little bit! With this apriori knowledge of the dizzying roads ahead and the fact that the ride would be 107 miles… I started with a prudently slow pace. Since I hadn’t had breakfast, I stopped at a gas station just 5 miles into the ride for 4 granola bars. I began the Col de Soller where my previous best time was 15 minutes. “I’ll take this really slow”, I thought. But then I hooked up with some dutch riders with a reasonable pace so I followed suit. HR was consistent at around 165 bpm and crested the top in 16:30. I descended into the town of Soller with small narrow streets and grand Goudi-esque architecture fabricated during the 1600s when the village became rich from the vast orange groves nested in the valley.
After exiting Soller you immediately escape the hustle and bustle of the village and ascend up towards Fornalutx… perhaps my most favorite village I’ve ever biked through. I have tried on many occasions to photograph, record, and describe the scene to my family and friends but as amazing as the photos are, the only way to soak in the richness of this area is to see it yourself… With lemon and orange trees packed so tight, the branches tantalize with juicy fruits so close to the road you could grab a few without missing a pedal stroke.
The center of the town features a small quarter flanked by amazing narrow streets just wide enough for 1 normal size car.. but this two-way street often creates traffic dilemmas when two cars attempt to drive around the blind corners – providing endless entertainment to those in the square enjoying an espresso or ensaimada in the square.
Once you exit the village it becomes apparent that you were completely oblivious to the fact that you have been climbing the enter time while gawking at the natural and architectural beauty of the town. Peak behind you off to your right and you take in the lush green trees in the valley decorated brightly with juicy yellow and orange ornaments. Look straight ahead and the peak of Puig Mayor (the tallest mountain in Mallorca) towers above with it’s craggy rock face.. a harsh reminder of the hour long climb that will squeeze your legs of any juice they may have left.
The climb up Puig Mayor, although long, is very enjoyable. The gradient is fairly consistent at a modest 6-8% and the stunning views back down at Fornalutx and the Soller valley are a wonderful distraction. After going a bit harder up Col de Soller than I wanted, I promised to take this climb at a modest pace. Up the road, I noticed a car with a man standing outside – gazing down the road. The rear window of the said “RPL Radteam”… hmm, I thought. Soon a rider passed me and I stayed with him for a while as we pushed up the long climb. My HR was around 150-156bpm which seemed like a nice pace. Suddenly the rider looked over his shoulder and whatever he saw caused him to begin to sprint frantically. Puzzled, I simply elevated my pace a little and eventually caught back up once his sprint frizzled out. Just as I caught back on, a RPL rider blasted by us. I swung around the frazzled rider and attempted to keep up with a gradual increase of my pace one again (sprinting is for racing and I always think is a little over-the-top when one is not racing and among other riders… plus, I’m not a racer anyway). I struggled to keep pace and the fast guy’s lead grew to 10 meters, then 20 meters, then I was a solid 30 seconds down. I glanced over my shoulder and found no sign of my previous “riding partner” or any other riders. I kept a good pace to the top and after 20 more minutes I reached the tunnel at the top at least a minute down. I stopped before the descent to attach my headcam so I could get some nice downhill footage of the beautiful high altitude lakes when a group of 2 RPL riders with my previous riding partner flew by. For the next 2 or 3 hours, I was constantly mixed in with this German racing team and their coach who would drive ahead and wait at various points. Although only 1 had passed me on the climb, the team consisted of at least 8-10 riders in all. I finished the descent and began climbing the backside of Sa Calobra (just a short 3k climb before reaching the famed road). I snaked and twisted my way down the endless sequence of switchbacks and finally reached the sea and the little port. I snapped a few photos and began the long 12.5 km climb back up. The German team followed suit and 41 minutes and 6.2 miles of climbing later, I crested the top.
The rest of the ride I simply backtracked the same way I came… climbing back up to the top of Puig Mayor, descending Puig Mayor, going back through Soller and the long climb back up Col de Soller from the other side. I returned home and the ride totals at first are not very impressive, 107 miles in a pedestrian 6 hours 58 minutes. It’s actually not much farther than a ride I do back home that is 100 miles but can easily be completely in 5:15. The major difference here is the climbing, 11,400 feet is a long way up (more than 2 miles in the sky) which definitely added to the difficulty. Although I thought I would average a HR around 130 bpm, the added motivation of the other riders pushed me to maintain a 143 bpm average… and approximately 4500 calories of work.
All in all, a fantastic ride!
Distance: 107.5 miles
Avg Speed: 15.4 mph
Max Speed: 45.9 mph
Avg HR: 143 bpm
Max HR: 181 bpm
Climbing: 11,417 feet