RCUK’s essential guide to road cycling in Mallorca
Where to stay, climbs to ride and how to prepare for your cycling trip to Mallorca
Mallorca has become a cycling hotspot in recent years. Located in the Balearic Islands, and therefore promising mild-to-hot sunny weather for most of the year (they did, admittedly, see snow this winter), Mallorca boasts typically smooth Spanish roads and an easy-going culture. It’s one of the go-to places for a cycling training camp or break.
It can be the perfect tonic for a long British winter, or indeed as an active diversion for a summer holiday. Don’t just take our word for it, though – it’s been home to early season training camps of most of pro level cycling teams as they fight for condition before heading to early season races in Australia, and the Middle East.
It’s also a relatively cheap destination to reach, and because it has become accustomed to having pro teams and amateurs alike gracing its black top for well over a decade, on top of being a well-known holiday destination in general, there are plenty of options for road cyclists to get their riding fill on the island.
When should I go?
Traditionally, Mallorca has been seen as a perfect early-season training camp destination because of its year-round mild and sunny weather.
As a result, it’s common to travel there between the months of March and May as the British winter weather is in its final throes. However, don’t let that limit you if your season goals don’t line up nicely with this time frame.
You can expect average temperatures of ten degrees if you choose to go very early season in December, January and February, with a height of 25 degrees seen on average in August, although this can be as high as the mid-thirties during the peak holiday season.
Peak holiday season also means the island is far busier, with towns and villages full with holiday makers, as well as the inevitable increase in flight costs that come with school holidays.
As a result, arguably the most popular time for cyclists is in the pre- or post-summer holiday period, from March to May and again from September to early November, if you just can’t bear to let your cycling season come to an end.
Where should I base myself?
The good thing about Mallorca is that it’s arguably small enough to be able to access a whole area of the island from a single point if you enjoy longer rides of 100km plus. Your base should reflect the kind of riding you want to do, and there are plenty of options on offer thanks to the thriving beach-based holiday tourism on the island.
However, here are our picks, away from the usual high-rise beach hotels, so that you can take in the best Mallorca’s varied topography has to offer.
The town of Sóller is situated just off the western and eastern serras of Mallorca, on its north-western facing edge. It’s ideal for cyclists because it’s situated right in the heart of the mountain ranges on the island in this area, offering easy access to the Coll de Sóller on its doorstep, Puig Major and the inland lakes of the Gorg Blau and Cúber.
The town is historically significant on the island for the trade of citrus fruits, and is one of the more picturesque locales with grand buildings, squares and cobbled alleyways dotted around – perfect for relaxing after a lung busting day in the Mallorcan mountains.
If being tucked away in an exclusive location is your style, then Andratx could be the spot for you. Located in the western extreme of Mallorca, Andratx and its port are popular destinations for the rich and famous – a bit like an island-based St. Tropez – adding a touch of extra-curricular class to your stay.
The riding is excellent too – you can venture into the lower mountains the Western Serra has to offer, or choose to ride the hilly coastal road all the way to the Port of Sóller and back.
However, if you’re hoping for a little variety in the topography, don’t worry, because you can also head south towards Sol de Mallorca or across towards Palma for flatter riding too.
Manacor, famous for being the birthplace of tennis superstar Rafael Nadal, is on the other side of the island, away from the mountains in the north west and slightly inland of the beach.
Not everyone who rides in Mallorca wants to be climbing all day, so Mallorca’s second city is as good a place as any to base yourself if your focus is on exploring the flatlands or east coast of the island.
Because it’s slightly inland, you’ll be slightly removed from holidaymakers and the frills of a commercialised resort – and as a result can fully dedicate yourself to getting miles in up and down the eastern seaboard and inland too.
Back to the mountains, and Pollença is another ideal town if you want easy access to the Puig Major and Sa Calobra climbs, thanks to its position on the border of the Eastern Serra and East Coast regions.
It’s got an accompanying port on the coast, just like Andratx, and has a thriving café culture.
What Pollença offers, perhaps more easily than any other major town, is easy access to the whole range of riding Mallorca has to offer, almost immediately from when you leave your door.
Throw in points of interest like the Nosta Senyora Del Angels church, Pont Roma, and the fort atop the Puid de Maria among others, and you’ll have plenty to do in your downtime as well.
How to get there
Mallorca is served by its airport in the capital, Palma. Because it’s such a popular holiday destination, there are regular flights from all major airports in the UK, which makes it particularly easy to get to wherever you’re based in the country.
From there, regular shuttles or private hires can be organised to your final destination.
The ascent of the Sa Calobra isn’t just one of the best climbs in Mallorca – it’s one of the best climbs in the world, and we named it as one of our top twelve climbs to ride before you die, thanks to the way the road is draped in a series of switchbacks up either side.
It’s a perfect training climb, whether you’re looking to hone your conditioning and climbing ability before a trip to the major climbs in Europe, or generally want to improve your fitness levels.
What makes it so unique is in order to tackle the main climb, you first need to get over the mountain from the inland side, before heading down to the fishing village on the only road back up the mountain.
Length: 9.5km Average gradient: 7 per cent Elevation gain: 658m
Coll de Sóller
The Coll de Sóller is a mountain pass, so has two ascents to tackle, both of which are incredibly picturesque, and reminiscent of the switchbacked climbs you’ll find in the Alps.
It’s not terribly hard, either, so perfect as a warm up if you’re thinking of doing a loop through the mountains.
