The tale of the mongoose and the cobra
What does descending a mountain at 60+km’h into a hairpin with only a one foot barrier separating you and a 100 metre drop-off have in common with a 9km climb at an average grade of 8%? … sa Calobra - translated into English means ‘the cobra’ because of how the road winds back and forth like the body of this deadly snake. This climb is not for the faint of heart and you have to be on your guard with sa Calobra or it’ll get you with its venom: enter the mongoose.
After a good night’s rest I woke up to have some food I bought at the local ‘British’ grocery store, organic oats, fresh multi grain bread with PEANUT BUTTER (oh how I miss my nut butters) with the usual orange juice and café. My knee still seemed a bit tender as I made my way downstairs but with the weather being so amazing today (sunny and 17), I decided that my solo ride would be to bet the farm and make my way over to sa Calobra so I could cross that off the to-climb list.
Oscar wasn’t well this morning so it was me, Armin van Buuren, Paul Oakenfold and the rest of the gang on my ishuffle making an honest effort to accomplish today’s stage intact. After leaving Puerto Pollensa I headed to Pollensa then made my way over to Lluc where there were lots of cyclists in small groups so I enjoyed one of my favourite past times which is picking off people (without ever getting passed) as I ascended to Lluc my 6th time since arriving in Mallorca. About 4-5 kilometres from the top I saw a rider who was descending stop, turn around then begin making his way back up the mountain. My knee was hurting a bit so I pushed myself further back on the seat for more leverage as I tried to keep my cadence up around 80rpm, pushing out 270 watts at a heart rate around 166bpm. It became evident that this guy was trying to chase me down so the dance began. I notched it up a few watts and watched my heart rate go up to 171bpm where I continued to push the pace and held off the Spaniard as long as I could. About 2km from the top he caught up and made the universal expression that I was hurting him as he edged in front for another 200metres. Knowing that I could hurt him was a good thing; soon as the road started to even out a bit I changed from my 39x19 to my 53x21 and stomped on the pedals to catch up and then sit neck and neck with him for another kilometer. It’s really quite interesting when you have someone at their limit because as I’d accelerate (undulating hills until the final segment) he’d fall back a little so I’d slow just a little to let him catch back up (we were pulling a pretty good pace) and this continued until he turned off to the monastery at Lluc. There’s a mutual respect that’s universal with riders that compete (or have) and it’s so great to feel like someone ‘gets’ you. There’s always an opportunity to blow past people and leave them without a chance of catching you but today was different and it was good to be the one setting the tempo for a good rider who was hanging out at threshold. Luckily, my heart was strong today and I was able to set the tempo, pacing him up the mountain to his destination. It’s always great when you’re climbing to have someone pushing you, feeling like you could be attacked at any point so you’re on edge all the way.
Reached Lluc without too much problem from my knee just a few twinges here and there to remind me that its still the boss and will ultimately dictate the rest of the day in the saddle. Only 9 kilometres until the descent of sa Calobra on an undulating road that saw a final 2.6km climb at 6.5% up to the top before plunging downward. I have to say, there is really nothing that compares to a descent full of switchbacks and hairpins with no traffic and a killer view.
Shifting into my 53x14 I made my way down the top part of the descent (arguably the steepest) where my eyes welled up with tears as the wind began to greet me at full speed as I hit 67km’h. Dancing from hairpin to hairpin it was a great day for shifting body weight, taking up the whole road and keeping focused as far down the road as my eyes could see (or down below) for on-coming traffic that might change my line as I hit the apex of each corner and then further made my mark by standing after each corner to power through the turn and pick up my speed as I continued my way down to sa Calobra. Fortunately, there were no tour buses ahead of me today and only one car during my whole decent that pulled over to let me pass (thank you). It’s funny; when you’re at full-throttle going into a hairpin with only a one foot stone barrier separating you and a 100 metre drop off you start to think, “It’s a really good thing I know what I’m doing”. I’m sure wearing a helmet is a great way to prevent a head injury when you fall on asphalt but I’m thinking it might not help all that much if I go flying off a mountain…
Finally reaching the base of sa Calobra I take a few pictures as a memento to say, “I was here”; peel off my arm and leg warmers and go right back to where I came from: up. Climbing sa Calobra is no picnic; it’s a tough climb, it’s a windy climb and it doesn’t let up, not for a 10 metres. It’s you, the road, the other cyclists coming down and then the cars and tour buses start to head to the restaurants below for lunch.
As I start up the mountain I shift my weight backward and begin to make use of my 25 tooth cog as I pace my climb, keeping my heart rate below 168bpm and my cadence as high as possible. I set a tempo and watch the multitude of cyclists descending as I power up. Calobra is one of those climbs that given bad wind conditions and the wrong gearing could leave a man stranded on the side of the road wondering what the hell he got himself into. Paced myself up and watched my metrics very closely so I didn’t blow up and tried to turn my 25 as fast as I could to reduce the pressure on my knee. The climb was fairly uneventful other than 1 tour bus that left me an inch of road which wouldn’t have been pretty if I fell downhill over the barrier. The hardest part came near the top when I was faced with a headwind and looked down to see a demoralizing speed of 12.5km’h. I stood and was able to bring my tempo up to 15km’h before the grade finally forgave me; reaching the top I descended.
Good thing about not having my knee warmers on was that the cold wind and the 5C temperature difference had sort of numbed my knees so I was virtually pain-free. Again I picked my lines carefully and was up then down and up and down before making my turn to Lluc, making my final descent to Pollensa. Good descent, caught a bunch of riders and was able to carry the momentum from the base to Pollensa averaging about 42km’h. I was in a hurry to get back to the hotel because the market in Puerto Pollensa closes at 2 on Wednesday’s only.
Made it back in time, quick glance at the SRM showed 98km which took me 3 hours and 45 minutes with a few camera breaks en route. Average speed and watts were nothing to write home about today but the metres of climbing wasn’t too bad.
It appears that I’m back in business. At the moment my knee is happy, (right PSIS on the other hand) I’m happy and I still have 3 more days to cross some good rides off my to-do list. Guess the lamb and red wine cocktail really does have magical healing powers.