By Sean O’Brien.
The Mallorca 312 is a bucket list event for many cycling enthusiasts, and it certainly deserves to be on that list. It is simply brilliant!
The event itself has three different distances that can be cycled, 167km, 225km and 312km. In true fashion I opted for the 312km distance and to say it was an eventful day would be an understatement. It exceeded all my expectations.
The Mallorca 312 is a 312 km loop that consists of about 5,000m of climbing through the Serra Tramuntana Mountain region as well as a loop out to the northeast of the island. The route takes in some of Mallorca’s finest roads and climbs, including Col de Femenia, Puig Major and the spectacular MA-10 (including my favourite section from Banyalbufar to Andratx). The final 90km of the cycle brings you through some narrow and rugged country lanes which really captures the many unique facets of this extraordinary island.
In the build up to the 312 the body was battling a lot of fatigue from the London marathon but the general buzz and atmosphere around Alcudia and Port de Pollenca really didn’t permit any rest. The days before the event involved some ‘taper’ spins of about 80km to quickly acclimatise to the warmer weather and to get the body used to sitting back in the saddle. To build on previous lessons learned with sun burn I made it my number one priority to apply sun cream for this event and I can now safely say that I am still as white as ever. (A massive thank you to Sarah M who recommended P20 sun cream to me after our big trip to Portugal last year).
My goal and objective for the day was just to finish. I was absolutely bolloxed both mentally and physically so I knew it was not a day for setting any PB’s. The race plan (thankfully executed very well) was to ride smart. For the first 100km this involved exerting a high-power output to stay in the leading groups on the hills and then carry this output into the descents. Once I got to the food stop at about 100km I could then change focus to refuelling and recovery through a zone 1 high cadence spin to 170km and then when I get to the flats, I could be a ‘freeloader’ in a peloton to get me to final turn off to the 90km where I can grind out the required work to get me over the finish line.
The day before the event itself was electrifying, people from all around the world congregated in the seaside town of Alcudia to register for the event in front of music, cheering and laughter. After collecting the bike from the repair shop to fix some gearing issues and dropping some money at the event exhibition, it was time to overindulge in lots of pizza and pasta for a 4:30am start on Saturday 28th April.
The morning of the event involved cycling about 15km to the starting line and then battling my way to the prescribed starting wave. The event had over 8,000 cyclists all trying to navigate their way to their correct wave and as a result there was a slight delay to the event. After finding my place in my prescribed wave I was really battling to keep my eyes open in the starting pen but before I knew it the 10 second countdown started, and I set out into the unknown.
The start of the event was a bit frantic as the streets were covered with cyclists of different abilities. There were a few crashes within the first 10km of the event which is to be expected but thankfully I managed to find a nice fast group from the outset. We managed to work smartly together to the first climb, the Col de Femenia and we were in the leading pack for the majority if the first 100km.
For those who haven’t been fortunate enough to cycle in Mallorca, the Col de Femenia is a stunning climb that presents amazing views of the valleys that lay beneath the meandering road that you climb. Once you get to the summit you benefit from a fast technical descent where you can really make up for lost time.
Once I got to the bottom of the Col de Femenia descent, I then started the climb to the famous Petrol Station (a place that is well known to t3) a right-hand turn and headed up the MA-10 to the summit of the Puig Major. This is the longest climb of the day (about 16km and gradient 5%) and although it provides ample opportunity just to get into a good cadence on the bike the aggressive attack in the leading pack didn’t really permit for any exotic cadence work up this climb. Thankfully, I managed to hold my own in the leading pack of about 100 cyclists, but the body was feeling the effects of the aggressive climbing, one final hard effort down the ‘Hors Categorie’ into Sóller and then I was entering the second stage of my race plan.
The 6% average 14km descent into Sóller is a descent like no other. It is a very technical descent that involves 26 switch backs that can either work in your favour or kill your time. For context, Strava informed me my maximum speed on this descent was 78kmph and my total an average pace was 51kmph for this segment. If I was in a busier pack my average speed would be about 40kmph.
When I got to the first food stop, I was fortunate that it wasn’t that busy, so I was able to get the correct fuel on board, fill up my water bottles and set out for my 40km zone 1 cycle to Banyalbufar executing some very high cadence as the body started its recovery. This ‘zone 1’ spin soon became the hardest part of the cycle for me because it was mentally draining. I was warned before the event that this is the part of the race where the 225km chasing packs will try to break away into smaller groups, so staying honest with me own race plan was crucial. As I waved on to the passing cyclists, the body and mind was able to recover, and I was able to jump into another cycling pack as we made our way towards Andratx.
The Banyalbufar to Andratx cycle is picture perfect and there are plenty of time where you want to stop cycling and just appreciate the stunning scenery! As you depart Andratx there are a couple of a couples of moderate narrow climbs up to which again worked in my favour as I was able to sit into some nice groups and just spin out the legs as I continued to recover.
After these moderate narrow climbs you move onto the flatter sections of the course (about 180km into the course) and this part of the course really allows someone to put down big power numbers to get their average pace up to get to the 225km finish line or just be lazy and latch onto some of the passing pelotons. I choice the latter as I continued to prepare myself for the final 90km of the course😊.
The final 90km of the 312km really separates the glamorous side of the ride and the ‘freeloading’ to just putting the head down and getting the job done. The event is very strict on enforcing the cut off times and unfortunately for a lot of the cyclists they didn’t make the 220km cut off time. I was about 50 minutes ahead of the final cut-off time which I was very happy once I got to the town called Arta.
Arta is the final food stop about 30km from the finish line to my surprise a local concert is held there on the day of the 312 and the enduring cyclists are treated like celebrities (think of apres ski but with a bike). I was handed a beer by a race official and was told to enjoy myself until the final pacing peloton arrived at Arta. After about 3 beers the final pacing peloton arrived, and every cyclist was handed a further two beers and everyone started singing and dancing in the square. It was crazy and super fun. The event official finally told us all to get back on our bikes and head home.
After 6 beers later and a police escort, myself and about 30 other cyclists including the pacers crossed the finish line and were greeted with the 312 medal.
The Mallorca 312 is an event like no other and really exemplifies the passion people have for this extraordinary sport. The three different distances permit cyclists of all abilities to really test themselves whilst enjoying everything the course offers. The camaraderie, friendliest and encouragement of everyone is something to behold and will leave you smiling throughout most of the day. After all, if you are not smiling, you are doing it wrong 😊