Day One - 64 km - Cuitadella to Es Migjorn Gran
My first memories of Menorca were as a small child in the early 90’s, where my priorities focused more on sand castles than cycling. Roll on thirty-something years and here I was - stood on the start-line with my good (and long-suffering) friend Erin, ready to take on the first stage of the fifth year of Camí De Cavalls as female pairs.
In nervous anticipation and baking in the heat of the bright, burning ball in the sky (which we’d not seen for some time during our Scottish winter), it was time to turn the pedals together along Menorca’s “Way of Horses”. Despite the low levels of elevation, the relentless and rugged nature of the unforgiving limestone gauntlet was to push us (and our backsides) to our limits over the coming three days.
A race for both runners and cyclists, first to the line were those with two wheels; 50 teams ready to take on the first 64km section of this historic trail.
As the countdown began, rather than the usual charge off the line, a neutralised start allowed us to spin our legs along the coastal road of Cala Blanca. Such civilised and deceptive comfort was a stark contrast to what to come a few moments later. Alternating from urban road, to boardwalk and beach - it was a chance to soak up the spectacular views across the sea.
But not for long …
Soon the famed and feared limestone rock was under our tyres; war waged on the rubber of every rider on course. It was alien to us Scots – whose wheels are more used to wet mud and slippy roots. We put faith in our trusty MSC Tractor tyres as we danced over and around the lethal, razor sharp rocks, trying to pick a path across an albeit flat - but fierce - prelude to mountain biking Menorca style!
Picking our lines, a graveyard of flat tyres marked the next 17km of the route. We rode with bated breath until the site of the first feed station and cheers from the ever-smiling supporters and staff. Both arms and legs were aching in equal measure, this race marked a sharp and swift transition to my hardtail after a winter of bouncy, full-suss fun.
The tarmac road offered up a momentary respite as we clung to the back of our Norwegian friend Børge, a veteran of the trail and back for his second year to tackle this epic and enduring race.
Met again by the familiar wooden gates, we were back on the rough stuff, hugging the coast only metres from the enticing, aquamarine water. As our legs found their rhythm, we climbed steadily as the loose, fiery-red track led us towards the shade of the forest and back to familiar roots and boulders - with enticing coves tempting us off our bikes at every turn.
Our next stop was a chance to load the stomach as we descend to the second feed station at Cala Galdana; happily stocking up on creamy Mahón cheese and Spanish omelette before our first real climb of the day.
We were glad of the rest and relief from the rocks, but happy to find a single-track treat waiting for us at the top. Back on familiar terrain, we took off - slipping and sliding over mossy, damp roots and boulders as we passed other teams tentatively edging their way down the trail with their bikes in hand- offering up whoops of “Buena Chicas!”
My smile widened as I took the chance to drop my post, hold on and point the front end sharply downhill as we bounced from boulder to rock, root to river bed until meeting the road once again.
Passing the feed station for the second time, we recharged on cheers from the organisers before a neutralised 7km - a welcome chance to spin the legs before the last section.
We were thinking the toughest part was over …oh how wrong we were! Our sense of humour melting in the heat, the forest floor turned to unrideable, rocky ravines. So close to the end, we heaved our bikes up and over the last of this harsh and hostile rock, a mere hint of what was soon to come …
As we closed the last (of many!) Menorcan gates at the top, the last few kilometres dished up a sharp, steep grind on road towards the arches, where we crossed the line as first female pair.
Celebrating with a sweaty smile and the first of many Ensaimada, it was time to rest and refuel before a grueling second leg along Menorca’s take on Mordor …
[Parts two and three to follow.]
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