Life Travel

Saturday 23 August 2014

Pedalling to paradise in Majorca

The MAMIL (Middle Aged Man in Lycra) hits Majorca for a cycling holiday with a difference...

Paul Kimmage

Published 15/06/2014 | 00:00

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P is for Paradise, and Palma: With its port, the Castillo Bellver, its bustling streets and the cathedral, above, it’s as classy a city as Barcelona
Views to sigh for: Castillo Bellver
Views to sigh for: Castillo Bellver
The staple diet of the MAMIL is coffee and apple pie.
The staple diet of the MAMIL is coffee and apple pie.

Apology: The travel feature has been suspended this week and replaced with a story about men behaving badly. It starts on an evening flight from Palma to Dublin with Jim, a 52-year-old Irishman, who has spent a week in Majorca riding his bicycle with friends. Jim used to play golf but started cycling after the downturn.

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He switched for financial reasons mostly - he couldn’t justify the fees — but soon the bike had transformed his life:

He was thinner;

His libido had increased;

He was glowing with well-being.

And the week in Majorca has gone brilliantly.

The stewardess arrives with the drinks trolley and he orders a “vino tinto.” She’s a fine-looking 40-year-old with a cracking personality and inquires about his trip. He’s had a couple of drinks before boarding and is feeling tired but elated and is happy to share the new passion in his life.

“Have your tried cycling? You’d love it,” he insists. Then he takes a sip of his wine and gestures towards his friends. “There’s a term for us. They call us MILF’s,” he explains. “Middle Aged…”

He pauses to reflect and is suddenly crimson with embarrassment. The term is not MILF (Mother I’d Like to Fondle) but MAMIL (Middle Aged Man In Lycra). He has been betrayed by a subconscious thought. His friends are clutching their sides - they’ll be dining on this for months — and he’s almost afraid to look at the stewardess. But she’s laughing.

“Are you sure about that?”

Part 1: Paradise…but not as we’ve known it

The first time I realised there truly was a Paradise was a cold January afternoon in 1971. I was nine years old and my mother had arrived home from the shops with a glossy brochure packed with the most amazing photographs I had ever seen: blue skies, white beaches, swimming pools, palm trees.

It was the swimming pools that got me. They weren’t indoor and rectangular and cold, like the pools we had here; no, these were outdoor and warm and cut in every shape and size imaginable. This Heaven was called El Arenal, and I spent countless hours drooling over those pictures and hoping we might go but we never had the means.

It was another 15 years before I finally made it to Majorca. The month was February 1986 and my debut as a professional cyclist had brought me to Palma for two events: a criterium (sprint race) that just went up and down the promenade and a short time trial to the Castillo Bellver — the circular castle that overlooks the city.

On the day before the criterium, I made a brief trip to El Arenal but it was a damp, miserable afternoon and it looked nothing like the place that had enchanted my dreams. What was the big deal?’ I wondered. It seemed just another resort to eat paella, drink beer and get laid. And none was conducive to racing. Three days later, we left for Barcelona, and for the months and years that followed I never went back.

You would hear things from time to time…

“The island is beautiful.”

“The weather is glorious.”

“What a great place to ride your bike.”

…But so are lots of places, and when the invitation came to return and write a piece for the Travel’ section, I wasn’t sure. Culture? Sightseeing? Museums? And then they mentioned the Mallorca 312,’ and the chance to line-up with some legends from the Tour de France and I thought Why not? It’s been a while.’

My first day in Majorca begins on the north side of the island with a bike ride from my hotel in Playa de Muro, along the coast to Alcudia and Pollenca. It’s an absolutely glorious morning and the vistas of mountain and sea are stunning. But the thing that strikes most is the vast platoons of cyclists on the roads.

In 1986, when I first turned professional, you were viewed as some sort of freak if you rode a bike…

Whaaaaat?

You don’t drink!

You shave your legs!!

You’re still a virgin!!!

…but now there are Mamils and Mawils (Middle Aged Women In Lycra) everywhere. And Majorca is where they come to play.

The island gets more cycling tourists (2 million) than golfers every year, a trend reflected in the current Ryanair in-flight magazine where there are seven cycling adverts — Nalini (clothing), Campagnolo (equipment), Cipollini (bikes), Elite (feeding bottles), Fun Active Tours (cycling holidays), ExtraBikes (spare parts), Bikeways (cycling holidays) — and none for golf.

In Playa de Muro, there’s a Bike Point Cafe, an Assos’ store, a Specialised’ store, a BMC’ store and at least three other bike shops. The main hotel — the Iberostar — was completely booked by cyclists, and from the moment you point your bike along the coast and towards the Serra de Tramuntana, the attraction is obvious.

