Sa Calobra is the toughest climb on the Spanish island of Mallorca.
Renowned for its hairpin bends and sweeping views of rugged, rocky mountains that frame a window to the azure waters of the island. Frequented by amateurs and pros alike, this is a climb that should sit firmly on the bucket list of any lover of brutal climbs.
With beautiful views, stunning coastline, highly-revered climbs like Sa Calobra, great food, and most of all, near-perfect weather: it’s no wonder that Mallorca is frequently chosen as a training site for pros.
But how hard is Sa Calobra? Is it worth the trip?
In this profile of Mallorca’s most intimidating climb, we’re going to show you why Sa Calobra should be on your riding radar! To get you up to speed (and up Sa Calobra), we’ll be covering:
- Mallorca: The Ultimate Cycling Destination?
- Guide To Cycling Sa Calobra
- Sa Calobra: Routes And The Surrounding Area
Let’s dive in!
Mallorca: The Ultimate Cycling Destination?
Mallorca is an island off the coast of Spain in the Mediterranean Sea.
Palma, a city on the island, is the capital of the autonomous community of the Balearic Islands, of which Mallorca is the largest.
(In fact, Mallorca comes from the Medieval Latin word Majorca meaning “the larger one”, as opposed to its neighbor Menorca, meaning “the smaller one”.)
Mallorca is often referred to as a cyclist’s paradise, featuring extremely contrasting scenery during a single ride. From long, rolling roads along the stunning coastline to straight-as-an-arrow flat roads that cut straight through the agricultural plains.
One thing that is essential to any ride in Mallorca, however, is climbing. The island is home to an impressive mountain range, La Serra de Tramuntana, hugging the Northwest coastline, in which many of the most famous cycling routes and climbs are found.
The mountain range is made up of sharp, rocky mountains that dramatically cascade into the turquoise seas surrounding the island, producing some fantastic beaches, perfect for a quick swim to cool off from a brutal climb.
Mallorca’s temperate climate is another major selling point for cyclists: even in the depths of winter, avid riders can swap the thermal tights for bib shorts and short-sleeved jerseys in temperatures that rarely dip below 15 °C by day.
Despite the reputation of the Mediterranean, the climate in Mallorca remains rideable, with average highs below 30 °C every month of the year.
The variation of terrain on the island is dramatic, with the rider able to combine differing climates, landscapes, and roads into a single ride. These stunning landscapes are peppered with beautiful little pueblos and even Roman and Moorish ruins.
Given all of the different factors that make the island so well-suited to cycling, it’s no surprise that while cycling there, you’ll come across an extraordinarily high number of cyclists gliding around the well-maintained roads.
Many, however, are attracted to the island simply to take on the legendary Sa Calobra.
Guide To Cycling Sa Calobra
Know Before You Go
The official name of the Sa Colabra climb is “Coll del Reis” or the “Coll de Cal Reis”.
One of the first things to know about Sa Calobra is that it’s a road to nowhere.
Well, that’s not strictly true – it is a road to a stunning cove by the same name, but it is a dead end. It’s unusual in that you have to descend it before you can climb it.
So if you happen to ride down it by mistake, there’s no way out! You have to ride back up. Make sure you’re physically capable of 30 minutes to 1 hour of climbing before descending, or else it’s a long walk back to the top! (Or a costly boat ride from the Port of Calobra.)
If, however, you ride down it with the intention of taking on the climb, then make sure you stop for a quick swim and a water refill at the bottom – because there’s nothing else on the way up!
There is also a small restaurant at the bottom with an excellent view over the water. However, it is remarkably expensive, so it’s a good idea to stick to a coffee or a coke and bring a few snacks with you if you’re on a budget.
Before you decide to ride down, consider the time of day. After the first couple of kilometers, the climb is incredibly exposed, and riding it in the midday sun will significantly deplete your fluids and salts, not to mention energy.
If you do choose to ride back up in the midday sun in the depths of summer, make sure you come prepared with plenty of water, electrolytes, and sun cream!
A more sensible plan is to take on the descent in the early afternoon, just after the sun is at its warmest. This will allow you to stay warm while riding down, and then you can cool off at the bottom with a swim at the beach and then climb back up when it’s a little cooler.
