Old Gits from the Falmouth Wheelers take on the Sa Calobra climb in Mallorca

It was good to finally return to Mallorca and enjoy again everything this cycling mecca has to offer. It was worth the wait and the trip was probably one of the most relaxed and enjoyable yet. Ahead of the holiday report I’d like to write a little about the cycling achievements of the two oldest members of the group.

I had my eye on the Strava leaderboard for the Sa Calobra climb for the age group 65-69 for some time. I had briefly been second back in 2019 with a time of 39 minutes 32 seconds but was now seventh. Putting this into perspective, the KOM for this fiercely contested iconic climb has been held by Sebas Henao since 2016 at a time of 24 minutes 54 seconds. However, during the week we were on the island it was taken by the little known welsh rider Ed Laverack in an eye watering time of 24 minutes 36 seconds!

After two reasonably easy days cycling we all headed once more up the Col de Femenia and, following coffee and cake in Lluc rode up the short climb to the Col de Reiss before descending down to the sea and the small village of Sa Calobra. I let the others go ahead while I stashed my small ruck sack containing all the bits and pieces I felt might hold me back from my quickest time on the climb! Once at the bottom it was clear that we all just wanted to get the job done and, rather than have a second coffee, we each set the torture clock ticking! Phil and I had always planned riding together for as long as we could but this turned out not to be long at all! My heart rate had risen and I cautiously eased off a little and watched Phil slip away. However, he was never out of sight and there were times when I thought I was closing the gap but on reaching the magnificent iconic 270 degree loop near the top, where the road goes over itself, the afterburners just wouldn’t ignite. I finished in 38 minutes 57 seconds, but a whole 35 seconds faster than my 2019 effort and just 33 seconds behind Phil. Everyone did really well but none more so than Jan. Up until this holiday Jan had never used Strava but, spurred on by us, she downloaded the app and recorded her ride – then calmly announced that she was the second quickest lady in her age category and had only missed the top spot by seconds!

Jan’s achievement was truly amazing as she appeared not to have given it her full effort. I suggested we should both return after rest and recuperation and take the leaderboard titles home with us. I’m not sure how many women in the 65-69 category have attempted the climb but in the mens it is over 1,100! However, my improved time still left me in seventh place and, as I was still suffering the affects of horrid Covid, I felt that a couple of easy days recovery might swing it.

On Friday, our last day, Phil and I set off in the crisp early morning sunshine and headed once more up the Col de Femenia, and after heading west along the MA-10 parted company at the Sa Calobra turning, Phil carrying on with his far longer challenge, through the tunnels and past the lakes all the way down to Soller – only to turn around and give the climb everything on the way back. And me the far shorter route to Sa Calobra – and back! Again I stashed food, water and unnecessary weight at the top and cautiously descended to the small port tucked away out of sight below. I had intended riding straight back up but as the resort had only just woken up and there were few people about I decided to take Jan’s advice and have a double espresso in the hotel opposite the harbour. There were empty bike racks on the hotel patio so I needn’t worry about the bike and could relax in the sunshine and enjoy the view. A final trip to the loo (and an adjustment to my power to weight ratio – a consequence of the coffee!) and I was ready to start.

I have a power meter pedal and I set my Garmin to ride to power, heart rate and average speed needing to maintain 9.4 mph to top the leader board. As soon as I set off I knew I felt a whole lot stronger. On the descent I had met some ladies all dressed in bright pink tops similar to our ladies Wheeler tops and from a ‘women only’ group in Kent. I got talking to one of them – having noticed that there were already a steady stream of pink topped ladies heading in the opposite direction – and she explained they were a group of sixty! So I settled into a pattern of spotting them, catching them and exchanging words of encouragement. From the bottom of the climb all the way to the top!

It was going surprisingly well and for a time I was holding an average speed of 10.5 mph – though I had an alarmingly high heart rate that peaked at a little over 200 bpm! Either there was an error with the device or I was seeing the true affects of caffeine! This was in contrast to the unexpectedly low power reading I was getting – lower than on my first attempt. This was a little puzzling as I know from recent training I can hold far higher power – so maybe it was just another glitch. The mph seemed accurate so I rode to that. Though I did see my average speed drop steadily through the ride I was still holding 9.5 average with the famous 270 turn in sight but sadly, as before, the after burners simply didn’t ignite and the vision I had of completing the final half mile to the top at peak watts simply didn’t materialise – I was running on fumes! I stopped the Garmin and once I’d got my breath back and could see clearly again saw that my average speed had dropped to 9.3 – though there was still a chance I’d done enough.

I retrieved my bag and slowly descended to the junction to wait for Phil. During my wait my ride uploaded to Strava – I’d missed it by sixteen seconds ( this became 18 secs when I swapped the ride recorded on my phone for the ride on my Garmin! ).

Still, I was on the podium as was Jan. Sadly, as often happens when you first use Strava, it takes a while to load all the other users, and Jan was relegated to third spot and an almost identical time off the top spot of 17 seconds. Still, a pretty fine achievement for two old gits from the Falmouth Wheelers.


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