Beauty in the Breakdown, Unlikely Friends, and A Final Adios to Mallorca

Today was set out to be an ambitious day. 5 famous passes climbed, 11500 ft of climbing… a very good day planned. (It almost makes me sad to realize now how it didn’t work out…)

I got up and had my usual breakfast here in Mallorca, 2 bowls of cereal and 5 egg whites. It was overcast at the start but after 30 minutes the sun made it’s presents known and with a view of the mountains ahead, it looked like everything was timed perfectly.

View towards Fornalutx

View towards Fornalutx

I made it through the small village of Bunyola (home to Antonio Colom who got caught for doping last summer and is serving his 2-year suspension. After admiring the local sheep for a few seconds, I pushed on to Col du Soller, a short and sweet climb with dozens of switchbacks, climaxing at around 500 meters. Last year, I was somehow able to muster a time of 15:10 for the 3.17 mile climb. [Note: If you want to try, start and stop your timer at each of the “Col de Soller” signs (base after the roundabout, and summit).. tricky because the “top” is actually 100m past the scenic lookout that everyone stops at]

This year, I was once challenged by a complete team of Prague junior cyclists and managed to produce a new record of 14:48 (during a 101 mile ride [163km]) while managing to stave off most of them, but it required an average HR of 180bpm… which I was unaware that I could sustain for 15 minutes at my neglected fitness level.

So today, I was also out for a long 107 mile ride with 11,500 feet of climbing but I thought I would at least give a little effort up Col de Soller. I had no Junior team or Continental Pros to contend with this time – just me and a few tourist like myself – which is great but you don’t really push your limits when you are alone.

I went at a comfortable pace… 145bpm to start, then 156, then settled in around 160bpm. Not “racing”, just riding… no looking at speed or times, just admiring the sheep and olive trees.

I crested the top and hit the “lap” button on my Garmin —- 14:19?? what? My momentum thrusted me into the long switchback descent as I wrinkled my brow…”did I skip a section… not possible, oh! maybe I paused the timer somewhere…!!??”

But facts are facts and the Garmin recorded the complete 3.16 mile climb in 14:19 with a modest average HR of 169 bpm and 835 feet of climbing. I didn’t have much time to contemplate my time vs last year or my previous best before I encountered a small group of 7 riders, 4 of which where women and looked to be very “skilled” to say the least… and by skilled I mean hot, in case you missed it. I can’t understate that enough. I made it to Soller and began the long climb to Puig Mayor via Fornalutx… my most favorite village in Spain. I was admiring the orange and lemon trees, as always, but also looking up at the summit where ominous dark clouds surrounded the horizon. “Uh oh, looks like possible rain, what happened to the sunny outlook I had 30 minutes ago?”

I shifted gears as the terrain pitched upward but something was amiss… as I shifted my rear derailleur, I felt something different in the shifter. I tried again. The strange feeling caused me to switched my focus from the dark clouds to my equipment. My SRAM Force shifters have been part of my setup for about 13 months or 9,400 miles (~ 15,000km) and have never missed a shift. Until now.

The shift lever was noticeably out of place and had not completed it’s shift. I pulled off to the side next to an orange tree. I peered at the lever as a father looks at a sick son… ‘what’s wrong sport?’ I jiggled the lever only to have it fall unceremoniously to the ground. Game over.

I thought about how I could possibly fix the lever, if only to complete the 107 mile ride – maybe just make it back??. I still had the longest climb to the highest peak in all of Mallorca ahead… a 50 minute climb +/-. Not to mention a short climb just to get to Sa Calobra, then descend the famous road, then climb back up for 50 minutes, then climb back up to Puig Mayor (25 minutes) then climb back up the North side of Col de Soller (28 minutes). Lots of climbing, lots of work ahead. Please SRAM, say it ain’t so!

But the ‘DoubleTap’ paddle laying on the ground confirmed that I should amend any plans for the day, or the next few weeks for that matter. I thought perhaps I could find something to secure it in place to get it to shift on a limited basis. All the shifting mechanisms were fine, it was just the “O” clamp that held it in place that broke off. I searched

SRAM Force Double Tap Shifter, Fail

SRAM Force Double Tap Shifter, Fail

my back pockets…. unfortunately, a broken shifter is not on the list of ‘regular things you may need to repair on the road’. I thought perhaps I could hold it in place with a ZipTie… only I didn’t have a ziptie. I glanced at my computer… 1 hour 50 minutes… still 4 hours and 50 minutes to go… with a healthy bike. Then I noticed the zipties holding the computer in place. “Maybe I can remove the zipties without damaging them and then use them to hold the shifter in place!” I began the crude dissection of zipties with my best option… a blunt philips head screw-driver… not optimal at all.
[NOTE: Time will tell how SRAM deals with the failure, I’ll be sure to let you know]

Just then, a man piloting a huge bike pulled up. He greeted me with one sentence in German, quickly followed by a sentence in English… “Are you ok, do you need anything?” I replied… “Well….”

He was on a mountain bike, laden down with panniers, packs, lights, and everything “other-than-the-kitchen-sink” as they say. Even a pair of brightly colored blue crocks flanked his front wheel. These are the guys you want to see when you are in trouble… or in the pub as they are full of stories.

