Having alienated everyone in the tour group and being pointedly asked whether or not I needed to go back to my office, today seemed like a great day to take a break from the group dynamic of an 80-mile ride starting at 11:00 AM and spread over ten hours. Fact is, my fuse is five hours long, whether I’m sitting in a lawn chair or sitting on the rivet. Moreover, Team America was at 12,876,400 points to Team Breivik’s -56. They had gone into negative points after failing to finish within the time cutoff the day before, instead of doing another marathon ride I left the race in the hands of my lieutenants and headed out by myself to explore.
I had the best ride of my life.
Mallorca is the global focal point for wankers. Some club decides to take what is euphemistically called a “cycle holiday” but in reality is an extended group ride where the club’s alpha male flays the shit out of everyone else. It’s cage fighting without a door.
These mule trains litter the island. No one is under 40, and most mules are 50 and over, if not waaaay over. What makes it so incredible is that in a very compact area you have hundreds of trains, each one led by an alpha mule. By simply pedaling slowly on any given road at any given time you will be passed by a mule train. It’s terribly rude to hop on because each little mule has forked out precious money to kit up and hang with their alpha mule for seven days, as “back home” they only see alpha mule at the beginning of the ride and in the club’s private Facegag page.
However, if you’re going to anger all of Europe one country at a time you have to be methodical, and terrible etiquette is a great place to start.
I began trolling for mules the second I turned out of the drive and caught a nice fat train in ONE MINUTE. There were eight of them, all locals, though, which brings up an important point: When mule trolling you have to know how to read a jersey. Locals have local sponsors, tourists have club names from Norway or Holland. Rapha wankers are always British.
This mule train whipped by me as we started the little climb and they hated having me there so the two alpha mules turned the screws and immediately dumped all but one of their riders. It is awesome when you can sow disharmony among friends in a few seconds. I like to call it talent.
I cruised along until their heads began to sag. We were 500 yards from the top. “Go!” Said the alpha mule #2, and #1 kicked it, but as an expert wheelsucker I flew up and over fresh as a pool of vomit the first night of Rush Week as they gnashed their teeth at my vanishing blinding orange kit.
I turned towards Bunyola, clueless as to what I’d find. Within two minutes I was passed by a massive Dutch mule train, De Zuwaluwen, which, given their bird mascot, meant “The Swallows.” I started at the back, and a sad-sack looking bunch of mules it was indeed, with the strong riders up front and the cadavers stacked up in the rear.
The road rose and the mules began cracking immediately as their alpha mule laid into them with might and main. I cruised through about 30 riders and bridged to alpha mule and his alpha mulette. He was a big strong Stig-like sonofabitch, so I knew he could be easily beaten. I sucked wheel for a couple of miles and then came past, but there was a Swallow on my wheel who had bridged and he was going full gas. I latched on and did a mule analysis, and like jersey interpretation, the correct aging of mules is crucial.
Whereas old alpha mules are stupid and convinced they can simply ride you off their wheel like they do everyone else in their club, young alpha mules actually can. So first check their legs. If the skin is young and fresh, look out. If you can’t tell from leg skin, check the nape. Old mules have craggy, deeply lined napes and cancerous growths on their ear tops; young mules have smooth skin. If you’re still unsure and the mule is in short sleeves, look at the arms for liver spots or saggy, wrinkled forearm skin.
This young mule required a lot of tenacity because he flogged the shit out of me. However, he couldn’t drop me, so he finally resigned himself to having a giant orange blob on his wheel for about five more miles of gnarly climbing. He crushed me like a twig in a stump shredder. At the top I thanked him and kept going.
After a long descent the road went up again so I slowed and went into trolling mode. This time I was caught by another of the Swallows, but he was on their C squad. Apparently had everyone regrouped at the pass, and Mr. C Teamer went ahead like Jim Bowles to “beat” his fellow mules with a 20-minute head start. He dragged me for about a mile and then exploded. Still I just sat as he floundered in the hell of being blown with someone on your wheel and not knowing if they are blown too or are waiting to pounce.
I pounced and pedaled over the pass into an endless descent into Bunyola that went on for mile after mile, passing well over a thousand cyclists going the other direction and seeing less than a dozen cars. One thing I noticed as I inspected each climbing rider’s face: No one was smiling. Every single mule looked dour, sour, and thoroughly angry at the world for forcing him to ride his bike in paradise. “This really epitomizes roadies,” I thought–so serious, so self-important, and so engaged in such a heroic humanitarian endeavor.
I on the other hand was grinning from ear to ear at the sheer joy of the whole thing that I began shouting “Allez! Allez!” at each flailing Eddy Merckx. When they heard that cheer each rider would invariably smile, and many would even wave. It’s as if hearing that time-honored cycling exhortation in the middle of a brutal climb reminded them that they really were in Disneycycleland.
Plus, it sounded better than, “You fucking suck, you stupid Dutch bastard!”
In Bunyola I gassed up with a quick coffee and headed towards the legendary Soller Pass. I set my rod to troll and immediately hooked a live one. It was a tad troubling, though, because he was solo, young, and wearing a local Belgian race kit, and he was going pretty fast. On the other hand he was short and stocky and had “kermesse” written all over him so I figured I could leech on, suck him dry, and drop him when the going got tougher. We hit the first swifchbacks and he accelerated but eventually cracked.
“Danke!” I said in my politest Fuckyou, and happily pedaled away, his groaning and creaking saddle receding out of earshot. After a couple of minutes though I disturbingly heard the creaky saddle approaching from the rear at a high rate of speed. But it wasn’t the Belgian, it was young Dave from East Yorkshire in a yellow Rapha kit with a long trailing loose thread and he blew by. Unfortunately I caught his wheel and he gave me the worst beating I’ve ever had.
Charging every single turn he kept a pace that had me at my absolute pain threshold and there it stayed for every single mile of the climb. Just before the peak his teammate in a Sun Velo kit caught us and sprinted by. It was the kind of beating you get for ten minutes once a week on the Donut back home, and it was the second mauling I’d had in less than two hours.
More than anything else, this is the true Fear of Flying zipless fuck beauty of Mallorca. Exceptional riders are everywhere, every road, all day long, and you can pummel and get pummeled by one mule after another until you puke and your legs seize up. You never get dropped because there’s always another mule train, you never win because some fucker is always better, and no one takes anything personally because you never see each other again.
Descending into Soller along a road that left me speechless with its beauty, I made a right turn up MA10 that would turn out to be a 20km climb. I stopped a couple of minutes in to snap a photo of the picturesque town below and while holstering my camera a three-man Danish mule train went by. I sprinted up and the alpha mule quickly dispatched his buddies. He had that lean, grizzled look of a mid-50’s pedal beater and my legs quickly pegged out, so I started gasping loudly, hoping that he was on the rivet and that my death rattle would encourage him to go just a tad harder and put himself in the red.
As an old mule accustomed to shredding all comers, he heard me gasp and pushed harder. I gasped more with my special hacking noise. He pushed harder. I made a shuddering moan, and he tipped off the ledge, suddenly in trouble. At that moment, after towing me for 19 of the 20km, he popped and one of the UK monsters from Sun Velo came by. I scooted onto his wheel and waved at the hapless Dane as we sped away.
The rest of the crew did a spectacular ride to Cap Formentor with spectacular scenery and great food at a scenic restaurant. When we got together at the villa people had mostly forgiven me until Full-Tron, a new Norwegian different in all respects from Posi-Tron, showed up and delivered a rousing dinner table speech for Trump.
I tried to hold my tongue and failed.
I tried so hard to be good …