What could be better than a week of summer in autumn combined with a gran fondo? On Mallorca this is possible because the challenging Mallorca 312 was not held in April this year, but on 24 October. This event takes place over a car-free route, counts 312 kilometers with over 4,500m+ and is organized by Milestone Series.
Mallorca is unknown cycling territory for me and the combination of this distance and elevation equally unknown. That's why I opted for a 312 package. After arriving at the airport of Palma we are picked up by Ed of Bike Villas Travel and brought to the villa in Alaró. The perfect base for a week of Eat-Sleep-Cycle.
The first few days the weather is beautiful and we combine exploring parts of the course with a good physical build up towards the 312. In my previous articles I wondered how best to go about that. Partly as a result of the advice I received there, I decided for myself not to ride full speed anywhere. Besides enjoying myself, I am testing what is a comfortable, long-lasting breathing and heart rate for me. Martin, who accompanies us on our bikes all week, takes us to, among others, the Femenia, the Batalla and the Puig Major. I notice that none of these climbs get really tedious and, to be honest, I find that a pleasant observation. I'm looking forward to going up them again on Sunday. Also the condition of the asphalt is not too bad at all.
The biggest challenge is going to be duration and nutrition. I will have to digest a lot more than I am used to. That goes for more participants and so one evening we all make our own nutrition plan. All gels, bars and bags of sports nutrition are thoroughly studied. Based on about 13 hours of cycling, you end up with more than 1 kg of carbohydrates. Plus many liters of water. Gulp. After every 40-50 km there is a feeding station, but because I don't know what is available there, I decide to be self-sufficient. Speaking of care and food, every evening our hostess Wies cooks us great food. Meals that are tailored to our needs and it is extremely cozy to enjoy them together.
On Friday we pick up the starting gear in Playa de Muro. Around the start/finish location everything breathes cycling. From the organization we get a musette in which, apart from the well-known advertising material, also a personalized handlebar plate and a cycling shirt are included. The organization calls for us to wear this Sunday, but we agree that you only wear such a shirt when you have actually ridden the fondo.
On Saturday, I take a rest day. Although that is only relative. Because the bike has to be cleaned, the tires inflated, clothes and food prepared and all electronics charged. After a good plate of pasta it's bedtime at 20:30. Miraculously I manage to fall asleep early.
The alarm clock is relentless at 4:00 am. The big day is there. In my head I have always approached it as a long day out on the bike. I am confident that I will reach the finish and am especially curious about how it will go. Besides the usual breakfast, Wies has baked piles of pancakes. In the middle of the night they go down smoothly.
Just as smoothly, we arrive at the start where, quite surprisingly, we are all lined up in one large starting section. First come, first served apparently, instead of compartments according to specified speed. Why we have different colored handlebar plates remains a mystery.
At 6.30 am the announced starting shot does not sound, but first some kind of ritual takes place of which we get little idea. What is clear is that a group of prominent riders, including Jan Ullrich, Alberto Contador, Joseba Beloki, Pedro Horillo and Oscar Freire are the first to depart. Ten minutes later I ride over the starting line myself. The first 25 kilometers are flat and a nice warm-up for the first climb, the Coll de Feminia. It is still dark and it is a beautiful sight to see all those hundreds of lights riding up. Via the Gorg Blau we climb to the Puig Major, with 899 meters the highest point in the route. Every climb I open my windbreaker and take off my arm warmers, but in the descents both are really necessary to not cool down too much. Just past Sóller the beautiful, rocky west coast of Mallorca comes into view. Up and down we swing high and higher above the Mediterranean Sea. I mostly ride alone here so I can fully enjoy the surroundings. I manage to keep my heart rate and power output at the desired level every climb and my legs feel good.
Most of the elevation is in the first part. However, I forgot to check beforehand at which point we would leave the mountains behind us. Not so handy because there it is important to find a suitable group. When descending from the Grau de Superna towards Andratx, I suspect that this is the moment. Right in front of me some riders descend with a good pace and I join them. Together we ride with headwind in northeast direction. I am lucky to have someone among them who apparently enjoys riding up front.
On behalf of the organization, a kind of sweepers will ride along. They are recognizable by their green polka dot jerseys and ride at a net cycling time of 13 hours. They stop at every aid station to give everyone the opportunity to replenish themselves of fluids and food. After about 170 km they pass by our group. That's quite a shock because we are riding on a good schedule. The sweepers indicate that we can join them and that everyone who stays in the group will finish the 312. However, their platoon of followers is so big that safety is questionable. With about twenty riders, we continue to ride behind them at a suitable distance.
I have the luxury of passing our villa after 190 kilometers where Wies and Ed are standing with our own feed station. There are water bottles with fresh sports drinks and my top tube bag with powerbank and food ready. I sit down for a moment to eat a pancake and relieve my feet. And then on for the final section. I cheerfully call out that I'm going to bike "just a little bit more" for five hours. A few kilometers later I pass the official care station where I see the sweepers taking a break. Nice to know that now I have them behind me again.
At this stage of the gran fondo, I see more and more people struggling. I wonder when that moment will come for me. Again, I find a group that also wants to ride at speed and just like with the previous group, I don't have to do any pedaling at the front. With a speed between 30 and 40 kph we continue our journey. Around km 215 there is a large group of riders standing still on the road. We suspect a crash, but it turns out to be a tough discussion between participants and traffic controllers. On the right side is a small side road closed with yellow fences. Several participants try to climb over them with their bikes. About six of us ride on.
Great is our surprise when we drive into Playa de Muro after a few kilometers. The finish. The yellow fences was the cut-off point for the longest distance. So no 312 kilometers for us. But why not? After all, we would have until 5 pm to take that cut-off and we crossed the finish line before 4 pm. After us several sweepers finish. So they too have not done the 312 kilometers. My confusion quickly turns to anger and I decide to ask the organization for clarification. I am not the only one. The frustration is dripping from many people. What an anticlimax.
The explanation that follows is that a week before the event, the police decided to advance the final finish time by half an hour. The organization then moved the cut-off forward an hour and a half. They estimated that 4.5 hours would be too little for the remaining 95 kilometers. Unfortunately, this was only put on a small map with the service posts that was then put between the advertising material in the musette. Where Spaniards are still sometimes praised for tranquillo and mañana, overambitious traffic controllers also closed the junction well before the time on the card. Of the more than 4,000 participants, only about 450 were able to ride the 312.
My aftertaste is double. I have ridden a gran fondo (admittedly, the medio fondo), but I have the feeling that I have ridden a sportive, because I have not been able to give everything. Admittedly a beautiful tour that, with 226 kilometers and 3600m+, will go down in the books as my best yet. However, I was looking forward to the moment when it would get tough, physically and mentally. I wondered how I would deal with myself. That question is still open because actually I had dosed so well that for those last few hours I still had plenty of energy and desire. Even my Garmin was just over 50% full.
Absolutely worth mentioning is the win of Nikky Alberts in the ladies (and my cozy neighbor in the villa all week). After 312 kilometers, she joined another Dutch lady, Nicolien Luijsterburg, in the sprint for first and second place. With an impressive 10:24:10, Nikky finished 32nd overall. In the men's race, Dominic Aigner won. Dutchman Pieter Frolichs finished a handsome fourth.