Stunning Sportive in Spain's Cycling Paradise
Eight thousand riders, 312 km and approaching 5000 metres of climbing, the Mallorca 312 is truly an epic sportive. Originally conceived as a lap around the island, closed roads have made this original route impossible but the organisers have retained the heart and soul of the original event- the stunning Serra de Tramuntana mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The ninth edition attracted riders from 52 countries, 36% from the UK, outnumbering the Spanish (35%) and Germans (11%), while over 20 media operators covered the event in more than 10 languages. According to the University of the Balearic Islands the Mallorca 312 sportive will have an economic impact of over 16 million euros.
Nine riders from the Bigfoot Cycle Club in South East London arrived to take on the Mallorca Gran Fondo. As the first real event of the season, this had been the motivation for our training through the long, cold English winter, with various intrusions by the 'beast from the east' weather system. As a group, we were reasonably well prepared with some longer 200 km group rides and a large chunk of turbo training. With warm up rides taking in Mallorca's finest routes of Sa Calobra and the Formentor Lighthouse, our comfortable base in a spacious nine man villa in Pollensa and the island's exquisite gastronomy being supplemented by our party's own exclusive chef, Lance, all seemed to be going well - but there were concerns from some with mysterious injuries and ailments which had sprung forth and the approach to the event was understandably cautious.
We arrived to find ourselves at the back of the starting gate, with thousands of slower riders to battle through in the opening kilometres. It actually took nine minutes for us to cross the start line but then it was a case of weaving through the riders ahead. It wasn't long before we had formed a group consisting of Jay, Robb, Lance and myself and we formed a train of four that hummed with the sound of speeding wheels. After 25 km and averaging high thirty kilometres per hour we hit the mountain climbs and our group quickly splintered. Jay led the way through the hordes of riders and after 55 km we crested the highest mountain in Mallorca, the Puig Major.
The descent is exhilarating, plunging over 800 metres into the picturesque port of Soller. With the roads closed, it was possible to use the full width of the smooth tarmac to pick the best lines through the corners for what was a 15 minute white-knuckle ride. We were soon climbing again through the historic township of Deia and on to the first food stop at Coll den Claret (93 km). An array of refreshments were available, but I was in no mood for a picnic, so I swiftly refilled my water bottles and continued on the next long descent. I was refuelling solely on energy gels and ensuring I had one every 30 minutes - I noticed no else feeding around me and knew that they would pay the price later in the day.
Towering mountains closed in to our left, as the view to the right opened out to sumptuous vistas across the Mediterranean Sea. These were roads I had ridden on a previous visit to Mallorca and are amongst the most stunning I've ever ridden. Coupled with the almost endless descending this was the most enjoyable part of the ride. Just before Andratx we turned east to face the final major climbs heading towards Galilea and Puigpunyent, before negotiating the numerous switchbacks through a canopy of trees to the Coll des Grau de Superna. The descent was steep and coiled viciously back upon itself and, at one point, my rear wheel skidded from under me but I somehow kept the bike upright. We hit the valley floor and the speed increased noticeably as groups formed to take advantage of riding in a peloton.
At the third feed stop, I was greeted by Jay, who was so shocked to see me arrive before him that he asked whether I was doing the shorter 225 km version. This statement was to prove extremely ironic considering what followed. We left together and Jay powered through the wind while I sat in behind. We were joined by a third rider who subsequently refused to work a turn at the front. Jay was furious and rode away at a pace too fast for me to follow. For the next 30 km, I had this rider glued to my wheel, and when others joined, he remained at the back, happy to suck energy from others. Meanwhile, Jay had forged ahead and somehow managed to miss the turn off for the 312. Instead he followed the 225 route and by the time he realised it was not possible and deemed too dangerous by the organisers to turn back and re-join. He finished his event by adding the Formentor Lighthouse Loop and clocking 312 km in his own unique way!
Mallorca has matured into a veritable utopia for cyclists with its terrain, climate, culture, exquisite gastronomy (it now has 6 Michelin-starred restaurants) and snooker table smooth roads. Money was pumped in to resurfacing the roads around the mountains months before the 312. However, the loop south east towards Manacor was less spectacular and the pot-holed roads more a memory of our training rides in Kent. Having started well behind the quickest riders, there was now no fast groups coming through and as I continued to catch tiring riders, no one was able to work with me and so my speed suffered as a result. After 285 km I re-filled a final bottle at Arta, a town renowned for its pavement cafes and quaint shops. There was a party going on, beer was flowing and it was almost as if the finish line had been transported 25 km south. I briefly soaked in the carnival atmosphere, before continuing to the finish. Our small group of four doubled in size and the pace quickened over the final 15 km as we hurtled into Can Picafort and towards the finish line at Playa de Muro. I crossed the line in an official time of 11.26 (11.10 moving time) in 250th position. Robb followed next, then Andrew, Graham, Dean, Lance and Ed, with Jay and Andy completing the shorter distance events (although Jay insists his version of the 312 should form the blueprint for Mallorca 2019)!
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