If you love road cycling, and even if you don’t, this sportive on Balearic island which is a mecca for cyclists will make you want to ride forever…
Clear blue skies and the warmth of the sun on my skin was a welcome sensation as I stood on the start line of the Mallorca 312 sportive this April. This moment had been in the planning since October when the event opened for registration, the opportunity to enjoy some warm weather cycling, car-free roads and a goal to aim for had kept me motivated to train through the winter.
When this event started eight years ago, the route went around the island. Nowadays it attracts 6,500 participants and this is no longer feasible, so the event loops through some of the island’s most spectacular scenery – and hilliest – in the beautiful Tramuntana mountains.
Depending on the distance you choose, 167 km, 225 kms or 312 kms, the climbs can range from 2475 metres up to 5050 – and all have a cut off time. For my chosen distance, the 167 km, this was eight hours. That may sound a long time, but with that amount of ascent it is needed! In fact, It created enough of a fear factor to get my four friends and I out training in the British winter; cue wind, rain, hailstone and snow (top tip – borrow a turbo and subscribe to www.TrainerRoad.com or try Sufferfest at www.davidlloyd.com). All that training paid off though and meant that we were all on the start line in the sunshine with big smiles.
The 167 km event starts at 9am, two hours later than the longer distances, but there was still an excited buzz as we were marshalled into our coloured start pens (if you enter with friend and get a different colour, you are allowed to drop down to their pen but they can’t move up).
Finally, we were off to loud cheers and although the first 20km is neutralised (which means that no one can race ahead of the lead motorbike) it was thrilling as we cycled out of town and pelotons of riders began to form. I joined on the back and sped along the coast towards Puerto Pollensa at over 25 mph before we turned and began a 7km ascent.
The scenery was stunning, green clad mountains etched against an azure sky with peaks shaped like the tops of Iced Gems. And despite the fact that only 10% of entries are female (which the organisers are working hard to remedy with more women’s specific website content) it never felt like it. Throughout the ride there always seemed to a fellow female cyclist nearby.
With only a few undulations to help rest my legs, it was a brutal ascent and I was relieved to reach the first stop at 50 km at Gorg Blau, a beautiful reservoir that seems to perch on top of the mountains. What I had not accounted for was that there was only water and squash, no food. Even though it had said this in the event information, it had not sunk in. Thankfully, I’d caught up with one of my friends who lent me an energy bar to keep me going as we set off to take on the next climb to Col Puig Major at 800 metres. It was a tough slog but the joy of this event is in it’s thrilling descents – at least for me.
At the top, we cycled under a little viaduct and then I was off, swooping around bends and through shadows thrown by the trees feeling like a bird in flight. The route then passed through the beautiful town of Soller before heading out to tackle three more climbs before finally reaching the food station at Col Den Claret at 94 kms. I clearly wasn’t the only one relieved to reach food.
At the other drinks station, all the cyclists had been careful with their bikes. Here, they were strewn all over the road while their owners sat in front of mounds of food that was devoured in a mass, frenzied picnic. It was a great atmosphere with cyclists of all nationalities (although with 33% British entries, we’re not far behind the 40.7% Spanish cyclists) comparing notes as they ate the food on offer which included chocolate spread sandwiches, ham and cheese baguettes, energy bars, bananas, oranges and coke. Until then, I’d been cycling on my own so it was great to bump into three of my friends and we set off again together, although the group didn’t last long as we went straight into a thrilling, speedy descent.
The final stages of a sportive are usually the ones that drag and make you wonder why you ever entered. Your back and neck start aching and I usually start thinking.. ‘Never again.’ This time was completely different though, the final 70km of this route is largely flat and there are loads of pelotons to help you to the finish line.
I must have looked like I was struggling as a Spanish cyclist who didn’t speak a word of English appeared on my front wheel and led me right to the back of a 30 strong peloton. Sitting behind other cyclists creates a windbreak that can lessen your effort by up to 40%. Moreover, it’s exciting and requires focus so it keeps your mind off the endless cycle of your pumping legs.
I flew into the final feed station at 137 km, which is like a big party, complete with a beer tap and supporters from the local village piling out of the bars onto the street. I would have loved to have stayed but was ever mindful of the time ticking away and and so I pushed on finally racing to the finish line with a peloton of cyclists.
I’ve cycled in lots of sportives in the UK but this is something else; it’s more friendly, more challenging and far more exciting, not to mention amazing value. After being presented with a medal, I was given a coupon for beer and pasta and there were even free massages on offer.
Get your entry in when registration opens and it costs just 75 euros which includes an event cycle jersey. Plus, even Miguel Indurain, five time winner of the Tour De France takes part. Pretty cool!
I started training for this event when I was not particularly keen on road cycling, but through the camaraderie of training through the winter with friends and taking part in this friendly, stunningly spectacular sportive race, I’m sold. Sign me up for 2018!
www.Mallorca312.com takes place 28 April 2018. Register on their website now to be informed when event entry is open.
Rachael Woolston, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine
Tips for busy women
As a busy woman juggling work and maybe kids too, how do you get your training in when sportives demand endurance ?
Online cycle training: Try www.trainerroad.com, which offers science based training and interval workouts which you can do at home with a turbo. Great for improving speed.