The northern side is the longest and toughest, with an average gradient of six per cent for 7.3km. The southern approach is shorter and slightly flatter at a five per cent average for 4.9km. What makes the climb so enticing to cyclists, though, is the relative lack of traffic thanks to the Ma-11 tunnel that cuts under the mountain to meet both ends of the road. Plus, the southern side acts a great warm up for the Puig Major, so you’ve no excuse.
Northern Length: 7.3km Average gradient: 6 per cent Elevation gain: 417m
Southern Length: 4.9km Average gradient: 5 per cent Elevation gain: 253m
Alongside Sa Calobra, Puig Major is rated as one of the toughest tests on Mallorca, and much like the northern slope of the Coll de Sóller the start is just off the town of Sóller, this time rising eastwards.
It’s a true test of climbing ability, with the gradient remaining steady throughout the climb as it curves its way to the summit, passing the town of Fornalutx as it does.
It tops out at the Monnaber Tunnel, which passes under the ridge of the Puig Major proper, and feeds you out to the beautiful-to-behold upland lakes of Gorg Blau and Cúbar.
Length: 14.2km Average gradient: 6 per cent Elevation gain: 821m
It’s not a mountain in itself, but it’s certainly a point on the map sought out by cyclists, and we think it should be on your list too as it offers one of the best photo opportunities on the island.
The Cap Formentor lighthouse sits at the northern tip of Mallorca, and sticks out into the sea along a small spit of hilly land. It’s accessible via the Port de Pollença via a single road, but isn’t too packed in terms of traffic thanks to it being a dead end, even though it’s a tourist hotspot.
A simple 50km out-and-back route from the outskirts of Pollença town brings around 1,150m of climbing – so be ready.
Package or DIY?
There are two fundamental ways to get organised for your trip: by using a tour operator to do the legwork for you, or by organising it yourself – and there are pros and cons to both options.
A tour operator will take much of the hassle out of your trip and most will take care of everything once you’ve arrived, from airport transfers to hotel bookings, routes to bike hire. You’ll find options to suit a range of options but the downside of going this way is (sometimes) the cost and that you are largely bound by the itinerary of the trip.
One area that Mallorca does excel is its wide offering of hotels in coastal resorts, and if you go outside of peak holiday season, you can get a great deal on a room – just make sure the hotel in question has a secure storage area for your bikes. Alternatively, you can rent a villa for a week, sharing the cost between friends.
Most cyclists go to Mallorca for a training camp, so it’s likely you’ll be turning up either short of your peak condition, or using it to jump start your cycling year. Alternatively, of course, you may be visiting while in your best condition, wanting to have a go at testing yourselves against the KOMs held by Team Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski, Ian Boswell, et al. If that’s the case, we wish you the best of luck!
If you’re coming to Mallorca for the climbing, then you need to treat it just as you would if you were travelling to the Alps or Pyrenees.
This means ensuring your bike is setup to deal with prolonged climbs, so you’re not left at the side of the road, defeated.
While very strong climbers may prefer a standard double 53-39t chainset or (more likely) semi-compact 52-36t chainset, most riders will appreciate a compact 50-34t chainset paired to an 11-28t cassette.
If you know that climbing really isn’t your strength, or you’re very short of fitness, opting for a cassette with a 30 or 32-tooth sprocket (if your bike will accept it) will give you an extra gear or two to get out of jail.
Even though you may be coming to Mallorca for a training camp in search of fitness, we advise you come with base miles already in your legs and with experience or previous form of climbing in your local area so that you’re not caught out. A route planning tool like Strava will help you plot your routes, as well as gauge the length and severity of the climbs you’re set to take on.
Mallorca is known for its dry and mild weather, so you can generally get away without your thermals – though anybody there this winter will have been glad of some extra layers thanks to the unlikely appearance of snow.
We have heard reports of riders climbing the Puig Major in the depth of winter and finding the one-degree celcius temperature at the summit a bit parky too, so it really depends on the time of year you go.
Summer riders (May-September) may need a gilet and arm warmers with them at the beginning and end of the season, but elsewhere we recommend packing full arm and leg warmers, a waterproof jacket, a gilet, long-fingered gloves and shoe covers alongside your summer kit.
As ever, you also need to ensure you’re carrying at least the spare equipment you would have for a normal ride at home, with extra spares in your luggage just in case.
This should include spare tubes, tyre levers, and a pump or CO2 canisters, as well as puncture repair kit, a versatile multi-tool (some may even want to bring a toolkit for larger repairs back at base), and anything you may need over the course of your trip, including chain lube and the charger for an electronic groupset, if you have one.
Mallorca is one of the most popular locations for cyclists in the world. Not only do pro teams use it often as a base for training camps, and arrive for the Mallorca Challenge races, it welcomes more than 35,000 cyclists each year, so it’s unlikely you’ll be alone when you fly out.
Event you might want to try
The Mallorca 312 is one of the most popular cyclosportives in the world, and sells out every year. It ranks as one of the longest sportives in Europe.
The event is named for its 312km distance (there are smaller 157 and 225km courses too) and up to 2015 took a circuitous route of the whole island.
As of 2016, the route takes a more focused approach, almost exclusively situated in the mountains on the north western side, plus a deviation along and around the north eastern edge to make up the distance.
It’s a closed-road sportive, on which you’ll tackle the majority of the major climbs the island has to offer, totalling over 5000m of ascent if you go for the big one. As a result, it’s not for the feint of heart whichever distance you opt for, because each route is centred around those peaks.
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