I described the situation and before I knew it he was asking if I wanted a black or white Ziptie. “Fashion is not a priority so I’ll take whatever you’ve got!” I said with a smile. I got the shifter in place and tried to anchor it in place with the ziptie.

“Or maybe you’ll need a bigger Ziptie to hold it?” he said, producing what is undeniably the biggest Ziptie in the World… it was so big you could easily use it as a large necklace… needless to say, I was amazed. “Yeah, the Police use them now-a-days as handcuffs during demonstrations against financial institutions”, he said “but ironically, we’d be better off it they used them on themselves” as a small smirk drew across his face.

I fumbled with getting the shifter paddle in place and tried a few test shifts. The traveler, Robert was originally from Hamburg, Germany. He lifted my rear wheel as I tried to shift… “Boy these bikes are really light!” It isn’t really a complement when your bike is the one that is broken 🙂 We chatted for a bit while I continued to fumble… he had a Roloff hub with internal gears… a favorite among world touring riders… less parts, no derailleur… less stuff to break. It really is cool, as long as weight isn’t a concern. I got the ziptie in place but I could figure out how to upshift with the doubletap system once it was broken. I did manage to downshift 2 gears into the 11T gear…. (in retrospect, I was an idiot for doing that).

I gave up after 4 minutes or so and we both pushed off. Robert was looking for some water and I told him about the small Spar market at the “center square” in the village of Fornalutx which should have everything. I also told him about how Fornalutx was perhaps my most favorite place in Spain… (well, Busot near Alicante has some great views and memories as well).

I chatted with Robert for a bit and discovered he had spent a good deal of time in Canada and the US. I commented on his accent,

Robert from Hamburg - Traveling to Portugal

Robert from Hamburg - Traveling to Portugal

“You know, I could sense a little Canadian accent in you!”
“Really, I never knew… how can you tell?” he chimed back.
“Oh, something about calmness in your sentences, and the vowels are a little more distinct… for example ‘Go ouuut… or abouut’… it’s a telltale sign.”
“So where are you headed?” I asked.
“Well, I’ll probably catch a ferry to the mainland, then go to Portugal”, he replied.
“Across the Pyranees?” I asked.
“Well, maybe not across the Pyranees, but definitely near them and into Basque country”.
“Wow, I’ve heard amazing things about biking in Portugal. I’ve only been as far as San Sebastian, but if you head out that way, be sure to seek out a climb called Jaizkibel, it has some amazing views!”
[Note: Want more info on Jaizkibel? Check out this video from the World Championship:
Jaizkibel Climb from a Fan’s Perspective
..but I think it was more beautiful when I did it… (see banner image…) [Note: I’ll post a video of my climb here later]

I stopped to see if I could manipulate the limit screws on my derailleur to at least get out of the 11T gear as the next 10 miles averaged 6% grade. Robert pushed on saying a very typical Canadian ‘to-the-point’ phrase:
“Ok, I’m heading up, either I’ll see you or I won’t”
Probably seems impersonal to some, but knowing Mainers and Canadians, this is how they talk.
So I smiled, feeling a little like I was back at home, “Ok, good luck Robert”.

The limit screws on a SRAM derailleur proved to be more limited than a Shimano derailleur (from previous S.O.S field work experience). So I gave up. With the tallest peak on Mallorca, Puig Mayor, ahead of me, a 50 minute climb at least… I reviewed my computer that said I had travelled 31 miles so far… so if I turned around, it would be a 62 mile ride and I would have to go up the long 30 minute climb of Col de Soller… in an 11T gear.

So, you can probably guess what I did. Forge ahead, Puig Mayor here I come, 11T in all!

I made my way through the narrow streets of Fornalutx and passed by the quintessential center square with its one cafe and one market… and there was Robert, sipping his beverage like a native after siesta and taking in the scene as he saluted me up the hill.

After posting the fastest time (for me) up Col de Soller, the “Lil’ DoubleTap” seemed to almost give a final salute before his beautiful suicide amongst the orange and lemon groves of Fornaluxt. For me, there is no more beautiful place than this exact spot where I’ve taken so many photos. It is of no surprise that Lil’ DoubleTap’s chosen spot was the photo at the begining of this post, where I have taken several over the past 2 years. [Note: The photo at the begining of the blog was NOT from today, it was very overcast and threatening rain today]

The climb up Puig Mayor would have been interesting even without having to ride in the 39/11. Halfway up, a dense fog set in that limited visibility to just 20 feet at best. To my surprise, I was actually able to climb ok… albeit at a very slow cadence… I was OK with a 5% grade, but 6% slowed my cadence, 7% hurt, 8% required significant upper body work, 9% was awful, 10% and I’m pretty sure people thought I was some sort of idiot who can afford an expensive bike but can’t figure out how to shift.

