I did the Mallorca 312

Member Mike Kirby writes another great blog about the ride that’s been on his bucket list for some time.

 

Go on, ask me. Ask me what I did at the weekend. I silently pleaded with my team at our weekly Teams call. Just ask!

Hi Mike, how was your weekend? (At last, phew). This was my chance. ‘Well’, said I, in what I hoped was my most interesting voice, I did the Mallorca 312. For all the team knew, the 312 could be a Balearic drinking game, cycling duffers to a man. Most, if not all they know about cycling is what I tell them on Monday morning.

‘What’s the Mallorca 123?’

‘Its 312’ I said. ‘A closed-roads ride around the Island’, I said,

‘8000 riders, 312 kilometres’ I said, ‘with almost 15,000 feet of climbing’ I made sure to add, as if they didn’t think riding a bike for 312 kms wasn’t hard enough.

This ride has been on my bucket list for a while. The Island is a cycling paradise, warm, sunny, and smooth tarmac. My aim was to get round before the cut off’s and avoid the ignominy of finishing in the dark. Around 25% don’t finish at all. To get to the first cut, at 100kms, required an early start. We decided to get as near to the front at the start as we could. So out of bed at 4.45am, a hasty hotel buffet brekky at 5am and down to that start in the dark.

Riders thronged from every side road and poured out of every hotel as we were ushered to the line via a series of holding areas. As we neared the starting arch, we could see we were near the front. It was now 5.30am, one hour to go and all around me, there was an excited babble, chattering teeth in the early morning cold and a very loud Eddie Van Halen telling us to JUMP, Go ahead and JUMP! Just to wake anyone still snoozing.

An early morning glow started to light the sky to our right, the chatter volume increased with woops and cheers as the ‘VIP’ riders filtered into their lane to our left, Alberto Contador and Mark Beaumont slipped by in the half light. Then it was our turn and after the obligatory count down – in many languages – we were off.

I had expected the first few flattish kilometres to whiz by, but this was frenetic. Most people rode a steady line but there were so many shouts, touches of tyres and squealing brakes as we headed towards Pollenca. To our right the rising sun, the colour of blood orange, sat on the horizon equi-distant between the two headlands, I had the widest smile, and almost cried.

Out on the open road

We covered the ground quickly, effortlessly carried along by the adrenaline, but still riders poured past us, intent on the front. A big crash, riders and carbon fibre everywhere heralded the start of the first climb, the Col de Femenia, time to get into a rhythm. Almost 2000 feet of climbing.

The race organisers have a group of local riders, deeply tanned, lined and gnarly guys with green polka dot jerseys who’s one job is to get round just inside the cut off, follow them in and you have made the cut off. They were parked at the foot of the Femenia, music belting out of a small speaker, breaking out the sandwiches, so no time worries, yet.

By now the sun was up and warming the road between the deep shade from the trees either side. The air was cool and calm, in places filled with the heady orange blossom scent, as we tapped out an easy pace up the first big hill. After Femenia, Puig Major, at 870 meters the highest point on the ride. Then the long, long descent into Soller, nearly all the altitude gain lost in a dive down to the west coast of the island. A few didn’t make it, underestimating the sharp switchbacks, corners tightening after the first apex. A number sat in the ditch, dazed and bloodied.

The good people of Soller were out in the early morning sun, clapping and cheering as we passed through. After Soller it was a case of up and down and more up and down as we contoured the coastal cliffs, the sea far below us. The scenery is truly stunning, but I didn’t feel able to enjoy it. I was intent on the first cut off and made it with 30 minutes to spare.

The first feed station was carnage as thirsty riders topped bidons and grabbed handfuls of gels, bars, bananas and cola like so many locusts. I was determined not to fritter time, so, bottles full, I broke out my first cheese roll and pressed on. This established a ‘hare and tortoise’ pattern. I would get through the water stops as quickly as I could and try and hold a steady tempo. Others stayed longer rode faster and passed me multiple times.

We soon reached the south of the island, near Andratx, the day now getting wonderfully warm. I soon realised that the climbs that don’t make the guidebook headlines are the ones that are the hardest. Signs at the bottom – quite accurate – tell you the distance, the % and hight gain. The peloton was thinning as the people on the shorter of the three rides had cut off and headed home around Soller. So, we ground up to Galilea and again on up the Coll des Grau. Picture perfect villages were filled with enthused locals, cheering everyone on. Imagine Cotswold folk, or the good people of Surrey turning out the yell full throated encouragement like this!

Two local riders had decided a ‘fat bike’ was the way to go. Just in case anyone thought this was a completely mad choice of equipment, one had fitted drops and the other a full tri-bar rig. I rode with one, into the wind between 200 and 220kms, we took it in turns and he thanked me in 4 languages. He probably weighed about the same as his bike. Thin, wiry legs the colour of mahogany, good on hills, less good into the wind.

It’s easy after 200kms they said. Flat they said. But after the second cut-off, where we lost all those doing the 225km ride, we headed over narrow bumpy roads, between open fields, into the wind and up and over numerous short sharp climbs. NLF’s we call them. The first two words being Nasty and Little……

There were dozens of riders stopped, some having a lie down, some being sick, others rubbing numb feet, flailing aching arms, stretching taut hamstrings and attending to the real or imagined noises that your bike makes after 200+ kilometres. Others were stopped where the wonderful local people had set up tables with cakes, water and cola, cheering every rider with big hearted generosity. The towns of Ariany and Arta were in full-on Saturday fiesta mode with thousands of people, massive sound systems, and dishing out free beer to tired riders.

At last, we turned for home. At Arta the race had caused a 4km traffic jam coming into town. But the people were out of their cars, clapping and cheering, kids playing on the verge. We even got a Mexican wave. With 30k to go, a Spanish guy waved me onto his wheel with an unmistakable instruction, ‘Vamanos’ – ‘Let’s Go’! I didn’t need to be asked twice. We flew along the last stretch, taking turns, small grupettos forming and splitting and reforming again as we anticipated the finish.

Anxiety over – the finish

And then it was all done! I was well inside the cut off in the end. My brain had scrambled the time and distance numbers and I had given myself way too much anxiety. I just didn’t want them to be all packed up and gone home by the time I arrived.

An amazing event, so well organised. Gorgeous location. Truly heart-warming generosity of spirit. Add it to your bucket list. Unforgettable.