By Robbie Broughton
A comment that Mark Cavendish recently made in conversation with Daniel Friebe on The Cycling Podcast got us into a discussion about our favourite kind of rides, particularly here in Mallorca where we live. A circular loop is always satisfying, while ‘there and back’ rides where you retrace your steps split opinion. Turns out an A to B journey where you end up in a completely different location to where you started from was the most popular.
Cav had expressed his antipathy to the famous Sa Calobra climb in Mallorca. For those of you that don’t know, to climb up this amazing road, you have to descend it first. As you plummet down the sinewy hairpins for some 10 km, the thought behind everyone’s mind is, “Christ, this is going to be hard work coming back up again!”
It turns out these aren’t just the thoughts of amateurs like ourselves. Even the pros like Cav think that way too. Staying in the centre of Palma and on a training camp at the start of the season he said, “I don’t know if I’m going to do Sa Calobra. I see no point – why would you go down a hill knowing you’ve got to come back up it?... I don’t like retracing my steps. That’s a little compulsive thing that I don’t really like doing. I like doing loops, and Sa Colobra don’t really fit with that, unless you can take a boat round and start the ride down there. Do you know anyone with a boat?”
For me, I find the Sa Calobra ride one of the most rewarding experiences you can have on a bike. But then I do it an awfully lot slower than Cav and his team mates approach it. And, other than any pressure I might put on myself to beat my Strava time, it’s not exactly the end of the world if I don’t. It’s not my job. This is my hobby. So I can take my time and soak up the wonderful vistas as I toil up the mountain, treating myself to a cool drink drink at the café at the top, perhaps even congratulating myself on a good work out.
As a there and back ride, it’s pretty good but my favourite of this type of excursion is the ride out to Formentor lighthouse. Heading out from Pollenca you know that you’re going to come back on exactly the same road that you set out from in the first place. The joy of this however is that there are ups as well as downs so you know it’s not just going to be a big climb to get home. It’s amazing as well how the views going there and back are so different and you notice parts on your return that you hadn’t on the outbound journey.
There and back rides can be great if you’re worried about getting home on time. If we only have an hour or so to spare we ride out towards Alaro from our village, Caimari, across beautifully rolling countryside. Just stop and turn round after half an hour and you know you’ll be home in time. This is great for the hot summer months when it’s really too hot cycle during the day. We’ll put off heading out as late as possible knowing that we won’t get caught in the dark – no street lights here!
A circular loop is the preference for many – there’s something rewarding about just looking at that on the map afterwards. My first experience of the Etape du Tour in 2013 was a circular loop starting and ending in Annecy. Fantastic ride!
We have a favourite that heads out of our village in Caimari that we call the vineyard loop. One half of it is rolling and there’s one hardish climb up to Alaro. After that it’s downhill and flat all the way home through Mallorca’s wine country. (Yes! Contrary to many an ignorant wine snob, the wine here is pretty amazing!)
The long flat part through beautiful country lanes can be tough with a strong headwind, so we always check that before we go. We reverse the route if it looks like it’s going to be a strong one. One of the troubles of living here, however, is that quite often the wind changes to the opposite direction very quickly and there have been times when it’s done just that when we’re turning round – headwind all the way!
It’s amazing how much harder some circular routes are when reversed. Another great ride is the loop from Alaro up to Orient, followed by a descent into Bunyola with some pretty tight and steep hairpins. It’s the same amount of climbing whichever way you approach it, but the climb coming from Bunyola to Orient is a real stinker – very steep gradient in sections and being mostly wooded, not the greatest views. Your reward is the descent down to Alaro though! Stunning scenery here, and easy sweeping bends that you can take at speed.
Our other favourite loop is from Caimari to Pollenca and back, either via the Sa Batalla climb outside our very own front door, or through the ‘Little Tuscany’ of the Campanet valley followed by the lengthy climb to Col de Femenia. Again the experience is very different if you approach it in different directions. Tough start, one way with an easier finish, but reverse the direction and you have a nice easy start to warm up the legs followed by a tough old climb. We always love flying down Sa Batalla straight to our front door though!
Perhaps the most satisfying type of ride though is probably an A to B ride, ending up in a completely different place to where you started out from. Only trouble with this is how you get home. Get a friend to pick you up, get a train back or, even better, pitch a tent and set off to a new destination the next day.
Bike packing or touring is surely the most satisfying and enjoyable holiday! We had a fabulous trip from Brighton to Exeter last year that took just under a week. It’s great arriving somewhere new each day and there’s the benefit of passing through a variety of landscapes from coastal paths to the New Forest to rolling Devonshire hills.
The London to Brighton bike ride is a classic A to B that’s hugely enjoyable. There’s something pretty special about heading out of the big city and ending up at the seaside for fish and chips by the pier. Then it’s an easy train ride home.
We’re pretty spoiled out here in Mallorca with a huge choice of all three types of rides so we never get bored of the same old routes. Having lived for a long time in South London that involved a 45 minute slog through suburbia before reaching country roads I always appreciate the fact that we’re straight into cycling paradise the moment we saddle up.
Let us know what your favourite type of rides are!