Once it hit 9% I usually reached down and grabbed the rear derailleur cable to manually pull it into an easier gear. Obviously this is a very uncomfortable position to be climbing in and any slight change in the tightness of your fingers on the cable produced major gear changes (ala, crunch, crunch, crunch, klunk, chatter, chatter, ping). So the hand had to be very stoic. To my surprise, even hobbled with an Herculean 11T gear, I still managed to pass ~ 30 riders, and was passed by 0 riders, although if anyone wanted to challenge me, now was the time to attack! I passed by several German groups which I didn’t think too much about, but also passed by a minimum of 3 attractive young ladies who I was ashamed to be seen flogging along in such a horrendous gear. So much for first impressions… good thing I have a beauty waiting for me back home! Pretty sure she would be an awesome cyclist, but that is another post for another day.

The dense fog deluded my ability to approximate the correct apex of the climb, despite the fact that this was perhaps my 20th venture up the highest pitch in Mallorca. Before I knew it, which required me to be 20 meters in proximity, I saw the top and a mass of cyclists convening and chatting that would rival any CES forum. Men and women were deciding which clothes would work best for the upcoming challenge and as I successfully mounted my headcam for the descent, I did not press RECORD when the very attractive woman in front of me stripped down to change her jersey. If you want to see such footage, you have to climb from sea level to 1,364 meters (~ 4,500 feet) to enjoy it. Some things are better experienced than enjoyed second-hand. 😉

I decided to forgo Sa Calobra as the long ascent would not be much fun given my current situation. Even the 30 minute ascent of Col de Soller was enough mental pain for me to think of. After 40 miles, the white flag was up, I’m coming home.

The descent was fine, even the limited visibility was nothing compared to the technical hardships of the ascent. I passed a few cars and made a point to check the numerous cyclists ascending Puig Mayer, (mostly racers from Germany, Netherlands, Czech Republic, England, and Northern France) to see if Robert was on his way up. Sure enough, carbon bike after carbon bike zoomed by, until I saw Robert who had stripped his flannel and was now bare-chested, hammering it out with the racer-folks on his 70kg mountain bike. I gave a big wave and yelled “Yeah, Roberrrttt!” as I descended. But I did take it very slowly as I have many more epic ascents and descents planned for 2010. But it still seemed to be a faster pace than most cars were willing to take.

The ascent up Col de Soller was very similar to Puig Mayor… thankfully not as many cyclists were climbing up so competition was low… and hopefully those I did pass could see my technical difficulties. I managed to do the entire climb without any riders passing me and I got to the summit of Col de Soller at ~ 27:00 which is not bad but I’m sure I’ve done much faster with better equipment.

I soldiered home with ease as the roads flattened out and I had 2 great options of a 39/11 or 53/11 and hit very few 9%+ grades which was a welcomed change. But on the ride home, I couldn’t help but feel how fresh I felt and how much of the planned ride I skipped out on. It felt like one of those half-day school days as a kid where you have tons of energy are are excited to go home, but it is so unusual that you really have no idea what you are going to do once you actually get home.

So the 80 mile ride actually felt more like 10 miles of lazy cycling, despite the 3 famous mountain passes completed. It was the 4th mountain pass that I was really looking forward to.

I stopped by the local bike shop near the hotel and asked if they had any SRAM components. They said no, but made a quick phone call to (apparently) another shop, that also said “no”. I got back to the hotel and ordered a new shifter set online. I was hoping to hold out for the new 2011 SRAM flagship groupo but it looks like I can’t wait that long. I did find some very good deals on SRAM shifters for both SRAM Force and SRAM Red on and could select merchants that offered International Shipping. Expedited. Can’t miss those joyous spring flowers waiting for me in Czech Republic and Austria…. stay tuned!

I finished the day with a quick skinnydip into the Mediterranean on a beautifully calm night. Those who follow my Twitter account could have joined me but alas… Even gathered some shells for my grandma who is an avid collector and just turned 101. She’s hardcore.

Skinny Dipping in Mallorca

Skinny Dipping in Mallorca

Adios Amigos,
“Juan” (my adopted Spanish name).

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3 Responses to Beauty in the Breakdown, Unlikely Friends, and A Final Adios to Mallorca

  1. WorstShotEver says:

    What, a picture of the skinny dip, but none of 4 highly skilled female riders? What’s wrong with your priorities?!? Great story, but one that’s fun only in retrospect. I think I’d have to walk in 39/11 at 9%.

    • thewaywardcyclist says:

      There is an odd moment when you realize you are in the presence of beauty and also possess a camera… I hesitated several times and couldn’t bring myself to record it… especially when the woman stripped right in front of me… just seemed too sleazy 🙂 Sorry, you’ll have to come next year to see for yourself 😉

  2. Joan Alcover says:

    Just read your comment on the Tacx forum.
    Writing from Pollensa, in Mallorca, just before I get on my bike for my daily ride.
    As a former Bostonian, I agree with your comment on the snow and the four-studded-wheel automobiles more appropriate than a bike, but that is true only in winter. Riding in the summer and fall can be gorgious, especially by the Charles river.
    As for me, in the winter I live at 5,000 feet, in the Swiss Alps; so I ride the i-Genius, too!
    Hope you health is OK (you mention a heart operation).
    Kindest regards from sunny Mallorca.

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