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Tuesday 5 November 2019

Puig de Sant Salvadore: Accidental Mountain Biking in Mallorca

So I cycled up Puig De Sant Salvadore ... by accident. On a mountain bike. Because I wanted to have a look at the cross on the hill.

You know when you’re travelling on a train or bus and you see something interesting, but you can’t stop to look at it? Well I had that this year when I was on holiday in Mallorca. I was on the way back from a market on a bus and there was a cross on a hill. A big cross on a big hill.

I couldn’t see much before it disappeared off to the side as the bus continued its dusty journey back towards Cales de Mallorca. But I marked the place on the map and decided I wanted to try and find it.

The next day, I popped into the town to see if I could hire a bike. I could. There was a choice of precisely two bikes. A mountain bike with flat tyres or a mountain bike with no brakes.

I decided that I’d take a chance on a puncture rather than not being able to stop and chose the bike sitting on the flats. Pumped up the tyres and gave the vendor a tenner and I was off.  Well almost off. There were no bottle cages on the bike so bought a child’s rucksack, so I could pop a drink in it. It would have been hard work cycling in 35*c with no water.

I set a route using google maps which gave me a bike route. It took me out of the town and down a small rutted dirt road. Maybe I had been lucky that there were no road bikes. The road was quiet and dusty with an occasional low residence set back from the road. I cycled past these quickly half-expecting a mean dog to rush out of the open gates and chase me down the track. After a couple of miles, Google Maps directed me up a drive with a padlocked gate. I dithered and finally decided it wasn’t worth the owner chasing me out with previously-mentioned mean dog and turned my mountain bike around.

The bike tyres had stayed pumped up and the bike was comfortable although there was a surreal moment when I heard a violin in the middle of nowhere. I'd stopped on a hill to check the maps and heard someone playing badly and quietly. I listened for a while as couldn't place the direction and realised it was the brakes rubbing. It sounds stupid, but it sounded exactly as if someone was playing the violin badly. It was very eerie.

Cycled on a main road for a while and then maps directed me onto another dirt track. All seemed to be going well until I passed a sign. I had NO CLUE what it meant so dug out Google Translate (as Google was clearly on my side today *cough*) and apparently, I was in a private hunters’ reserve. Oh. Maybe it’s just a road going through a reserve. The road on the map looked ok and Google HAD directed me through here. I carried on, cycling even quicker past the occasional residence than on the previous road in case the owners had mean dogs AND shot guns. Until the road ended up at a massive high fence with barbed wire on. OK then. Another U-turn back to the road.

Decided enough was enough. I decided that I was staying on the tarmac and ignoring Google. Twice was enough. I'd had a free pass on two of the roads but wasn't going to give it a chance to land me in the middle of an ordnance testing zone next time.

The tarmac roads were smooth and hilly and the drivers gave me loads of room and were pretty courteous. I could see the cross on the hill now in the distance. Checking the map I would go past it on the same route as the bus when I had first spotted it and then circle back around. I'd then have a bit of a hill to cycle up to see it. 

I found the turnoff and suddenly the road started climbing. It was a steady incline, past a dry looking field with goats in it. The first corner turned to the left with what looked like a fountain at the corner. I propped the bike up and went to try and fill up my water bottle as it had been a hot, dry ride so far, but I’d been mistaken and it appeared to be a memorial. No water in this stone.

I still had a few inches of water left so no drama. If it was like England, there would probably be a church near the cross and these always had a water tap. I’ve been helped plenty of times by spotting a spire or tower when out running or on my bike in the heat. 

I set off on the trusty mountain bike and the climb intensified and the road became alpine style switchbacks. Divine to cycle and the views were absolutely glorious! I could see the plains spread out below me and with each corner I could see further and further. 

However, I knew I had probably bitten off more than I could chew when a man leant out of his car window and shouted “Allez! Allez!” at me and I started noticing the paint on the road cheering cyclists onwards ...

And there I was on my borrowed mountain bike (which I had to blow up the tyres before I started and reconnect brakes!) and no bottle cages trying to get up this climb.

The climbs kept on coming. They were fun to cycle, and I only had a mouthful of water left in my bottle now. I was pretty sure there would be a water tap or something at the top and I hadn’t passed any shops on my way here, so my only bet was to keep going and see if there was water at the top because I knew for a fact there wasn’t any at the bottom.

