As a regular visitor to Mallorca, you can't help but notice there's been an absolute sea change in recent years. Every time I return there are noticeably more cyclists on the roads and now the local bakery has turned into a bike hire and equipment store. This year, however, the trickle seems to have become a flood - cyclists not only outnumber cars by quite a large percentage - but going for a ride is more akin to taking part in a sportive! Stopping at a garage near the infamous Sa Colobra climb there wasn't a car in sight, and instead of customers topping up with fuel there were over a hundred cyclists rehydrating and regrouping.
Cycling holiday companies proliferate from east to west, north to south. Upmarket northern town Pollensa boasts the British company Stuart Hall Cycling who are so big they now advertise on every EasyJet boarding pass. Just outside the capital Palma you have Irish Triple Crown legend Stephen Roche Cycling's holiday base. On the east coast, Sun Velo organise rides through the flat central plains as well as the bucket-list climbs in the Serra Tramuntana mountains. On the west coast smaller, more bespoke companies proliferate and this is where we made our base in the mountain village of Deia; home to two local ex-pro cyclists, the Reynes brothers. With excellent bikes for hire and cycling maps and apps of routes on the island it's possible to tailor make your own holiday in this way, giving you the freedom to go where you want, when you want.
But it's not just British and Irish companies riding the current wave - Swiss cycling vacation company 'huerzeler' are everywhere, their signs adorning (or defacing whichever way you look at it) all the best cafes, restaurants, and hotels across the island. Their distinctive kit is ubiquitous and it's impossible to avoid their groups of pale, shaven and super-fit guests whizzing along every possible cycle path and mountain road on the island.
In fact Brits are clearly in the minority here with northern Europeans dominating and German-speaking leaders shouting instructions to their finely honed groups everywhere. British and German guests have always tussled for superiority on the island, and now English company Rapha is fighting back by opening a permanent Rapha shop and cafe in Palma town. Unfortunately Rapha weren't able to give us a sneak preview, but this is what they said about opening in Mallorca:
Clearly the popularity of cycling on the island has been fuelled by the number of professional teams using the varied terrain for their winter training camps. Team Sky have their Balearic base in Mallorca in December as do Astana, Trek Segafredo and Cervelo but it isn't the only training location used by the pros of course.
So what is it about Mallorca that makes it such a desirable place to ride or train, whichever is your personal goal? We asked Vicente Reynes, who retired from team IAM Cycling in December, what is attracting people in their droves to ride on the island:
We certainly found this to be true. Back in England prior to our trip we planned our cycling routes using the GPS app. There you can track exactly how many miles and how many feet of climbing you want to do, and plan your next route to build up to the next level over the duration of your stay. The app worked well and will even prompt you not to miss turns etc., though watch out if you chose to do a route backwards- it can get very confusing!
Starting out gently (a nasty fall back home delayed our training schedule by a few weeks!) we explored some of the beautiful and very quiet cycleways in the centre of the island. The following day featured the stunning (and again very quiet) circular route from Bunyola, up the Coll d'Honor through to the Coll d'Orient and down for a coffee stop in the picturesque town of Alaro. After that, we ventured out along the classic Ma-10 coastal route which runs the length of the Serra de Tramuntana mountains. This road takes in all the gorgeous cliffs and coves with their crazy hairpins and treacherous descents from the southern-most tip of Andratx, past the infamous Sa Calobra, all the way to the lighthouse at the most northern point of Cap de Formentor.
You'd be hard pressed to find more beautiful, more varied, more challenging cycling anywhere in the world, with wonderful cafes and restaurants permanently open and welcoming cyclists. The only negative would be how ridiculously crowded some of the more popular routes are now, and we saw plenty of riders behaving very recklessly on the roads. We wondered how much more of a cycling boom Mallorca can take before there's a backlash from the locals?
We love the fact that the islanders are embracing cycling tourism and Vicente and his brother Marc are testament to the many cycling promoters who give a fantastic service and excellent hire bikes and assistance. This is a large part of the allure of Mallorca. I had my best ever cycling days on the island - how often can you come home from a holiday fitter, healthier and happier ready for the season and our first sportive (Tour de Yorkshire) next weekend? We can't wait to return...