Riding Legro’s ‘Big One’ on Mallorca
At 9.25am on the final day of the Legro’s Cycle Training Camp on the Spanish island of Mallorca, I line up with a group of around 15 other riders on a promisingly warm and sunny day. Today is what the camp calls the Big Mountains Day and we are waiting outside the Duva Hotel and Habitat apartments near Port de Pollença for the rides to begin.
I have chosen a ride of 75 miles, including a couple of the island’s classic hill climbs, from a list of four or five routes posted up the night before in the hotel reception area.
There are a few options, from an easy-ish 25 miler to the longest and toughest route of some 105 miles and a few thousands metres of ascent. In between is a 75 miler and an 86 miler with several mountains.
My usual group is what I call the middle-of-the-roaders. We are all keen cyclists and would like to be a bit fitter than we are but it’s early in the season and many, like me, have spent the winter doing only a few rides and a bit of spin or turbo training.
These middle-of-the-roaders are called 2B2s. There is a faster group of 2B1s and a racing whippet group, the 2As. The 2B2s are usually split further into two or three groups for the daily rides.
With each group comes at least two ride leaders and usually more. There are never more than 20 cyclists in a group and generally fewer.
Before we set out each day, we are told the distance, average speed, ascent and, most importantly (!), the cafe/lunch stops for each riding group.
For most of the week, I have ridden comfortably and happily in the 2B2s. I’ve enjoyed being able to switch off from navigation thanks to the ride leaders and I’ve chatted with many friendly and interesting people while cycling through the bucolic scenery of Mallorca.
Group rides do take a bit of skill and, sometimes, a lot of concentration but the speed and efficiency of this kind of riding is fantastic.
So, here I am on day six, waiting for the group leader to set us off on the 75-mile route.
A change of mind
Then Adam, a ride leader in the 2B1 group (a little faster and a little further), beckons me, telling me that I should go with them for what is know as Legro’s Big One; an 86-mile route via several long climbs including Puig Major, Coll de Soller and Coll d’Honor.
But I shake my head, worrying that I won’t keep up and that the route is much further than I have ridden for a while. I would hate to hold up the other cyclists so I prefer to stick with a group that I am comfortable with.
He encourages me again and suddenly I decide I will. It’s the last day of my holiday after all and I have been feeling increasingly strong throughout the week.
As they ride off, away from the hotel, I tag on to the back of the group and try to settle my panicking brain.
Thankfully, the delightfully smooth tarmac on the gently ascending main road from Port de Pollença, on the north-east coast of Mallorca, is fabulously flattering for road cyclists. Our group rides easily and seemingly without need for much pedal power at what feels like a very efficient pace.
Riding in a Legro’s group
It would be tempting for stronger riders to edge ahead, pulling the rest of the group with them regardless of desire and fitness, but the group leaders keep a steady pace at the helm. This means there is no “hero riding” and everyone rides at an average speed together.
The long and steady group rides, usually two abreast, allow plenty of time for chatting to a neighbour. I always love to hear about other people’s stories and I have been impressed and inspired by so many riders over the week.
When we need to, such as on narrow back roads, we single out into a longer snaking chain riding along winding roads edged by wild flower grasses and via aromatic orchards of oranges or fields of newly budding vines.
In a single line, there is less time for talking and more of a need to focus on the riding, each of us concentrating on staying neatly behind the person in front.
I would love to tell you that the cycling is peaceful on Mallorca but it can actually be rather noisy. The cycling groups are a so often busy with chat, laughter and signal shouts, such as “car front”, “car back”, “riders side”, “hole left”, “turning right” etc.
It sounds a little mad and at times it does feel slightly overwhelming but on the whole the sensation and sounds of group riding are utterly absorbing.
Only when we meet the hills do we ride solo and more tranquilly.
First climb of the Big One
All too soon after leaving the hotel behind we arrive at the first climb of the day. The aim is Coll de Femenia at 515m elevation before another longer rise on the pass of Puig Major, the highest peak on Mallorca. We take the route via Fornalutx for a nine-mile climb with an average gradient of 6%.
We stop to regroup a few times but for most of the climb we ride on our own or in small groups, setting a pace that we can sustain for an hour or more.
I confess I enjoy hill climbing. I am quite light so I find it relatively easy to pick an easy gear and spin my pedals to make steady progress uphill. I also enjoy my own company and speed and a chance to look around at the ever-widening panorama of countryside.
The views on the mountain passes of Mallorca are breath-taking, with tightly ribboning roads heading crazily up and down, many edged by cool shadows of native woods, large expanses of green and brown scrublands, sparkling lakes and tall grasses that wave in the breeze inter-weaved with the brightest, most cheerful flowers.
