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With the Dutch start cancelled, why the Vuelta a Espana should start on Mallorca

Madison Genesis Sa Calobra
Jack Elton-Walters
29 Apr 2020

A Gran Salida of the Vuelta a Espana on the island of Mallorca could be the ultimate three days of Grand Tour racing

Who can say what the situation will be next week, let alone much later this year, and obviously public health must be the first priority of authorities around the world. If it's not safe for a race to go ahead then of course that race should not go ahead. There's always next year.

However, there's no harm in dreaming of how races might be able to return, and in the case of the 2020 Vuelta a Espana where they might return.

The race had been due to start with three days in the Dutch city of Utrecht but with the coronavirus pandemic forcing the race from its usual late-summer slot into a potential autumn running - if it goes ahead at all - those stages in the Netherlands have had to be cancelled.

That means the Vuelta is in need of a new Gran Salida and, first cooked up a couple of years ago as a love letter to Mallora, the below details just how those three stages could be a Balearic bonanza.

Why the Vuelta a Espana should start on Mallorca

Mallorca, the largest of Spain's Balearic Islands and a hugely popular destination (outside of the current lockdown) for visiting amateur cyclists has everything needed for a spectacular start to the Vuelta a Espana.

Scenery, climbs, near-perfect roads and easy flight connections from much of Europe all add weight to the idea of a Vuelta start on the island, which is arguably the ideal cycling location.

What's more, it's a short hop on a ferry from Barcelona, where the race could resume after three days of Mallorcan racing.

These are just some of the many reasons to bring the Spanish Grand Tour to Mallorca for an original and dramatic opening, and it's a surprise that this hasn't already been done in recent years.

Challenge Mallorca

Early in the season, the four-day Challenge Ciclista Mallorca brings crowds of locals out onto the streets to watch pros such as Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) race for stage honours.

The race is in fact four single day, back-to-back races with riders choosing to compete in just one or up to all four. This year, thanks to its position so early in the calendar, Challenge Mallorca was one of the few races to go ahead before all competition was suspended.

The presence of big WorldTour names on the startlist shows the appeal of racing on Mallorca, an appeal that has spread rapidly through to amateurs, especially those from the UK, Germany and Scandinavia.

All year round riders can be found riding out to the Cap de Formentor lighthouse or testing themselves on the gruelling ascent of Sa Calobra.

Hotels, cafes and even petrol stations are fully geared up for cycle tourists, and the popularity of Mallorca would ensure huge crowds for the start of a Vuelta a Espana.

There is also the potential for an amateur Etapa de la Vuelta sportive covering the parcours of Stage 2, which could be held the day before Stage 1.

As someone who has been to Mallorca a few times and loved almost every minute of it, I've started to get to know it quite well - although there are of course many locals and visitors who know its climbs and twisting descents much better.

With this knowledge in mind I've set out my ideas for three stages that could mark the start of a very exciting Vuelta a Espana in the near future.

Vuelta a Espana on Mallorca: Suggested stages

Stage 1: Uphill time trial, Sa Calobra, 12km

Sa Calobra road

Following the Giro d'Italia's lead from a few years ago, the stage could be based on a ship docked in the bay. When the Giro used a ship it was simply for riders to roll down the ramp and head on their way, but in this instance a moored boat would be ideal for riders to warm-up ahead of the Stage 1 time trial.

The Strava segment for the climb of Sa Calobra to the summit of Coll dels Reis is 9.4km in length at an average gradient of 7%. Anyone who has ridden it will know there are sections well in excess of this as the climb goes into double figure gradients.

Professional rider Sebastian Henao holds the current KOM in a time of 24:54, while retired British pro Emma Pooley has a QOM time of 30:52.

Over the top of Coll dels Reis, the road descends for around 3km to the next junction. This downhill section could be included to mix things up a bit, and the end of road would also be logistically more practical as a location to host a stage finish and podium.

Such a start to a Grand Tour would bring the General Classification contenders out of hiding right away and it would give those with weaker teams a chance to gain an advantage on day one.

Stage 2: Manacor - Alcudia - Port de Pollenca - Lluc Monastery - Puig Major - Soller - Coll de Soller - Palmanyola - Andratx - Banyalbufar - Deia, 210km

Just like when the British National Championships visit the Isle of Wight in the next few years (if the Isle of Man can host, so can the Isle of Wight), finding enough road to plan a long enough stage on Mallorca won't be without its challenges.

However, the orgainsers of the Challenge Ciclista have been doing just fine, so the precedent has been set.

Mallorca's compact size is a gift as well as an obstacle. Riders at the Challege Mallorca usually stay in one hotel for the duration of their time there, with the Occidental Playa de Palma proving to be a well chosen base for the racers and amateurs alike.

Many hotels on the island are set up to accommodate cyclists, with a great number of those within a short drive of the proposed stage starts, meaning hotel room capacity shouldn't present a problem to the Vuelta's visit.

This proposed second stage would take in some of the best known roads to cycle tourists and professional teams on training camps, and rises to near the island's highest point, Puig Major.

Other climbs include the ascent from Pollenca to the Lluc Monastery, which gains much of the height towards the summit of Puig Major.

The other main climb of the stage, on a generally lumpy day, is the twisting road to the summit of the Coll de Soller before the technical descent down the other side.

Stage 3: Palma - Inca - Palma, 100km

Almost a processional stage, weeks before the actual processional stage into Madrid on Stage 21. Starting and finishing in the island's capital, Palma, a rapid ride into the interior before returning for a Paris-style circuit race should give the sprinters a reason to turn up.

After two days when time gaps could already be opening up at the top of the leader board, the GC hopefuls and their teams will welcome an 'easier' day of sitting in the wheels and letting the sprinters take charge.

A finish here would also be advantageous for getting riders, bikes and team buses over to Catalonia for Stage 4, with the option of a rest/travel day in between if necessary.

For more information on the Balearic Islands as a cycling destination, you can visit the official tourist board at illesbalears.travel/en/baleares