Sa Calobra, a climb on everyone’s bucket list, is a perfect tangle of roads hidden on the northern coast of the Balearic island of Majorca. Built in 1932 and known also as ‘the Snake’, its purpose was to transport holidaymakers down to the exquisite fishing village at the coast. Although not famous for being included in any races, its notoriety has come, not only from the magnificence of its construction but from the efforts the world’s best riders have laid down in training. On Strava, the best time is currently held by Sebastian Henao with a 24:54, but the unofficial record belongs to Bradley Wiggins, set in the winter of 2012 before his Tour victory. His time stands at an impossible 22:30, so just keep that in mind when you start your stopwatch running, which of course you must.
Set on a steady, moderate gradient, which averages seven per cent and spikes at no higher than 12 per cent, it is perfect for a consistent, solid push from bottom to top. From sea level to the peak, which to give it its correct name is the Coll dels Reis, over 9.4km you pass through stunning scenery, through a jagged tunnel carved right out of the rock and towards the summit, a 270° bend. Known as the Nus de sa Corbata, or ‘the knotted tie’ the road literally twists underneath itself to further embellish this road building masterpiece.
It’s been known that spending a period of time at altitude, ideally above 2,400m, can boost athletic performance. The simple premise is that the body acclimatises to the relative lack of oxygen in the air by increasing the amount of red blood cells so when you return to sea level and the oxygen rises again you have more, let’s say, carriages to transport it the muscles.
In the search for a suitable base to indulge this practice, professional cyclists have for a long time travelled to Tenerife to stay at the Parador de La Cañadas, which sitting at 2,100m on top of an island blessed with almost 365 days of perfect weather is just about the ideal place.
From Miguel Indurain and Marco Pantani to Lance Armstrong, Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, they have all used this mountain to hone their form before big races, by climbing it again and again in legendary training sessions.
The climb can be tackled from many directions but the classic route is that from Los Cristianos in the south, up through Vilaflor de Chasna, climbing 2,808m (you also lose 450m so you don’t reach 2,808m in altitude) over 51 punishing kilometres.
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Never steep for long, this ultra-smooth, perfectly pitched road takes you from the sunburnt, sangria-drenched beachfront to what you imagine the surface of Mars looks like - an alien, stark, high-altitude, landscape, which just so happens to have the perfect road for cycling running right through the middle of it.
This was a tough call, but it has to be Sa Calobra. It may not boast the epic landscape of Teide, but it is simply the perfect road (when free of traffic).
This feature originally appeared in the print edition of Cycling Weekly, on sale in newsagents and supermarkets, priced £3.25.
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