This turned out to be my last ride in Mallorca, but it was one of the most exciting. My plan was to reverse the route of the previous day: heading over the Coll de Soller and across the Serra de Tramuntana before ending in the city of Inca, catching a train back home.
I waited for the supermarket to open to get yet more muesli for breakfast. It wasn’t too much later that I headed out again on my bike. By now, I’d spent so many hours on the bike that it felt more comfortable to keep my legs turning over than not.
Coll de Soller (Cat 2: 6.3 km @ 5.3%)
Whereas all the previous days had started riding around the bay to the city of Palma itself, my final ride was different. I took the inland road, with the aim of bypassing the city to get to the mountains to the north. Being a Sunday morning, the roads were relatively quiet, but it felt as though I was skirting my way along back roads. Hence, there were a number of turns I got wrong, and only discovered thanks to my GPS.
Eventually, the roads transitioned from the suburban Spanish settlements to the open highway. I was on the road that led to the town of Soller. It was wide and straight and had a wide kerb to make cycling comfortable. Uncomfortable, however, were the kilometers of false flat as the mountains approached. I felt like I could hardly keep any decent speed going, and it got worse as the pass neared.
The first climb of the day was the Coll de Soller. I had climbed the previous side the night before in ailing light, so I knew what to expect. The road left the highway (which went through a tunnel) and zig-zagged repeatedly up the valley. I had a constant view over my shoulder, which kept improving as I got higher and higher. I paced myself well on this climb, it never got too difficult. But there was a surprise waiting for me at the top.
Just at the final hairpin, there was a lookout bay, and so I pulled over to take some photos. I had barely pulled my phone out of my pocket when a Jaguar pulled up in front of me, black with a blue stripe down the middle and the words Team Sky printed on the side. I knew immediately what this was, and had been half expecting it at some point during the week. This was the professional cycling team that has won four of the last five Tours de France and they were out on a training ride. I immediately got back on my bike and rode up the last part of the hill. Not a couple of hundred metres from the top, I was joined by three cyclists in Sky colours, who smiled and waved as they road past. I accelerated to join them, all sense of pain diminished by the excitement of riding alongside some of the best in the world.
The Team Sky riders stopped for a chat on the top of the pass with their team car. I went on ahead, starting the very twisty descent of the pass, knowing that they would follow me. The road had a hairpin every hundred metres or so, and so it wasn’t long before a car got stuck behind me as I descended the mountain. Two cars behind that was the Team Sky car, driving ahead of its team but stuck behind me. Because I would loop back on myself each hairpin, I could see the car behind me. I felt as though I was in a breakaway of a professional cycling race, and that I had Team Sky pacing after me, trying to catch me. I leaned into each corner and accelerated out, trying to keep as much time between me and them as possible.
Puig Major (Cat 1: 14.2 km @ 5.9%)
The descent turned back onto the highway. I rode as fast as I could, without over exerting, so I could get to the bottom of the next climb before I was caught. The Team Sky car stopped somewhere near the bottom of the descent to wait for its team mates. I dived through the town of Soller, and even got to see the old Soller tram trundling along the narrow gauge track. I was back to near sea level, and turned onto the second climb of the day: the Puig Major. This is the longest and highest cycling climb on the island (a restricted access military road extends it even further), but doesn’t have anything near the same character of the more famous Sa Calobra. Nonetheless, it was a good climb to get into a rhythm and practice long climbs.
I managed a kilometer and a half of the lower slopes of the climb before I was caught by the three riders from Team Sky and their car. They greeted me as they passed. I rode harder than normal to stay with them as long as possible, but there was no way I could match them for the length of the climb. I had few moments with just the Team Sky car behind me, making me feel professional just a little longer, before it too overtook me. I wouldn’t see them again for the rest of the day. My guess is that they went to Sa Calobra.
Buzzing with excitement, I forgot that I was climbing. Eventually, I settled down, enjoying the views, but also constantly trying to spot the top of the climb. On climbs that are so long, all you can do is just keep turning the pedals over, so that is what I did. I had the last of my snack bars for lunch and an hour or so later, I was at the tunnel at the top.
I was at the highest point of the island, and so now the only way was down. The next hour or so was almost all downhill or flat. I rode through two tunnels, along the edge of a lake and past the Sa Calobra turn off. There was a little rise after the turn-off, and here my day turned into a calamity of mechanical mishaps. The first was the most catastrophic. The bolt which holds the bottom bracket (the pedal axle) together had fallen off somewhere, and eventually it gave way and my entire pedal crank arm came loose from my bike. I managed to save myself from falling off, but had to top on the side of the road to repair it. Without the bolt, it would only come off again, but I could tighten the other parts enough for it to stay on for the remainder of the descent. Had I had any more climbs planned, I probably would have hung in the towel, but I knew I only had descending to come, so I figured it should last. I tentatively re-attached the crank arm and committed myself to putting majority of the pressure through the other leg.
About a kilometre later, I stopped again, this time I noticed that the cleats in my left shoe were loose and needed to be tightened; there was far too much give in the shoes to feel safe.
The descent of the Coll de Sa Batalla began in earnest. I took it carefully, not wanting to cause myself any trouble. Some of the drops on the side were high, so I didn’t want to do anything too daring. However, as the road dropped to the valley floor, I had the third mechanical of the day, and the second which indicated my bike was in need of urgent repairs. One of the spokes on the rear wheel snapped. I had no means to repair it on the road. All I could do was thread it out of the way and loosen the brake calipers. A broken spoke means the wheel buckles slightly and braking performance is significantly impaired. Fortunately, the worst of the descent was over, and I was able to gingerly descend to the town of Calmari.
There were four more kilometres to ride to get to the train station at Inca. Both my wheel and my pedals didn’t break any further, despite a short climb at the village of Selva. I purchased my train ticket, waited around for a while, and headed back to Palma.
The final bit of cycling was from the train station back to the hotel. There were 14 kilometres of mostly flat around the bay again. But this time, I was very conscious about the dwindling health of my bike, so didn’t push it too hard. The last few kilometres were very hard; my pedal fell off again. I put it back on, but this time it wouldn’t stay. I resigned to walking home the final kilometre, but that was much more preferable to getting home from the other side of the island.
By the time I had showered, most of the restaurants around had closed, so I was forced to eat from the take-out place I went to on my first night. I had initially planned an extra ride the next day, but given the state of my bike, I decided to pack it up and come back another day.
The next day, I packed up my things and found a taxi to take me to the airport. Since I had planned enough time to go for a bike ride in the morning, I found now that I had too much time on my hands. I got to the airport before the check-in opened, and so had to sit around for an hour, during which I Skyped Brittany for some company. Eventually, I dropped off my bags, passed through security, had a small meal, and got to the gate with hardly any battery on my phone. By the time I boarded, there was a mere four percent left, but it still managed to play music for the entire flight.
This flight was in the dark, so there wasn’t much to see until we came in over London. Unlike arriving in Adelaide, where I know the landscape well enough to spot individual towns and streets, London is still foreign to me, so I had no sense of where we were.
I had a long wait in the immigration queue at Stansted Airport, despite being a UK resident now. I collected my bags and headed for the train station. Unfortunately, I just missed a Cambridge-bound train and had to wait around a while before another one came. Once home, I got a taxi with a rather disgruntled driver (he complained heavily about the poor behaviour of other taxi drivers picking up passengers in the taxi rank. Finally, I was home, but only for a short time; there was another trip on the horizon.