Before we came out to Mallorca this year, I had already said I wanted to ride Sa Calobra again.
I've done it twice before, but this year felt I needed to set myself (and then pass) the test, show that the Crossfit training and strength work would transfer across to my bike legs and also to then give me confidence of a good base level of cycle fitness to help me with my other challenges this year.
Sa Calobra is probably the most famous Mallorca climb - a category 1, 10km at an average of 7% taking in 26 hairpin bends as it winds from the peaceful and scenic fishing village in the bay up to the top of the Coll des Reis.
5 of us were going this year - a really nice change from last years solo trek. David and I are both 50, Matt and Julian late 40's and Chris (Davids son) is nearly 17 - out of the group, just Matt and I have ridden Sa Calobra before.
We forego our daily sea swim (good news for me!) and we meet at 7.30 for an early breakfast. We know we'll be out for 5-6 hours, so an early start will mean it is a little cooler and the roads will be quieter. We are all a little nervous - at our level it is a tough ride and no-one is taking it for granted, but we're not setting any time or pace targets - the goal is to enjoy the ride, stay safe and finish!
In order to get to Sa Calobra, we have to go via Luc, which on it's own is a pretty tough ride with 800m of climbing.
We start at sea level in Port de Pollenca, and head south towards the start of the Tramuntara mountains.
The Ironman 70.3 route comes this way, and the area has benefited with a number of roads being completely re-surfaced. The Ma-2200 to Pollenca and then the Ma-10 to Luc are beautiful and smooth new tarmac, and the 5 of us spin smoothly along the flat for the first 5-6 miles.
Once on the Ma-10, you can see the mountains ahead in the distance, long straights giving a beautiful view as the road starts to climb, very gently, but steadily on and up.
The real climbing starts as you pass the Col de Fermenia signpost - 7.5km at 5.5% and the gradient immediately kicks in. I love this climb up to Luc, but it never gets any easier, and from this point on, it is low gears, sit and spin while also looking around, taking in the spectacular views, talking to the mountain goats and just grinding it out.
Our group of 5 splits up pretty quickly... first up the mountain gets the coffee in, and again it's Chris who just flies up, making it look so simple, I think he has time to grow the beans before we catch him at the top.
The climb up to Luc is the first planned stop, and we all catch up, a lovely coffee (and a cold coke) before setting off together for the next stage across the top of the mountains to the turn off from the Ma-10 to Ma-2141 - the road to the Coll des Reis and Sa Calobra..
If you rode this section anywhere else, you would say it's really hilly, but because it is sandwiched between Luc and Sa Calobra, it just feels a bit lumpy..
There are some spectacular views across the mountains and a couple of viewing points, but we work solidly as a group and in no time at all we are at the turn off.
As you slow down at the coffee shop, away from the main road, you look across the seating area and in the background is the top of the Coll des Reis..
Hang on... do I have to get up there before we go down again!??
One of the challenges of Sa Calobra is that in order to do it, you have to reach it first. We're now over 20 miles in, about 2 hours of riding and 3000ft of climbing in the legs... and the fun is just beginning!
We check the group is together and then set off, agreeing to meet at the bottom.
I stop an extra minute to turn on the Go-Pro... and realise it's not working!!
I take it out of the casing, check it over and try again... nothing...!!
Part of me shrugs... part of me rages... part of me realises if I do want to ever video this, I'll have to ride it again!!
I decide I will stop a couple of times on the way to take pictures on my phone and then set off.
The climb to Coll des Reis is a 10 minute grind, a number of switchback, and in the sun it is becoming pretty hot..
At the summit, there is a 100 metre downhill section, before you come to the underpass loop, and the start of Sa Calobra.
I love going downhill... and Sa Calobra is fantastic..
Switchbacks and hairpins at the top, the section feels open, bright and fast. The photographers are here, catching you as you pass. I make a quick stop to take a couple of pictures and then fly down, the whole section free of cars for me, it is exciting and exhilarating.
You drop quickly and can feel the height of the mountain above, before you pass through a small cut gap in the rock that crests a ridge and you start the second section where you have a the mountain always above you to your right.
There is a long long single straight that I remember from previous rides - it is a joy going down and precedes another fast section with hairpins as you come into the final valley with the village at the bottom.
There is a viewing area and a small, narrow tunnel cut in the rock at the end of this section, so I stop again and take a couple of pictures, before the last, fast winding descent takes us into the village and the spectacular bay.
You're at the bottom.. now get back up!!
We gather as a group at the bottom, exhilarated by the descent and we spend about 15 minutes in the bay, taking pictures, loo stop and enjoying the scenery.
A pirate style ship is moored, and the sea is calm, flat and a beautiful blue.
But we all know that what goes down has to go up.
None of us are worrying about a time, and we all wish each other luck and set off back up the hill.
For me, the 3 sections of the climb help me track progress without worrying about time. I deliberately select a low gear and spin up.. although the steeper sections mean "Spin" becomes a bit more of a grind.
I'm trying not to blow up my legs - they have felt strong during the week, and it has been lungs and tum giving me grief, and for the first part of the climb I feel pretty good, and make steady, steady progress.
I'm disturbed by what I initially think is a steam train - but it's a young boy, blasting up the hill making a whole load of noise as he goes.. I'm impressed by his speed, and also his volume.. but it soon becomes peaceful, as he's away and gone.
I make steady progress and go through the small cut gap, so I know I'm on the final section - but it is the longest section with multiple hairpins and long straights between them.
At this point I start to feel tired, and also the heat - there is little shade and it is a beautiful sunny spring day. A far cry from scorching summer, but enough to make me feel a bit cooked.
I get steadily more tired as I go up this section and will also be slowing down. At a couple of the hairpins I get out of my saddle and stand up, but instead of powering up through the steeper part, I crawl forwards with just enough momentum to keep upright.
I see the photographers on the mountain above me, and realise I'm nearly there, so just get my head down and grind forward. Slow progress, but I get level with them, go past them and see the road loop at the top. I keep pushing, and slowly roll past and continue up to the Col des Reis summit.
On the final 100m I'm joined by Chris, easily pulling up along side me. He looks fresh as a daisy.. and he'd been up to the top, had a rest and then come back down again to see who was next!
He'd seen me coming up and had pulled in right behind me, talking to me for about the last 5 minutes!
I had heard a voice, but was didn't realise who it was.. I really did just have my head down.
From the Col des Reis, we have a fast, fun descent to the coffee stop - and here it is coffee, coke, water and a proper sit down.
After the coffee stop and the congratulations to all of us on the ride we then have the small matter of the 20 miles home.
We all go across the top, then I dive away at Luc to return the same route we came out. It's a bit hillier than the other way back, but I love the Luc descent and haven't ridden it for a while, so I go solo and smash it back to Port de Pollenca.
The total ride was 60.8 miles, 4hrs 50 mins riding with 6833 ft elevation gain.It'll certainly be one I remember for a long time :-)