The Mallorcan village of Deia has always attracted artists and writers from all over the world who have been wooed by its stunning natural beauty on the north-western coast of this Balearic jewel. Nestling between the famous bay with its crystal clear turquoise waters below and dramatic mountains behind, it’s no wonder that this stretch of coastline is regularly frequented by super models, famous actors and the super rich as well as being a location for the TV drama The Night Manager.
It’s also the birthplace and home of one of Mallorca’s most famous cyclists, Vicente Reynes. He recently retired from a racing career that spanned 15 years in which time he roomed with Alejandro Valverde while at Banesto, supported George Hincapie as a domestique while at Team Highroad and beat Lance Armstrong for a stage win at Paris-Nice.
We caught up with Vicente in the little bar, Sa Fonda, which turns out to be in the same building as his childhood home and a stone’s throw away from the little primary school where he was taught by monks. It’s also opposite the family bakery in the middle of the village that he has taken over with his brother, along with a mini empire of businesses that spans across this part of the island. Over a small beer and some tapas in the Mediterranean sun he told us about the hidden cycling gems in Mallorca, reminisced about his days as a pro and explained how he keeps himself busy in retirement.
Blessed with a diverse landscape of mountains, rolling hills and pan flat plains Mallorca is clearly the ideal training ground for any budding young cyclist. But, as Vicente explains, the island’s youth have too often found the holiday atmosphere and delights a distraction from the hard work of training. “There’s a critical moment when you turn 18 or 19 – there are a lot of parties here in Mallorca!”
Fortunately for him, he says that he always had an inner drive and determination to succeed and he kept to his ambition formed as a young boy, to get to the mainland and secure a professional contract. While his friends stayed up all night for the annual San Juan festival, Vicente was tucked up in bed in preparation for the biggest race of the Mallorcan calendar. It’s what made him national and regional champion year after year as a junior.
“These things are in your blood,” he says. “You’re born with it. We are fighters, us cyclists, we are massive fighters. All that training and sacrifice, working 24 hours, you always focus on your sport 365 days a year. The world would be a better place if 50, 60% of people were like us – fighters.”
That single mindedness and fighting instinct took him a long way: this son of a humble baker from a holiday village got to travel the world and compete with and against the best cyclists of his generation.
It was perhaps that Paris-Nice stage win in 2005 (a tough one in the snow that Armstrong was desperate to win) that elevated him to the very top flight. It was then that Bob Stapleton, the Californian billionaire, offered him a contract at Team Highroad along with the likes of Mark Cavendish and Michael Rogers.
It’s his compatriot, Alejandro Valverde, that he has the most admiration for, however. “I was five years with him. It’s so impressive how strong he is and how easily he recovers. He was even doing jokes in the bus after a stage and, hell, I was dead!” He also loved his time supporting George Hincapie. “I used to get really nervous before each race, but those guys are super relaxed, it just rubs off on you. It was really good being with him and working for him.”
Vicente finished his professional career with IAM which sadly folded at the end of last season. They finished that year with a string of successes. “Like in football, you get players working really well together but that goal just doesn’t come. It’s the same in cycling. Suddenly it all just came together. I wanted to give the best to Michel (Michel Thetaz, founder of IAM) because he was the best boss I ever had. We all had so much respect for him and we fought to the very end of the season.”
Ever passionate about racing, Vicente says he finds the dominance of Sky is stifling the sport. “Spanish cycling is attacking – but British cycling is boring. It’s become all about numbers, calculating how many watts per kilo you can keep up. It’s changed the whole mentality of bike racing. That’s what I loved about Philippe Gilbert winning Flanders with a solo breakaway. Old school!”
His experiences in the peloton have taught him some excellent life lessons. “Teamwork is super, mega-important. And I’ve learnt how to manage a team and run a company.” And it’s these values that he brings to his expanding business on the west coast of Mallorca.
While the family bakery and shop in Deia thrives with the steady influx of visitors, his high-end bike rental business across the street does a roaring trade. Brother Marc, a pretty decent cyclist in his own right (and ex-pro) helps run these businesses, bringing an easy charm and helpful advice to cycle tourists. Meanwhile a new venture in the resort town of Port de Soller is a bike café and bakery.
‘Bikes and Bakes’ is situated on a prime spot in front of the beach. “I always wanted to have a cycling café – it was a bit of a dream.” It’s a cool place, serving just about everything a cyclist could want – great coffee, a top selection of beer and wine, bread, cakes, jerseys, T-shirts. Copies of Rouleur are scattered across tables and it has a lovely, cosy vibe that any passing road cyclist would love. Just ask Colombia’s national time trial champion, Jarlinson Pantano, who always makes a point of popping in when he’s training here.
With a wife and two daughters, Emily (10) and Neel (8) you’d think that Vicente would have enough on his hands but he also founded the Soller Vicente Reynes Cycling Team. It now has about 100 members, many of them keen youngsters who wish to emulate his successes as a professional – two of his protégés turned pro last year.
One of the highlights of the year is the hill climb in June from Cala Deia, a lung busting, lactate inducing ascent that features eight or nine hairpins that ramp up to over 15% in places. If ever you’re lucky enough to cycle from Deia to Soller, take the left turn down to the Cala just after the village. It’s a stunning beach and the climb back up is rewarding.
If you want to explore a few more climbs off the beaten track, Vicente recommends Es Verger just a few kilometres outside Palma. Be warned, though, it’s 35% in places. “It’s super steep. I was doing it since I was 12 years old!”
Others to look out for are Cala Tuent – take a left turn 3 km before the summit of Sa Calobra (Mallorca’s most famous climb) – or match the crazy feat one guy did of riding to all of Mallorca’s ports in a day. This involves sharp descents that you have to climb back up again. Port des Canonge is one of the toughest. We tried the road to Port de Valldemossa and back up again which was quite a challenge.
Vicente has much business to take care of and he leaves us basking in the sun on the terrace of Sa Fonda, his childhood home, but not before acknowledging, “You know, Deia has something special. When I was away I used to get homesick for it. It really made me appreciate it. It’s like time has stopped here in the mountains and it’s very beautiful. I’m super busy, but it makes me happy to be here running the family business.”