27 March 2024 – Sa Calobra with Oliver, take 2


Ever since last year’s trip to Mallorca and Oliver’s first attempt at the Sa Calobra climb, he has been keen to come back and try it again. This time he set himself the challenge to become one of the elite few (hundred) Strava users who have completed the monstrous climb in under 30 minutes. To put that in perspective, there are over 139, 000 who haven’t reached this milestone.

To achieve this goal, Oliver has focussed closely on his fitness, training and nutrition, as well as garnering a host of super lightweight components to build up into an ultra-light climbing bike. Now we just had to get him to the bottom and let him go for it.

On the allotted day, we took a pre-booked taxi from our hotel to the aqueduct at the orange juice shack, a few miles short of Sa Calobra village. It was quite chilly after we exited the taxi, with damp patches on the road from some overnight rain that hadn’t yet dried out.

We set off at our own pace on the shorter Coll dels Reis climb on the inland side. I joined up with Oliver at the top, where I handed him a bag and he got rid of all kit that wasn’t absolutely necessary for his attempt into it, then stashed it in some long grass. 

The descent then started, making sure to keep it safe, and I stopped here and there for some photos. It was warmer, unsurprisingly, at the bottom compared with the top, and it looked like a lovely sunny day. We took off our descending outer layers, and I carried Oliver’s for him. I was going to carry his phone too, to relieve him of a bit of extra weight, until he realised that he wouldn’t be able to listen to music as he cycled, which was important.

At 10.05, after a final couple of photos, he was off, with me not too far behind. Then we passed the actual start of the climb and he accelerated into the distance. I pressed the lap button to keep an eye on the time, and also to monitor my own average watts during the climb, as it would be nice for me to try and beat my own personal best time as well.

At the steep part just before the viewpoint layby about a mile or so in, I had to push quite hard and noticed my average going over just over 200 watts. I thought if I could average over 190, I would stand a chance of a PB, so I was hopeful. 

The climb was pleasant in that it was sunny, but not too hot, the views were awesome as ever, there was very little traffic of any sort due to an early start, and I wasn’t finding it too much of a slog keeping the watts on target. 

I noticed the time creep up to 30 minutes on my timer then carry on to 32 and more. I wondered whether Oliver had made it, then a WhatsApp came in saying just “29.02”. He had done it, YESSSS.

I carried on with my effort, and although the watts were flagging a bit, I thought I still had enough to get my PB. At something like 45 minutes in, Oliver appeared on the descent, before turning round and catching me up. He then started with the words of encouragement, a bit like a sergeant major. It was effective though.

Rounding the steepest hairpin. Photo taken by Mallorca Cycling Photos.

After reaching the big “tie knot” turn and getting in sight of the long last straight, he shouted “Come on – 250 watts all the way to the top.” To which I gasped “I can only manage 210!”

However, when I looked down at my Wahoo, it was reading more like 250! The average started creeping up towards the high 190s. Then at the end I just went for it, seeing that I might just break 54 minutes. And I did: 53.39. Beating my old PB of 58.25.

Celebratory sub-30 minute photo!

Once I got my breath back, we headed back down to the aqueduct and we got ourselves coffees. I also thought I deserved a slice of an interesting looking chocolate waffle cake which turned out to be delicious and came with a gratuitous bounty bar balanced on top. Strange, but good!

Next we carried on past the Repsol garage and started the descent to Caimari. We were very much going against the flow, with hordes of cyclists coming up the way, and cars trying to overtake. There was one bus going the same way as us, which got stuck at a hairpin, waiting for four oncoming cars. We took advantage of a hiatus in proceedings as they looked at each other and nipped past the stationary bus. If we had waited, it would have been a very tedious descent, heavy on the brake blocks.

After Caimari, we headed for Campanet. Then Oliver decided he wanted to have a blast along the valley road, so we agreed to meet up at Bar 1919 in Puerto Pollensa for lunch.

I got there and looked for him, but Oliver wasn’t there yet. So I got a table and ordered a Coke. Oliver arrived a few minutes later, after following a bit of a detour. We ordered lunch: a chicken baguette for Oliver, and the usual for me: club sandwich.

Oliver’s meal arrived and he got started on it, but mine didn’t appear. We saw loads of club sandwiches arriving at nearby tables but not ours. It turned out they had somehow forgotten mine. Oliver was keen to get on and do more miles, and that had been my initial inclination too, but now I was scunnered. We just paid, then Oliver went his own way and I just bought a ham and cheese baguette from the Spar, which I took to my room to eat, and then relax with a beer. I was happy enough with my day and didn’t really need to do any more.

In the meantime, Oliver headed back the way and did the Coll de Sa Batalla climb, earning himself the accolade of 2nd fastest of the day, to go alongside his fastest of the day on the Sa Calobra climb. Not a bad day’s cycling I’d say.

Oh, and just to round things off, Oliver’s estimated time of 29.02 turned out to be officially 29.01. He was so close to breaking the 29 minute barrier, which did sting a little, until he remembered how much of an achievement his new PR was. Holding an average of 345 watts on that climb was epic!

Nerdy technical supplement

Oliver thought it would be a good idea to add some extra info for the benefit of anyone else who finds this and is targetting a PB on the Sa Calobra climb, specifically the sub-30 minute goal.

The general consensus is that you need to be able to hold 5 w/kg to beat the 30 minute barrier on Sa Calobra. There weren’t any 2000+ ft climbs locally to try that out on before going to Mallorca, but he had done that on Zwift, so the goal seemed achievable, barring some unforeseen incident, like getting stuck behind traffic (which was why we got there early). So the focus was on getting the watts up high enough and the weight low enough to make the equation come out to the magic 5. He made sure to be as aero as possible on the climb, and then everything else was in the lap of the gods.

  1. WATTS – Oliver’s Garmin recorded an average of 345 W for the duration of the climb. Checking out his power meter pedals against his Wahoo turbo trainer before the trip, showed they were reading about 1.8% lower. These results are within the stated accuracy from the manufacturers, so it is impossible to know exactly, but he might well have been averaging as much as 351 W in reality. So his w/kg average range was 4.9-5.0.
  2. KILOS – On the morning of the ride, Oliver weighed himself on the luggage scales in reception at our hotel, getting some strange looks into the bargain. All his kit was meticulously weighed too, so here is his list for the weight weenie fraternity… 
    Body weight: 70.25kg
    Bike weight as ridden including bottle with approx 100ml of carb mix: 6.6kg
    Kit weight…
    Shoes: 665g including heavy but comfy G8 insoles (100g)
    Helmet: 265g
    Glasses: 25g
    Bib shorts: 190g
    Jersey: 105g
    Aero arm warmers: 48g
    Aero socks: 50g
    Whoop: 28g
    iPhone: 262g
    Shokz open run headphones: 27g
  3. THE WIND – We definitely benefited from a tailwind but exactly how much is hard to know. Oliver sent this myWindsock data for the climb.  
  4. And lastly, for any more info, here is a link to his Strava activity


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