Our friends at Cafe du Cycliste recently branched out from the Cote d”Azur and opened up a classy new store in our adopted homeland of Mallorca. We visited last month and were quickly salivating over the beautifully made cycle wear and Cervelo bikes to rent, mentally writing our Christmas wish lists as we went.
The guys at C du C have wasted no time in getting to know the island, but rather than taking the beaten track and sticking to the infamous road rides we know and love, they completed a punishing gravel ride in the centre of the island. Read their stunningly illustrated report on the ‘Toros de Gravel’ here:
Sa Calobra, Puig Major, Formentor, Soller. These are what Mallorca is known for. Until, that is, the first edition of Toros de Gravel which promised to open up the looser side of The Island.
With a new base in Palma and a penchant for the rough stuff it was an event we could not miss.
A festival style camp had been erected in Sineu for the long weekend which centered around the 140km main event. Maybe only the organisers truly knew what lay in store as a mixture of industry influencers, gravel connoisseurs and local ‘newbies’ crossed the start line.
The Mallorquin countryside revealed itself gradually as the early morning mist lifted. As always, initial excitement and adrenalin meant the first sector to checkpoint one passed quickly. A “trozo” of ensaïmada, a traditional Mallorquin brioche-kind of pastry, served as brunch but it wasn’t enough for one Catalan who decided it was beer time. With another 110km on the clock, it was a brave choice.
From Campos to the coast was the first introduction of steep climbing and white-knuckle descending. It’s savagely beautiful landscape and the riding reflects it. This gravel is rough and technical and things begin to get really difficult. Enjoyment has to be merited to a certain degree by a mixture of fitness and bike-handling abilities.
Eventually the topography softened, terracotta fields are outlined by the white dusty tracks upon which we glide. Sheep were strewn among the olive trees, their wool tainted rust by the dust. The gravel has taken us away from the main arteries of the island into a landscape where time has evidently stood still for many years.
The mid way food station came as a relief and a necessity. It is, in keeping with the event, not your ordinary sportive offering. Bread with olive paste, sweets, vermouth and red wine made for an eclectic lunch. You could be excused for kicking back and relaxing, if it were not for extremity of the first gravel section.
The beauty however, and the reason for gravel bikes instead of MTBs, is the ability to enjoy rolling on the tarmac whilst getting a substantial block of kilometres under the tyres. We ride on the coast, almost blinded by the reflection of the sun on the Balearic Sea.
As enjoyable as it is, it was time to re-engage gravel mode. We headed for the hills…
What is for sure is that 10kms of off-road sans suspendu is worth at least 20kms on surfaced roads. For the uninitiated riding gravel in the mountains takes its toll and some begin to abandon. But the fun is in the mix of the technical and the physical challenge found on the tracks.
In between the trees we not only find respite from the omnipresnt wind but also the endorphin highs of adventuring into somewhere completely unknown. It’s a special feeling, made possible by this event and the bikes we are riding which are built for the job out of more forgiving titanium. We find a placebo effect in their aesthetic allure. Anything to get us to the finish line.
Eight hours in and we reach the final checkpoint which offers wine, vermouth or water to wash down the salt and olive oil bread. Sense prevails, thankfully, before the final off-road test. Maybe to inject adrenalin into tired bodies, the organisers have included a rocky single-track descent. It works, for a while, until a ground tree causes an unplanned somersault. It's the highlight of an incident-packed day.
Despite the dusk, the silhouettes of the Sineu rooftops were perceptible beyond the fields. Mounting lights at the start of the day was a good idea, as we ride into town and begin to hear the sounds of festivities of those who finished ahead of us.
After a neo-trademark victory lap around the Sineu Velodrome, encouraged by earlier arrivals, we finally unclipped. Queue inner relief and a budding sense of pride.
The only things still to be ridden: the mechanical bull and the train home.