There’s a lot to be said for a pert and well-formed bottom wrapped in lycra particularly a female bottom — and I’m just breaking sweat when I’m passed by three speeding triathletes with their names emblazoned on their backs (PUGH, MASTERS and WEBB) and a lovely from the RAF. I chase back and follow them around the roundabouts and up and down the strip until it starts to get embarrassing…

“Sorry ladies.”

Mamil mia! This is paradise…but not as I’ve known it.

Part 2: A Taste of Palma

I had planned to ride again the following day and skip the organised trip to Palma, but the morning began with the mother of all thunderstorms so I decided to tag along. I’d never thought of Palma as a city, but it’s as classy as Barcelona with its lovely port, ancient castle, chic cafes and vibrant streets.

We toured the port, the fish market, the Museu Juan March, the cathedral and the Castillo Bellver, then retired for a spot of lunch at the Tast Club, one of Palma’s best kept secrets. Show me a place with classy waiters, a well-stocked humidor, leather chairs and no menu or name on the door and I’ll show you a place where I’ll happily plunder your credit card.

Two hours it lasted: octopus salad, Iberico ham, artichokes in parmesan, buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, grilled steak, creme catalan. And the wine: two bottles of a delicious full-bodied red (Hito’) from the Ribera del Duero. I’d be still there now, sucking on a giant Cuban cigar, if we hadn’t been shepherded to the bus by our charming host, Nela, and reminded why we were there:

“There’s a bike ride tomorrow, remember?”

“Oh, yeah.”

Cyclosportives (mass participation leisure rides held on mostly closed roads) have been hugely popular for years now, especially those held on the famous climbs of the Tour de France or Giro D’Italia. The Mallorca 312 is a relatively new event on the circuit and offers Mamils, and Mawils, a choice of two rides: the full tour of the island (a whopping 312 km with 4,300m of climbing) or the half tour (167 km with 2,500m of climbing).

For the inaugural event in 2010, there were 199 starters; this year there are 1,950 including some of the biggest names the sport has known: Miguel Indurain, Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche, Oscar Pereiro, Oscar Freire, Fernando Escartin, Joseba Beloki.

At 7am the following morning, I line-up 50 rows behind them with some fit-looking guys who look like they mean business
and haven’t been hydrating on red wine. The air hums with the smell of embrocation. There’s some crews up front and a helicopter over head. The last time I smelled that smell and heard that sound was the 1989 Tour de France.

The old juices are flowing again and as soon as the flag drops, I’m fighting with guys and pushing myself to the limit in an effort to reach the front, until we leave Port de Pollenca and I move four lengths clear and look back at Indurain, Kelly, Roche and the other 1,946 riders with two thoughts in my head:

(1) You’re about to have a heart attack.

(2) What a way to go.

Twenty minutes later, the road begins to climb and I decide (well, it’s not actually a choice) to sit back and enjoy the views. The roads are spectacular, the organisation is first rate and I’ve had so much fun after six hours in the saddle and 167 kilometres that I’m already thinking about next year.

The following afternoon I board a flight in Palma feeling totally recharged.

I’m thinner.

My libido has increased.

I’ve been infused with well being.

The stewardess arrives with the drinks trolley and inquires what I’ve been up to…but hey, you know how this ends.

Take Three

Il Giardino

The staple diet of the MAMIL is coffee and apple pie. Il Giardino, a terrace cafe in the town of Pollenca, is a great place for both. We sat for an hour, gazing at our tanning legs and reflecting on the glorious spin from Alcudia that morning. But with its fabulous square, great restaurants, and quaint narrow streets, Pollenca is a town even ‘normal’ people will enjoy.

Tast Club, Palma

Confession: it was a morning of torrential rain that made us abandon our bikes for a sight-seeing tour to Palma, but after a late lunch at the Tast Club (6, San Jaime), we left with few regrets. With its vaulted ceilings, chandeliers, and intimate dining booths, the Tast Club is the perfect setting to assure your wife she means almost as much to you as does your bike.

Iberostar Albufera hotel

The hardest thing about being a MAMIL? The guilt every Sunday morning when you abandon your wife and kids for four hours on the bike. The beauty of the Iberostar Albufera hotel in Playa de Muro is that it allows you to assuage that guilt and continue to indulge yourself. There’s a spa and glorious beach for the wife and a fabulous pool and daily animations for the kids.

Getting There

Paul Kimmage travelled courtesy of the Spanish Tourist Board and the Majorca Tourist Board.

His accommodation was at the Hotel Iberostar in Albufera.

For more information, visit the following websites:

www.mallorca312.com

www.infomallorca.net

www.mallorcaenbici.com

www.tramuntanaontheroad.com

www.mallorcabybike.com

www.spain.info

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