I was slightly apprehensive about going. Not only was this a trip organised by our friend and mentor, Malcolm, who just happens to work for Trek Bikes, it turns out that most of the other participants are going to be Trek employees, assorted mates and cycling buddies. For sure I wouldn’t be fit enough. I roped in my girlfriend and pilates instructor, Fiona for moral support.
My bag was packed with the weirdest stuff – leg warmers (previously unworn), energy drinks and gels, pedals - how many people forget those? – helmet, gillet, new cycle shoes and assorted lycra. Only then could I start thinking about what I would wear when not biking, it all seemed a bit backwards to me. Usually you pack your civvy clothes and throw in a few bits of scrappy sportswear. I was particularly unnerved by the Trek Travel commentary that recommended (for an Explorer holiday) that ladies should “accessorise” for casual elegance in the evening….
It was great to meet our fellow travellers – a great bunch of guys, most of whom had been on the camp before and knew what to expect. We weren’t given much chance to settle in – once at our hotel after a flight delay we had 10 minutes to get changed and meet in the courtyard to test our bikes. These were amazing –Trek Domane carbon road bikes with…get this…electric assist gears. I didn’t know such technology existed and it only took a few fumbles before I got used to the click-click whirr of a gear change, no clunks, no rattles, no rubbing. How will I ever survive without them again?
As it was late, we managed a quick cycle out and back about 12 miles – enough to stretch the legs at what seemed like too fast a pace for me already, and a couple of miles of climbing – probably more than I had done in training to date. Mmmm, I am worried at this point, but saved by fading daylight, we head back to the hotel for a slap up meal. I did dare one glass of wine, it felt rude not to, but I was also cautiously aware that my body doesn't function well after a session at the bar so I resisted temptation and had an early night.
Day 1 started well enough – a quick pace out of the hotel along the walled roads towards Soller. It was beautiful weather, cool to start but the sun was up. Fiona and I had spent a fair while determining what gear to wear and were warned to make sure we had arm warmers and gillets for the descents which can be cold on the dark side of the mountain. Col de Soller was the first climb – switchbacks (17 in total we were told, but I’m sure there were more). The knack here, I discovered, still being painfully slow, was to stand up around the tight corners. This was my local Aston Abbotts hill 17 times over…I could hear my heart pounding, my legs didn’t know what had happened to them and I think I must have looked like a beetroot. There was a big cheer from the group when I made it to the top – very generous – and I felt rather chuffed with myself. The day was interspersed with a coffee and cake stop, lunch in the sun and plenty of amazing downhill runs.
Day 2 was the BIG ONE – three huge climbs and over 100km of ride. Rather annoyingly the first climb was the same – Col de Soller, and I couldn’t work out whether it was better to know what you were climbing, or just to deal with it as you went along. The latter, I decided, halfway up! So, Puig Major was the long 14km 6% drag up to 854m from virtual sea level – I found that excruciatingly hard. It was fairly warm by now in the midday sun and as usual, my ability to keep a decent pace had disappeared within about 1km of the start. All I could do was sit in my lowest gear and plod. “Keep tapping away” shouted Ali, our cheerful guide. I couldn’t actually think about anything as my legs churned round at a snail’s pace – no songs kept me going, no repetitions of “One Man went to mow” as someone had suggested, just the constant staring at a piece of tarmac about a metre in front of my handlebars interspersed with the occasional glance at my Garmin. How bloody long can it take to travel 10m? I was down to 6kph and slowing…thankfully still in sight of one of the group, my only saving grace.
After an amazing descent, the real question was, would I attempt Sa Colobra, the second deepest gorge in Europe. This is basically 12km down a windy Scalextric track – the only drawback being the 12km climb back up, 9.5km of which are at over 7%. Gulp, there would be no turning back. What the hell, I thought, I’m only going to get one chance before the summer – let’s go for it. The downhill experience was amazing, very tight turns, some almost vertical drops and the most incredible scenery you could experience. My fellow cyclists had given me extremely positive advice on how to tackle the downs – “in like a lamb, out like a lion” – rattled in my ear with every bend; inside leg up; pump the brakes…it all helped. After about 2 minutes at the bottom to soak up the atmosphere, I decided to carry on straight back up, knowing that I would be slow. It had taken 15 minutes to zoom down, it was going to take an hour and 15 minutes to climb up. I was passed by the world and his wife on the way back, but I just took it steady and surprised myself by my determination. The thrill of getting to the top – ably helped over the last few hundred metres by guide Lisa with her back push technique (involves being super fit) and loud music – made the whole training camp worthwhile for me.
Day 3 was another long but spectacular (and only marginally less hilly) ride along the northern coast of the Island. I had my mental blip about 500m from the top of the last climb. Asked if I was OK by guide Ali, I could only blub into my energy drink, I had no gas left in the tank. I had taken the comment that we only had one small hill to climb a bit too literally. Thankfully her cheery demeanour pulled me up the last few U-bends and I could then enjoy the enormous descent back to the hotel.
The trip was a fantastic experience and I can only thank all my new friends who helped me through what was quite a tough few days. Much fun was had along the way and I learned a lot about the techniques of climbing and descending, how not to be afraid of climbs, about how the body functions on sugar overload and dehydration (not well) and about how to get on a bike day after day and do 100km. I’ll be sharing all this newfound information with my team mates, I just don’t quite know how to tell them yet that the consensus from the Mallorca Ride Camp fraternity seemed to be that we won’t be able to cycle the Étape together as a group…something I think we are all scared to think about.
The biggest bonus of making the camp though was the confirmation that we can all do this challenge. Several of the guys had done the Étape before and they were all so positively encouraging, it was great to hear….let’s go for it girls!!!