Sa Calobra Profile
Although it’s not as hard as the likes of Alpe D’Huez, Sa Calobra is no walk in the park.
It’s known as the toughest climb on an island in which professional cyclists train for Grand Tours, so be prepared for a challenging ride.
Here are a few of the key stats:
- Category 1 Climb
- Length: 9.5 km
- Elevation Gain: 643 m
- Average Gradient: 6.8%
- Max Gradient: 13.4%
- KOM: 24m 36s
- QOM: 29m 09s
Generally, professional cyclists expect to make it up the fearsome slopes in under half an hour, but amateurs can expect anything from 30 minutes to an hour.
Sa Calobra: The Climb
You’ve dried off from your swim, you’re fuelled up, and you’re stocked up with plenty of water and extra fuel. All that’s left to do is take on the climb!
There’s not much to follow by way of directions: you just follow the road, heading upwards, the whole time.
The Strava segment begins at an official start sign saying “Salida” (start/departure) just to the right of the car park. If you’re trying to get the best time possible on Strava, or even going for a Q/KOM, don’t expend too much energy between the port and here!
The lower slopes of the climb include one of the most iconic sections.
The cliffs rise high on either side of the road, enclosing it like a tunnel. Despite the beauty, this section of the climb is perhaps the most dangerous since you won’t be seen by descending cars. Take care!
The first few kilometers remain relatively sheltered by the trees that frame the road, there are no hairpins, and the gradient isn’t brutal. Enjoy it while it lasts!
Around the midway point, any respite is a distant dream with the steadily increasing gradients, decreasing shelter, and the beginnings of the hairpins. Luckily, once you leave the shelter of the trees, you will be rewarded with the start of the epic views you came for.
Around kilometer 6, you will be greeted by the first of the hairpins.
From this point onwards, it is completely relentless, with hairpins coming in thick and fast at horrifyingly steep gradients and with incredibly exposed roads.
One of the hardest things about Sa Calobra is that the gradient and frequency of hairpins pretty much increase from this moment without mercy until you reach the summit at Coll del Reis.
Around 500 m before you reach the summit, you will ride through the famous “knot” bend in which the road passes over itself at a 270-degree angle. After admiring the engineering and construction, relish in the fact that you have only 500 m to go!
Once you arrive at the top, you’ll find the official Coll del Reis road sign. Stop here and take some photos to commemorate your achievement. You have conquered the toughest ride on the island!
Sa Calobra: Example Route and Surrounding Area
There are many different rides and climbs on the island of Mallorca, and Sa Calobra is ideally located to be combined with some other infamous climbs in a longer ride.
This 100 km route, for example, takes you on a tour of the Tramuntana Mountains, featuring some of the best climbs the island has to offer, including Sa Calobra, Coll de Soller, and Puig Major.
This is not an easy route at all, so be warned! You will climb over 2500 m of elevation.
Within the first 20 km of the ride, you will cover an extremely difficult section of road, covering almost 1000 m of elevation, and going over two of the most infamous climbs on the island: Coll de Soller and Puig Major.
The Coll de Soller is a particularly challenging climb: 7.4 km long, with an average gradient of 5.7%. However, you won’t get much respite at all, as you’ll soon be greeted by the behemoth of Puig Major.
Puig Major is the highest mountain on the island, with a summit of over 1400 m. However, don’t worry; the road only reaches 862 m.
It’s a good idea to take a break at the town of Soller between these first two climbs so as not to immediately bonk before even reaching Sa Calobra.
Around 20 km (and an epic descent) later, you’ll reach Sa Calobra. We hope you’ve saved some energy!
Immediately following the climb, you’ll descend the stunning road of the Coll de Sa Batalla, carved into the side of the limestone cliffs. There is still around 50 km of stunning riding remaining at this point to return to your start point!
Although the three biggest climbs are done, there are still some very significant climbs remaining, such as the Coll d’Honor and the Coll d’Orient, for example.
This is just one example of a route to include Sa Calobra, but there are tonnes of ways to do it. Ensure that you plan a route thoroughly, including where you’re going to stop for food and water, and with a realistic distance and difficulty for your abilities!
Make sure that when you go to Mallorca to attempt the infamous climb, you experience the other beautiful climbs and roads that the island has to offer!