Even in spring-time the skies are often a splendid shade of deep blue, providing a brilliant backdrop for the dramatic ridges of sharply pointed light-coloured rocky outcrops looming high above.
The aromas and sounds of the Mallorcan hills are distinctive, too, with the smells (not so pleasant!) and bell clanking of the goats, the vibrant tweets and calls of myriad birds and the throb of the car engines approaching from behind. Most drivers on Mallorca are very courteous towards cyclists, even on long hill climbs, and will give a wide berth after a gentle and peaceable approach.
It’s vital that you stay on the right side of the road, however, especially when riding on narrow passes. Descending cars, buses and cyclists do tend to encroach when coming around corners and I saw a few close misses throughout the week of cycling.
It’s worth keeping your eyes peeled for a famous face, too. Apparently, I was passed in the opposite direction on the first hill by the great Sir Bradley Wiggins. I am fairly sure he was the rider in black Lycra that I admired as he whizzed past me. I noted how tall and fit he looked but it wasn’t until the top of the hill that I was told it was Wiggo!
There are few hills on Mallorca that are all up, if you see what I mean. In between the rises there are dips and I make the most of these by switching to a harder gear, tucking my body down on to the drop handlebars and racing along.
Yet, still, I am usually overtaken by most riders on the descents. It’s not that I am particularly slow, scared or unskilled, it’s more that I have to work hard to keep up with heavier and more muscled riders.
The hills keep on coming
There is a lot of climbing on the Legro’s Big One and most of this we do before a late lunch stop at Alaro. After Puig Major we head to Col de Soller for a three-mile ascent with an average gradient of 5%.
A colleague from home chooses to call me while I ride this hill and I switch my phone, attached to my handlebars with a Quad Lock, to loud speaker. He does most of the talking while I puff out a few responses although he doesn’t seem too surprised to find me cycling a hill on Mallorca instead of working.
Next we reach the town of Bunyola for another climb, this time Coll d’Honor in the gorgeous Orient valley. The coll is almost four miles long with a gradient of 5.9% on average.
I can remember the climb from pervious years of cycling on the island but for some reason it feels longer and far more arduous. I start to feel a gnawing in my stomach and realise my inner “hangry” is looming. I really need to eat a proper meal, rather than cereal bars, and the picturesque town of Alaro at the end of a long and chilly descent can not come soon enough.
Thank goodness the Mallorcans know how to make a great tuna sandwich. I eat every last bit, as well as the delicious fresh olives that come as a side dish, and a bottle of cold, sweet Coke. I am tempted to order an ice cream, too, but there are signs we are about to head off again and I worry that I will end up with a stitch if I eat too much.
The fast road back to base
The group leaders have decided to head back to the hotel via a more direct – and flatter – route. Time has marched on and there is a building headwind so we form a tight knit group, two by two, and push onwards joining the super smooth tarmac of a main road.
Although I find the traffic quite intimidating I feel quite protected by the size of our group. The pace does seem to be suddenly unrelenting, however. With the strong legs of two leaders, Neil and Ian, at the front of the group it appears we will be time trialling it to the hotel.
I try so hard and dig deep with tired leg muscles as I attempt to stay close to the wheel of the rider in front. My shoulders and arms ache after so many hours on my bike and my bum is that numb-sore that you get after cycling all day.
I am beginning to panic, though. I can’t believe I will manage this hellbent speed, even in a group, for another 25 miles.
At each roundabout or junction I have to fight with all my strength to catch back on the wheel of a rider and as we meet a short hill I fall back from some of the others.
Our other leader, Adam, notices that several in the group are struggling and he shoots to the front where he asks his colleagues to reduce the pace a little. Thankfully, after this, although still speedy, the pedalling becomes a little easier and I can relax, knowing that I will be able to finish the ride without need for a taxi.
As we wind the pace up again for the final couple of miles, with the hotel almost in sight, I find I am able to increase my pedalling power and, suddenly, I feel a huge burst of adrenaline (mixed with pride and relief).
Afterwards, as we enjoy a chilled beer and a swimming pool leg cool down in the hotel bar I can smile self-indulgently. I had risen to the challenge of cycling with the AB1s (something I never imagined I would) and I had ridden the furthest and hilliest route of the past year or more.
My MapMyRide app reveals I have climbed a total of 2,865m, which is almost twice the height of Ben Nevis.
Just as I had hoped, a week at Legro’s Training Camp had given me back a good bit of cycling confidence, fitness and strength. I will definitely be back next year.
PS Thanks to Adam for encouraging me to step up a group for the Big One. And thanks to all the other amazing leaders for their brilliant guidance, advice and enthusiasm throughout the week’s holiday.