That’s a big number with an eco-friendly pocket
312 kilometres of riding with 5,500m of climbing
Following a fantastic week of training with my fellow Baroudeurs, it was time to say “Hasta Luego” to my amigos and relocate myself to Alcudia to await the arrival of the 312 crew. I had a few days to relax by the pool, work on my tan and catch up on my neglected swimming and running, while contemplating the challenge which lay ahead.
The Mallorca 312 is an iconic sportive held annually on the island. Upwards of 5000 competitors take on any of the 3 distances which can be attempted, 167km, 225km or The Big One, the 312, for which the event is named. 312km around the island with a total of 5500m ascent and 14 hours in which to complete it. You can make your final decision mid-ride as to which route you will do, but to be allowed to continue to the full distance you must achieve the cut off times, averaging 22kph including stops, marked by a group of riders wearing green polka dot jerseys. If those guys catch up with you, your day is over.
Your 3 Options
A group of six of us had decided to take on this challenge in its various guises. Mel was up for the 167, Becca, Alex and Matt for the 225 and myself and Nick had the 312 in our sights. Sadly a collision with a car a few weeks earlier put Alex out of the running with a fractured elbow, but she valiantly joined the booze crew (sorry, that should be the support crew) and joined us for the jolly anyway.
With everyone assembled we went to register and collect our timing chips at the expo and were given our 312 Jerseys, good quality cycling jerseys with the handy addition of an eco-pocket. A small side- pocket in which to stash used food wrappers. The Sierra de Tramuntana is a world heritage site and spoiling it with litter is just not on.
The forecast for race day was generally good, but with a very chilly start at -2 degrees warming up to 22, and with pocket space for food at a premium the talk around the dining table that evening centred around the optimal layering strategies. Be bold, start cold? Or put up with carrying layers later in the warmth? I opted for a base layer, my 312 jersey with arm warmers and my Baroudeur gilet. A girl’s gotta fly the flag, right?!
We got up before dawn and headed out into the cold, dark morning down to race start. Separated into our respective start pens, with Nick and I as the only two originally listed as 312ers further up the road than our compadres, we agreed to soft pedal until the others caught us up then we’d go together as a group.
Line, Time and Allez
At 7am we started rolling out of Playa de Muro, back through Alcudia and Pollenca before turning in to the mountains to climb Coll de Femenia. It became apparent that soft pedalling wasn’t really an option with so many other riders around and the pace being dictated by the group, so Nick and I agreed we’d stop at the first feed station to top up our bottles and wait for the others. Matt caught us up, but the girls were a fair way behind, happy to go along at their own pace without the pressure of the tight cut-off times. The three of us cracked on.
Over Femenia and past the start of Sa Calobra, we ascended Puig Major, the highest point on the island, before taking the 14km descent down into the town of Soller. The roads are wide and sweeping, but I was nervous on the descents with people whooshing past me on both sides without so much as an “on your left” to warn me, and forcing me off my chosen line. I really need to be more assertive! It soon became apparent that Matt and Nick were better going downhill and I was better going up, so we agreed to ride our own paces and re-group at feed stations, whoever got there first grabbing supplies and looking out for the others.
We climbed back out of Soller up to Deia to take in the spectacular coastal road around Banyalbufar and Estellencs. I’ve ridden this road before and if the wind is up it can be brutal, but the beauty is utterly breath-taking. We passed through small villages along the way and the crowds were out in force clapping and cheering “allez” as we rolled on through.
Familiar scenes of Mallorca
As we left Andratx for Es Capdella, Nick seemed to be struggling. He was flagging on the climb up to Galilea, and again on Es Grau. We made the chilly descent down the switchbacks to the final feed station of the mountainous section. 150km and 3500m of climbing had taken its toll on him and he wasn’t going to make the 312km. My partner in crime was out of the game. As we ate our nutella sandwiches and chugged a can of coke Becca arrived. Aware of the ever-ticking clock, Matt and I had to leave them to the 225 route and head out.
At 210km into the ride you reach the divide in the road which will either take you to the finish of the 225, or out again for the 312 and have to make your final decision whether or not to continue. The mental battle begins. You’ve been riding for 8 hours already. You are 15km away from the finish line, but you haven’t seen the polka dots so you can continue. The thought of calling it a day, joining your friends and getting that beer is tempting. 225km with 4000m of ascent is still your longest, hardest ever ride, your mind tells you. And that ache in your neck is beginning to really hurt, not to mention the unmentionables. But how deep would the regret be if you did quit? There will still be beers at the end if you do the full distance. Surely you have another 102km in your legs. It’s just a standard Windsor ride we told ourselves. I was tired, that’s for sure, but I was feeling ok. I’ve felt this kind of tired before. I’ve ridden 180km then run a marathon more than once so I was backing myself to be able to cycle for 4 more hours and Matt had decided to go the distance so I had a buddy. It was game on.
4000km of ascending to go
We were out of the mountains and onto the plains and the wind was against us. What had been a chatty group of riders became a solemn precession for an hour or so as we ground into the wind. I cheered myself up with the thought that we would be coming back in the opposite direction, and that I’d rather face the headwind now than for the last hour when I was really, really tired. Matt and I were looking at our Garmins and wondering where the last 1500m of climbing would come. Surely it couldn’t come from the rolling plains, there had to be more climbs. We got separated, and as I rolled in to the now familiar bedlam that was the feed stations the first green polka dots arrived. Panic stations!!! No way was I getting the broom wagon home now. I quickly found Matt and rushed off to find the loo while he grabbed me a can of coke. I checked my pockets and I was carrying enough food to refuel on the fly, so I forewent any more rest and we hopped back on to get out of there, sharpish. Forgive the lack of pictures in this section, but there simply wasn’t time!
The last of the climbing came around Manacor and San Llorenc, but it wasn’t too bad. Just out of the saddle a couple of times. The road surfaces were uncharacteristically poor for Mallorca around these areas and I witnessed a few people pick up punctures which this late in the game could spell disaster as they ran out of time. At one point I found myself riding in no-mans-land for a while as people began to thin out, but a trio of Spanish gents rode past and offered me a wheel, which I gratefully accepted. Just 50km to go.
The final feed station was just 30km from the end. The town had taken on somewhat of a party feel and as we queued to get over the timing mat beers were being handed out. Possibly it was alcohol free, but who knows! I declined and opted for a can of trusty cola. There was still work to do. We left Arta for the final leg. The peloton was large once more and with the wind behind us the going was easy, but in a group that large you can’t relax. One rider switched off momentarily, clipped a central road marker and ricocheted back into the group. We scattered like a shoal of fish, while the rider righted himself and stayed up, only to repeat the move seconds later on a traffic cone. Once again, remarkably, everyone stayed up. Well done team, well done!
Finally, we can relax
If it’s not on Strava, it never happened
After 13 hours and 301km, with the sun beginning to set my Garmin beeped its last beep, and powered down. Therefore my Strava data was gone. This was a sad moment in my life. That’s all I have to say about that.
All the same, it’s now fiesta time
With the finish line in sight (and no green polka dots) we rode back in to town, down the finish lane and under the arches. Utterly triumphant we were greeted by a crowd of revellers, smoke bombs and devils, music and beer, and boy, did that beer taste good!
:: Reltated Article: Discover what it’s like to train with the Baroudeurs in Mallorca in Una Semana de la Tramuntana, Part 1