Spain is home to ‘La Vuelta’, one of the three grand cycling tours which shape the European cycling season. It has a rich cycling tradition and its profile as a quality cycling destination has risen rapidly over the last 15 years. The now disgraced Lance Armstrong first put Girona in northern Spain on the international cycling map when he lived and trained there, bringing along many of his former US Postal teammates. They were quickly joined by other pro-team outfits such as Garmin Cervelo (now Garmin Sharp). In recent years though, the trend has shifted to the Spanish islands of Majorca, Tenerife, and Lanzarote with a huge influx of pro cycling teams, including Orica GreenEdge, looking for places to escape the winter chill of mainland Europe.
Majorca (Spanish: Mallorca) provides the perfect base for European cyclists looking for some quality early season training. While the rest of Europe is caught in a freeze and mountain passes are buried under metres of snow, the cycling season on the Balearic Islands can begin as early as February. During February, Majorca enjoys calm and clear weather with temperatures typically ranging between 10-15 degrees Celsius. The chance to train at this time of the year definitely gives you a head start; just ask 2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, who bought real estate on the island during 2012 and spent early 2013 training on this cycling haven.
When we talk about ‘havens’ though, many Australians may still best remember Majorca as the hideaway for shonky businessman Christopher Skase. The safe haven he infamously enjoyed for almost a decade during the 1990’s no longer taints the island and instead cyclists now travel in their droves to this new cycling mecca.
Majorca – is it really the new Cycling Mecca?
So why exactly have cyclists sought out Majorca of all places? Perhaps it is the stand-alone airport bike carousel, or perhaps street vending machines that sell bike tubes rather than cans of coke. In all seriousness, the first wave of international cycling tourists arrived to Majorca about 25 years ago due its warm temperate weather, sandy beaches, long days, excellent accommodation and fresh food. They discovered a variety of cycling terrain, lightly trafficked roads, and the chance for enjoyable loop rides combining picturesque coastal views, interior scraggy mountain rocky landscapes, and fertile green central fields and pastures.
Majorca offers a range of cycling terrain which means the island is accessible to beginners through to professionals; anyone with an interest in pedal power. The island measures 3,640 square km and has a well organised and interconnected road network; depending on where you call home there will be door to door cycling options available. The island also opens itself to 10 to 12 unique cycling stages which will take you through the flat central sections of the island to the mountainous and remote southern and northern roads. Though “remote” might sound strange for a relatively small island, the mountain roads are exactly that. Cycling switchback after switchback, up and over its ten categorised climbs, the chances of being passed by a professional cyclist on his daily training ride is greater than being passed by a petrol fueled vehicle. Don’t let them get you down though as they speed by. For what it’s worth I prefer being overtaken by a professional cyclist than a car any day!
The Mediterranean island also boasts the spectacular World Heritage ‘Serra de Tramuntana’ mountain range to the north and west of the island. Cycling this mountain range is a treat for those looking for elevation gain. There are seven Category 1 and 2 climbs available which range between 5-14km in length and have average gradients between 5-7%. The two Category 1 climbs to ‘Puig Major’ and ‘Sa Colabra’ are a must do. Puig Major rises to Majorca´s highest point at 1445m and offers amazing island views, and the battle to ‘Sa Colabra’, with its 26 switchbacks, is a test of concentration, all the while though enjoying the beautiful landscapes.
Majorca and its Cycling Calendar
From the 10 million tourists who visit Majorca annually, approximately 70,000 thousand are cyclists. Almost half (40%) of this number are women, so the island is a great cycling destination for individuals, couples and families alike. There are also many events on the Majorca cycling calendar which are attracting cyclists of all breeds: competitive, social and challenge seekers. The fact that professional and recreational cyclists return year after year speaks volumes for the royal treatment they receive and the cycling experience that awaits them at every kilometre marker.
The cycling season in Majorca is split into two periods from January to May, and September to October. A list of some of the key events on the calendar is provided below:
1. Challenge Iberostar Majorca
Pro tour event which is held every February. During 2013, Orica GreenEdge´s Leigh Howard won two sprint finishes at this four stage event, beating quality sprinters such as Tyler Farrar.
2. Marxa Cicloturista de Femines
Cyclo-sportive event solely for female participants. During late May 2013, this event will celebrate its seventh edition.
3. WiW Duva International
Cyclo-sportive ride which is held during April and includes 95km & 135km options.
4. Mallorca 312
Cyclo-sportive event held during April which is a serious challenge and not for the faint hearted. Mallorca 312 takes cyclists around the entire circumference of the island (312km) and includes over 4300m of elevation gain. If you think you can beat the 14 hour time limit, then this could be the next challenge ride for you!
5. Tour of Majorca for Masters
During October, a full week of Masters racing is available for those looking to test themselves against the best ‘veteran’ riders from Europe.
Establishing your Majorcan cycling base?
This is in no way an exhaustive list of regions to choose from, but the most popular towns for cyclists looking to establish a cycling base include Port de Alcudia (Puerto de Alcudia), Port de Pollenca (Puerto de Pollenca) and Portocolom. These regions are all to the east of the island and far away from the capital Palma de Majorca and its tourist masses.
Orica GreenEdge made their first official training visit to the island in February 2013 and called the Hotel Iberostar Playa de Muro home for a week. It is not difficult to see why this hotel has become a magnet for cyclists. With over 2000 road bikes on site for hire, one can quickly see that this hotel is prepared to satisfy the hungry demand for cycling tourists. It is obviously a hit with the tourists as 90% of their guests travel to Majorca without their bikes. The hotel also includes resort like features with many pools, spas, sports training rooms and its own private beach. Not forgetting the cycling memorabilia that is littered throughout the hotel from pro teams including Katusha, GreenEdge, Garmin, and Omega Pharma Quickstep to name a few.
Wesley Sulzberg and Daniel Teklehaimanot of Team GreenEDGE Orica
What does 2014 hold in store for GreenEdge and Majorca?
All reports suggest that Orica GreenEdge will return to Majorca, and Hotel Iberostar, in 2014 for their early European season training camp/racing. The idea of a January/February trip to Mallorca for Australian cyclists however is unlikely to be overly enticing. Australia is already right middle of its home season, a trip to the Tour Down Under in Adelaide with its 30 degree weather is probably more appealing.
However, we could do well to take a leaf out of the book of our fellow European cycling amigos and look for our own pre-season cycling holiday experience. Let your friends back in Australia think that you are lying on the pristine beaches of Majorca enjoying some quality R&R while you’re taking the chance to ‘get one up’ on them. The Australian winter is slowly drawing upon us and as the European cycling season warms up, Majorca can offer much deserved cycling away from the boredom of the indoor trainer. Between June and September, Majorca enjoys average daily highs between 25 and 30 °C.
Cycling is full of tactics and Majorca, while being a fun holiday destination, could well be your next secret training paradise.
My team and I will be in Majorca in late August/early September 2014 running a guided cycling trip and would love to hear from you if you can picture yourself cycling Majorca. Also get in touch if you would like information about self-guided cycling on Majorca and in Europe: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.sierrasportsandtours.com.au