majorca recap: coming to terms with the descent

An early-spring road cycling training camp is one way to jump-start the season. Even if you’ve been able to ride all winter, as we have in the New York City area this year, a concentrated outdoor effort on challenging terrain under the guidance of experienced ride leaders can boost motivation, help build fitness and improve bike handling skills and confidence.

Recently I parked my city bike and hung up my commuter jeans to attend my first-ever training camp in Majorca, Spain. As mentioned in a previous post, the mild climate, challenging terrain, well-paved roads and accessibility of this Mediterranean island attract an estimated quarter of a million cyclists each spring. (And by the way, you don’t have to be a road cyclist to enjoy everything Majorca offers — springtime bicycle touring is another popular option.)

Majorca Climb
Ascending in the welcome shade of a forest in Majorca, Spain. photo above and top: Pete Drinkell, others velojoy

My goals: 1) to build my fitness base and endurance for some upcoming cycling events through ride volume and climbing, and 2) to improve my bike handling skills on descents — I admit to tentativeness and wussy bilateral brake-squeezing.

The trip that I signed on for is an annual week-long camp organized by New York City fitting studio and bike shop Signature Cycles and led by GPM10 Training. The rides range from 40 to 100 miles per day and include the best-known routes, such as the Dei and Valldemossa mountain and coastal ride, with its long descent and countless hairpin turns, off the Coll de Puig Major into Soller, and a classic mountain loop that comprises a hill stage of the UCI Tour of Majorca. Although it’s not the norm for this trip, this year I was the only woman among 20 participants and guides.

Great things happen when men women and mountains meet ~ William Blake

A week later, with 425 miles and 25,000 feet of vertical gain in the books (and several jars of chamois cream in the wastebasket), here’s the report: I’m still on the hoods, though no longer abusing the brakes, and I’ll probably never call my drops home. But I’m not afraid anymore; tackling steep descents and switchbacks with the encouragement of our guides markedly improved my skills and confidence on the downhill. And, of course, you can’t go down without going back up. Reaching the summits of some monster climbs did really good things for my head. But those aren’t the only reasons why my Majorca trip was one of the most satisfying adventures of my cycling lifetime. For me it was about a magnificent setting; an extraordinary group of people who are passionate about cycling, and who gladly share their knowledge and experience; and an exceptionally well-organized training experience. Read on to learn the drill of spring training camp:

This spaghetti of pavement constitutes the famous 5-mile descent into the hamlet of Sa Calobra.

A ride through the streets of Artà at mid-day was a prelude to an ascent to a remote monastery.

To fuel all those pedal rotations, we consumed about twice as many calories per day as usual.

The annual trip attracts a dedicated group of road cycling enthusiasts. (I’m fourth from the right.)

Ride leader Mark Neep (front left) owns GPM10, European specialists in training camps and tours.

Delicate late-March blooms along the roadside presented a counterpoint to the rugged landscape.

A view from the climb to the Cap de Formentor Lighthouse (center), where we stopped for coffee.

Road bicycle cases were as common on the grounds of our hotel at Port Pollenca as chaise lounges might be elsewhere. The airline lost my bicycle for 48 hours. Luckily an excellent loaner was available.

Inside this monastery at San Salvador, religious articles mingle with framed cycling jerseys (below).

Jörg Ludewig (above), a German three-time Tour de France racer, now retired, spent a few days with us recounting secrets of the peloton and dazzling us with a seasoned pro’s finesse — and humor. Capturing a glimpse of his grace on the descent, which was all I got as he blew by, was a privilege.

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