An occasional car passed. The road was narrow, but they gave me plenty of room and the views kept me going. It was stunning. With every switchback and every climb, the view got better and better. Mallorca was laid out below me like a patchwork quilt. The climb wasn’t too bad - it was 5km long, but it wasn’t particularly steep, so I could just dig in and enjoy it. And I did.

The climb got steeper as I got closer to the top and I could see the cross above me growing larger and more glorious. The final turn took me around a steep corner with the cross on my left and a tower in front of me.

Was this it? Apparently not. The road carried on climbing towards a monastery and looped around one more time towards the gates. 

Divine views all around me. Stately stonework and stunning buildings.


On the left.

A bar. And the best tasting Coca Cola I have ever tasted.

Saturday 2 November 2019

Coventry Sprint Tri: Stupid Cycling Games & Free Weather

I love my car. It goes well, it’s comfortable and it’s an estate so plenty of room to throw a bike and triathlon kit in the back. And still have plenty of room for snack cheese and the like.

My favourite and very reddest trainers
Downsides: she might be a bit high mileage (230,000 miles …), she might be a bit scratched (some scrote went around her with a screwdriver while parked in Slough … lesson there) and she might be a bit aged (she’s almost old enough to vote). 

However, she’s been incredibly reliable even if the MOT is squeaky bum time, but the age and other bits do mean that things occasionally go wrong.

Like today. Rolling down the M6, the wind volume went up dramatically and it suddenly got a bit drafty inside the car. Turns out that one of the rear windows had decided that it might be nicer INSIDE the door, had fallen down and it wouldn’t go back up again. Yep. Free indoors weather. And free rain, free wind, free roadkill and whatever else the British summertime threw at me today. 

Great. So, the car would be insecure all day while I was racking and racing. Oh well. At least it’s not prime theft material. I couldn’t see any motor thieves with a car-theft shopping-list for an ageing Skoda with less than the usual number of windows and an odometer most of the way to the moon. 

Parked my open-to-the-elements vehicle up at the event and walked up to the start with Anna and Mike from Rugby Tri Club. On the way, we spotted a couple of friends, Rae and Dave and their gorgeous campervan. I had immediate vehicle envy. AND I couldn’t help noticing that Rae and Dave’s vehicle had all its windows. Posh.

I was so overcome with window-envy that I walked straight past the massive ‘TRANSITION’ sign. Which is clearly something that I don’t normally do. Get lost on the way to transition? Me?

Finally got myself through the door and picked up my race pack. Coventry Tri didn’t bother with race tattoos, preferring instead a sharpie and a willing limb.

This would normally be fine however having the attention span of a gerbil, I spotted a tri buddy, Fiona across the room and gave her an enthusiastic wave. Unfortunately, at the same time as the marshal was trying to write my number on my now rapidly waving arm. My race number looked like a tribal tattoo.

I’d forgotten how lovely it was doing a local event. Angela, Richard, Corinna and Guy from run club were all marshalling and lots of Tri Club friends were there too. I’d have lots of people to cheer on and wave to on the course should I have an excess of energy. Or need a distraction from the pain of having to do a short-distance race.

I racked Pinky-The-Amazing-TT-Bike, laid out my kit and sellotaped the gels to her frame. Everything important now sorted so went off to hunt down some caffeine. The coffee shop wasn’t open, but an amazing chap on reception opened the breakfast bar for me specially and got me a free coffee. It’s the little things that make a big difference. And I really need coffee to have a pre-race poo. So there’s that. 

The swim times for me and Anna were only 5 mins apart, so we walked down to the swimming pool and had pre-race nerves together. Even better, we were in the same lane which was lovely as I get quite nervous before a swim and it was a comfort to swim with a friend. As an additional bonus, one of my friends Rae was my lane marshal (yes she of the campervan with all the windows) and was to be counting laps for my lane. She was telling people when they had 2 laps to go so I didn’t even have to worry about over or under-counting my laps. 

There was a choice of hat colours to differentiate the swimmers in the lane, so I chose red to match my trisuit. And to match my terror creeping in at the edges which happens before a race. I would be fine when I started but pre-race is the scariest time.

I put my hat on and was signalled by Rae and I slipped into the water. The swim felt like it went quickly, and I was getting out of the water before I knew it. Had to leave the red hat poolside so I pushed my goggles down around my neck and dropped the hat.

Out of the warmth of the pool and out of the door to transition. Onto the cold tarmac and into the cool air, around the side of the building, into transition and a run towards where Pinky-The-TT-Bike was waiting for me on the front row.

