Whether countering the effects of a sedentary job, touring at a leisurely pace, or following the path of the sport’s elite, Mallorca is a cyclist’s paradise. People of all ages, nationalities, backgrounds and fitness levels come here and form a special bond. “It’s not just a sport, it’s a religion,” says former professional cyclist Doug Petty, who persuaded some team-mates to come to Mallorca to train in 1968. He’s organised “Majorca ’68” cycling holidays and training camps (www.majorca68.co.uk) every year since, attracting cyclists from Britain, Ireland, USA, Austria, Germany, Scandinavia and Russia. In 1991, the Balearic government presented rider/manager Doug with an award recognising his work in promoting international cycling in Mallorca.
More than 40 hotels here specialise in cycle tourism, providing appropriate facilities and services.
The “Majorca ’68” base is Arenal’s Ayron Park Hotel. Its founder rode in the Tour de France and Vuelta de España; one of the current directors, Pedro Canals, is a former president of the Federació de Ciclisme de les Illes Balears (www.webfcib.es) and many staff members ride. (It’s a popular hobby, with around 170 registered clubs across the Balearics.)
Over the past decade, the Balearic government has invested in healthy, emission-free, eco-friendly ‘cicloturismo’, which brings visitors outside the main holiday season (late January to April/May and September/October). Mallorca has 10 official signposted routes, totalling more than 350 kilometres, detailed in a four-language tourism council brochure. Official figures for 2008 (latest available at time of writing) reveal that cycle tourism brought 88,500 people to the Balearics, compared to 75,000 in 2003. Total sector income in 2008 was 66.04 million euros – up 29 per cent on 2003.
Mallorca’s now one of Europe’s top cycling tourist and training destinations: Britain’s Olympic Gold-winning cycling team trained here for Beijing; Olympic Gold medallist Rebecca Romero (who lived here as a child) trains here – as does the German Telekom team.
Some big names in the sport are involved in ‘cicloturismo’:
1987 Tour de France winner Stephen Roche – recently appointed to the ProTour Council of the sport’s governing body UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) – offers cycling holidays and training camps (www.stephenroche.com), based at Hotel Ponent Mar, Palmanova. Sean Kelly – with more than 190 wins and four Tour de France green jerseys behind him – hosts SportActive’s Irish cycling camps at Port Alcudia’s Hotel Estrella de Mar (www.sportactive.net).
Mallorca’s unofficial “cycle king” is Swiss supremo Max Hürzeler, whose 20-year-old company (www.bicycle-holidays.com) works with 17 local hotels. Their branded cycle vests and jerseys are everywhere! Many cyclists will take part in or watch some top annual road racing events here this year: Challenge Vuelta Internacional a Mallorca (Feb 7-11); Cinturó Internacional a Mallorca (April 8-11), and Semana Internacional de Ciclismo Màster (Oct 10-16).
Some cyclists are simply attracted by the climate, varied terrain and scenery, and friendly people. Pat O’Kelly from Ireland has come for cycling holidays here once or twice a year since 2002. Describing himself as a leisure cyclist, he rides “for fun, friendship and to experience the true spirit of a country.” He covers an average 100km a day, stopping for coffee and a leisurely ‘menú del día’.
A decade ago, Pat become involved with Blazing Saddles – a cycle group supported regularly by Sean Kelly – which raises funds for the National Council for the Blind of Ireland. Pat’s pedalled with them in Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Wales, Spain and, last October, the Saddles Blazed across Mallorca.
He’s particularly enthusiastic about Mallorca’s mountains: “Fornalutx – what a place!” He loves the monastery climbs to Cura, Monte Sion and San Salvador, and the smooth road surfaces. “The Playa de Palma must be one of the most magnificent urban routes in the whole world,” Pat believes. But could anything here be improved? “Nothing really, except that secure bike locking in Palma would be great!”
Pat’s cycled with people of all ages: “One of our group, Rory Weily, celebrated his 80th birthday on his bike with us last October.” One of Doug Petty’s clients is 79, and still travels the world as a consultant for Rolls Royce.
You don’t need to stare too long at a Lycra-clad bottom to work out the physical benefits, but cycling offers mental benefits too: “A bike can be your doctor, psychiatrist and carer,” Doug says. “If I have a problem, I get out on my bike and a solution comes to me.” Pat says he feels full of life and vitality after a good spin: “And it’s a fantastic way to meet people: we’re all part of a global family, so the comradeship is fantastic.”
The pleasures of cycling here aren’t just for those on Campagnolo racers or Giant mountain bikes. Nor do you need the colourful Lycra . . . though you’re bound to put some colour in your cheeks.