Ride Report: Mallorca 312
If you’re going to push yourself to take on A LOT of miles in one day, you definitely deserve beautiful weather, sensational food and silky smooth roads. Welcome to the Mallorca 312! Emily Chappell shares her highs, lows, ear worms and more from this year’s event…
What? A 312-kilometre sportive, on closed roads, with over 5,000m climbing.
Where? Mallorca, where the sun shines and the roads are smooth as silk.
Why? It's the most beautiful - and well-serviced - 300km ride you'll ever do.
There’s a bit of a fad developing for ultra-long sportives, and the Mallorca 312 is possibly the finest of them all. Now in its eighth year, the 193-mile route takes in the long climbs and breathtaking views of Mallorca’s west coast, before doubling back through the island’s lesser-known farmland interior and culminating with a glorious sprint finish into Alcúdia.
Casquette took on this year’s 312 and our verdict is that it’s an absolute treat to ride. That may seem like an odd thing to say about an event in which riders push themselves to cover 312km within a strict 14-hour limit, but we’ll wager that most of the 3,000 or so British cyclists who headed out to Mallorca’s island paradise last week found themselves hobbling around the following day with huge smug grins plastered across their sunburnt faces.
After a tiresome and interminable winter of damp, muddy and occasionally icy British roads, a long day of riding around on dry tarmac in the Mediterranean sunshine was just what the doctor ordered. The 312 includes over 5,000m of climbing, but it’s difficult to complain about this when you realise that the hills in Mallorca are long and shallow – usually somewhere around 5% gradient, rather than the short, sharp, steep climbs we have to put up with here in the UK – meaning that those of us who’ve trained on British roads all winter suddenly found ourselves at an advantage.
The 312 takes place exclusively on closed roads, with a reassuringly high presence of marshals and motorbikes to keep things in order, meaning that you can put aside a lot of your usual worries about heedless or impatient drivers, and concentrate on finding a good wheel to follow, admiring the chiselled calves ahead of you, or getting to know fellow riders from all over the world. (Brits, Spaniards and Germans make up the majority, but I encountered sizeable Dutch and Nordic contingents – perhaps it’s no coincidence that most participants come from sun-starved Northern Europe.) None of the locals we passed seemed to mind this disruption, judging by their smiles, cheers and whoops of encouragement.
There were so many…
Rolling out along the coast in a tightly packed peloton, grinning with anticipation as the sun rose on our right, was pretty magical, as was hitting the first climb and realising that the combination of gentler gradients than I’m used to and the feather-light Liv Langma (review coming soon) I’d borrowed for the day meant I soared past rider after rider (before being overtaken by almost all of them on the descents).
Then there was the scenery on the west coast as rocky mountains gave way to coastal cliffs and the blue sea stretched away on my right. It looked almost too good to be true, and my only small regret was that I didn’t have more time to take it all in.
I also loved sharing the road with so many other cyclists, and the opportunity to be paced by people much stronger than me. The highlight of my whole ride was tucking in behind a very professional-looking group on the Coll de sa Gramola, thinking to myself that this was probably the closest I’d ever get to riding in the Tour de France as I followed them past all the other riders. It was only afterwards that I realised I’d been riding with Beloki, Rodríguez and Jarlinson Pantano.
Sprinting into the finish, pretending I was Chloe Hosking winning La Course, was the icing on the cake.
Everyone said the second half was flat. It wasn’t. And even when it was, there was a horrendous headwind to battle with. I’m pretty sure my pace halved as I approached the penultimate food stop, and try as I might, I couldn’t manage to hang onto any groups, so had to struggle on alone.
I fell apart pretty much as soon as I’d crossed the finish line, and had to sit still and concentrate on not puking for about ten minutes. My lungs were scorched and rasping, my skin throbbed with sunburn and I couldn’t stand up straight. But, in a way I was quite proud of how far I’d pushed myself.
Every couple of hours I’d pull in gratefully to feast on fresh oranges, sandwiches, piles of cake, and a delicious snack made of figs, almonds and a hint of aniseed that I immediately resolved to stockpile for my return to the UK.
There was even beer on offer. 30km out from the finish, a small town called Artà puts on a street party every year, and passing riders are accosted by waiters with trays of beer. I politely declined, but many others started their finish line celebrations an hour early.
The saddle sore
I miraculously escaped, but if this is your first long hot ride of the year (which it will be for most people), it’s worth being vigilant, as your skin won’t have had the chance to toughen up, and you’ll sweat more in 12 hours than you have all winter. If you’re hiring a bike for the event (recommended, as Mallorca is full of pretty bikes, and you’ll avoid having to wrangle a bike box through the airport), make sure you spend some time getting the height and angle of your saddle just right.
I learnt two main things: I am super strong on climbs (despite feeling like I was pedalling through mud for most of the winter, probably because I was), but I am embarrassingly slow on descents. I must have lost 200 places going down Puig Major, and the only people I passed were one guy waiting for his mate, and another guy who’d just crashed (his friends stopped for him, so I carried on, figuring out they’d probably catch me on the next downhill anyway). I’d improved my skills slightly by the end of the 312 (through sheer repetition), but this is clearly something I need to work on more seriously at some point.
I’m off to France to recce the Tour de France route for Le Loop (which I’ll be leading in July), feeling newly confident in my cycling ability, and thinking that perhaps all my miserable winter training rides were worth it after all.
Oh, and I’m already planning my return to Mallorca.
The practical advice
It’s worth coming out a few days early to acclimatise, and – what the hell – hanging around for a few days afterwards to recover, replenish your depleted calories with Mallorca’s excellent local produce, and perhaps revisit some of the highlights of the 312 route at a slower pace.
If you’re worried about making the 14-hour cut-off, remember not to hang around at the food stops, and consider skipping one or two of them (especially the early ones, if you still have enough food and drink on board).
My usual 1990s suspects: Blur’s Song 2 for the first few kilometres, Bush’s Comedown as I soared over the big climbs, and Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now as I raced through the final kilometres.
Is it for you?
Well, you know what I’m going to say. Of course it is! The 312 is undeniably a challenging ride, but if you’re riding this kind of distance for the first time (or even just the first time this year), there are few more pleasant introductions. Closed roads, excellent food stops and nearly 1,000 volunteers and marshals make for a slick, safe and succulent experience, and Mallorca’s sunny weather and gentler gradients make the 312 a much easier prospect than riding a comparable distance in the UK.
The Mallorca 312 happens at the end of April, so it’s the perfect carrot and stick to get you through the winter months. (I kept reminding myself of my Mallorca plans when I was skidding around in the mud and slush back in February, and as soon as I put tyre to sunny Spanish tarmac, I felt it had all been worth it.)
Additionally, if you’ve got big-distance plans for the summer, the 312 is a useful season-opener to check that everything’s in place. If you can ride this far by the end of April, you’re probably on track for a good summer. If, it turns out that your fitness isn’t quite where you expected it to be, there are shorter distance options of 167km and 225km, and your entry allows you to ride any route you like, so you can decide your distance on the day, depending on how your legs are feeling. (Most of the prettiest – and climbiest – sections of the 312 appear in all three routes.)
In a nutshell
I’ve ridden a lot of 300s in my time, and found none of them quite so downright enjoyable as the Mallorca 312. Like the island that hosts it, it’s a cyclist’s dream – everything’s been thought of, the sun is shining, the tarmac’s smooth and inviting, the food is great, the locals are friendly, the hills are gentle but dramatic, and you get to pretend you’re a professional bike racer all day long. What’s not to love?