Sunglasses on, helmet on and race belt, socks and bike shoes. And go, go, go …

I didn’t realise until I was already sprinting towards the mount line with Pinky that I’d left my goggles on and they were hanging round my neck like a damp rubber necklace.

Great. Well I’m going to look even more of a twerp in my race pics than usual. It looked as though I was planning to cycle through some REALLY deep floods. Well anything is possible in the British weather … I’d just have to pretend I was being REALLY well prepared. 

I got completely confused by the cones in the car park leading out of transition onto the road. There was a line of cones, but I wasn’t sure which side of them I was supposed to be on. Decided to compromise by winding in and out. So, I’m wearing goggles on my bike and treating the road markings like some sort of dog-agility course. Get a grip, Booker!

Finally, out onto bike course and away from the confusing cones and I got a cheer from Corinna who was marshalling the site access. Although she did ALSO give me a confused look when she spotted the goggles.

I got my head down and concentrated on pedalling. I could see one chap in black and white in the distance, so I concentrated on closing the gap to him. On downhills and flats, he widened the gap and on uphills I started catching him. This could be lap one’s game.

The Coventry Tri bike course consists of one small lap and one big lap. It was a mix of roads and there was some cycling in town but a lot of pretty lanes too. It was undulating, but road surfaces weren’t too bad apart from quite a lot of drain covers. It was a pretty course but as I found when recceing it, it was surprisingly slow.

I overtook a female cyclist early on in lap 1 and wanted to see if I could overtake her again when I went out on my second lap.  Silly games like this keep me occupied on the bike in an event otherwise I get distracted and drift off onto ‘social pace’ and start looking at people’s gardens and singing. My attention span really IS appalling.

Anna my swim lane buddy was clearly smashing the bike as I hadn’t seen her AT ALL despite her saying that she was going to cycle slowly and have lots of fun doing it. I spent the rest of the bike ride trying to catch the chap in the black and white top and as I came around the corner in a lane I was overtaken by a bloke on a disc wheel. Bugger. Back to 1 overtake and 1 overtaken. As I came down the hill, I could see someone flying up the other side! Anna! It was lovely to see her and we exchanged brief words of encouragement.

As we came up to the end of the lane and the only right turn on the course, I had to stop as there was traffic coming down the hill. All that hard work to have to sit and wait at a junction. And of course, setting off, I was in the wrong gear having not been prepared to stop for traffic as it was early on a Sunday morning!

Finally got going again and spotted Mike - a Rugby Tri friend, so cheered him on as I passed on the bike as Mike was already out on the run. He didn’t look like he was enjoying the run. This was a bad sign. Mike always looks strong so he’d either picked up an injury or the run course was a pig!

Due to having to stop, I had completely lost sight of the cyclist in black and white I had been trying to catch but, I did see the female from lap one. Managed to grab a sneaky overtake so that was 3 overtaken and 1 overtook me.

Last little bit and coming up to the turning back into the leisure centre, a car started pulling through in front of me from the opposite side of the road. Corinna-the-hero had practically thrown herself on the bonnet and was shouting at him to stop and get off the race course. I managed to pull the bike in while the car was stopped and - ignoring the confusing cones – was heading back to transition to drop off Pinky – and the goggles - and pull on my trainers.

I heard the announcer shout that Anna of Rugby Tri was coming into transition, so this gave me the impetus to get off my arse and get onto the run. It’s only 3 miles, right? How hard can it be?

Pretty bloody hard when it’s an out and back and the whole first half is uphill.

I didn’t look at my pace but went on feel and went as fast as I could considering it was hot, uphill and I had been neglecting my speedwork. So, about the speed of a really poorly badger then. With 3 legs and ingrown toenails.

It was tough. I was hot, grumpy and was pretty sure I was at max heartrate. I could feel my heart hammering the inside of my chest. And the road kept going up and up. Where was this turnaround point?

And the most irritating thing was that by the time I FINALLY reached the turnaround point, my legs were too battered to make the most of the downhill which I had crawled up with such difficulty on the way out.

It’s never good when you’re on a 3.1 mile run but your watch ticks over 3 miles and you’re not even into the road that the leisure centre is on, let alone the field behind the leisure centre in the middle of which is standing the finish gantry.

BUT … I knew I was close. Come on legs just keep running. Come on Sarah, don’t get overtaken.

Over the crazy paving. (YES – crazy paving!) … Up MORE uphill … onto the grass … up the grass uphill … bloody hell that finish gantry is never getting closer!


Over the line.

And bling.