Having completed many Sportive’s over the years I was interested in trying a closed road variant, as I was told how good they were. In 2017 I was fortunate enough to participate in Ride London and it was without a doubt the best cycling experience I had ever had! (That was until Mallorca 312! - Spoiler alert!)
This led me to book up all of the closed road Sportive’s in the UK, plus I also set myself the ambition of qualifying in Cambridge for the UCI World Championships in Varese. It was this that spurred me on to looking at getting some serious practice in early season and also if I’m honest some sunshine! Additionally cycling around the Norfolk and Suffolk area means I’m very much a ‘flat lander’ and I wanted to test my legs in the mountains!
My cycling club ‘Cakegang’ had already committed to Flanders and therefore I faced the prospect of going alone, which my wife was less than over enjoyed about!
Fortunately this was where Sportive Breaks came to the rescue and the prospect of guided rides reassured my family that I could indulge my passion in safety. What I hadn’t anticipated was the other benefits a guided ride would bring. More on that later!
So with a few clicks of the mouse the holiday was booked and I had selected bike hire, the Hotel Las Gaviotas (which was next to the start/finish line), guided tours and a transfer – simples!
Fast forward a few months and after a ridiculously easy drive to the airport and a short flight, I was collected/whisked away to the hotel. As a seasoned Global traveller, I must admit that my expectations were not to high, especially given the relatively low cost.
How wrong could I be?! The hotel was great - full stop. Nice, new, clean rooms, 3 sets of curtains/blackout blinds for a good nights sleep, free wifi and a power shower – always an essential. However, the highlight was the food – the buffet was exceptional and included in the price for breakfast and dinner. The hotel caters for athletes and has high quality carb/protein sources such as steak, salmon, chicken breasts, paella’s, pastas, salads, plus cheesecakes, ice creams, pizza’s etc All fair game when you are burning through some serious calories! There may also have been an over indulgence on the quality selection of Gin’s to, but everyone deserves a rest day and what goes on tour stays on tour!
The next morning, I went to collect my hire bike, meet our guide and the group. This was also something I was quietly cautious about. As a self-confessed bike snob I’m fortunate to have some good ‘rides’ at home and I was unsure what the bike would be like. I needn’t have worried – My wheels were more than up to the job and were absolutely brand new. With the waft of a magic wand/allen key, the pedals, bike computer and saddle height were all sorted by the guide Miguel…
What is it with cycling guides? Even standing still they look fast and more ‘pro’ than I ever will do. I was also introduced to the other riders and immediately realised I was in with a good crowd.
We set off at a smooth controlled pace and road out of town until we reached the first climb up Col de Femenioa. I think that it was at this point that I first realised what Mallorca had to offer and why people make it their base. The roads were smooth, the climbs scenic and non-threatening, yet engaging and fun. Miguel kept us together, then let us go at our own pace on the climbs to ensure that the group ran freely and selected a coffee stop where we could meet .
After some carb loading, aka cake, we carried on until we reached the Sa Calobra/Col de Reis descent. This was undoubtedly a trip highlight as we carefully descended the hair pin turns, knowing that we would all too soon be doing an ‘about turn’ and heading back up.
A quick photo stop at the bottom and up we came! All 5.86 miles and 2,192ft of one of the most engaging roads that I have ever ridden (ed - what Mark means is 9.4km & 668m!).
I managed a reasonable 42 mins, only to find Miguel waiting at the top without a bead of sweat in sight having finished 7 minutes earlier!
At 7% average gradient it was a challenge with the sun shining down, however one that was manageable by all of the group at their own pace.
The rest of the day was equally as fun, scenic and gave us a good chance to learn some tips from an expert, such as which lines to take on the descent home.
The next few days passed is similar fashion, with more eating, tours and some restorative alcohol consumption, plus some soothing walks along the beach at sunset.
Oh, and we popped along to collect our race entries. This was incredibly simple and hassle free as we went upon opening at 9am – a classic case of the early bird catches the worm!
After this Friday was spent mainly by the pool soaking up the sun, relaxing and ensuring that ample rest was made before the ride on Saturday. A top tip was to get a massage in the hotel before the 312. At €50 for 50 mins it was a bargain and top notch too!
The morning of the 312 involved a 5.30am wake up which wasn’t too bad, helped by the fact we were only metres away from the Start/Finish. A breakfast was bolted down at the restaurant (which had opened especially early for the riders), a far cry from my London experience where we ate squashed pain au chocolat in our hotel room. Grabbing our kit, all the riders headed towards the ‘noise’ and arrived at 6.15am to the carnival atmosphere of the 312.
The Spanish have a much more relaxed atmosphere to large sporting events, which despite my cynicism actually works.
There were no ‘Waves’, timed starts and holding pens were only for the Elite. Surprisingly this basic format worked well on a 1st come 1st served basis. Despite arriving 45 mins before the Grand Depart I was only c50 metres from the front and it was warm enough that no extra clothing was needed.
The pre-ride nerves disappeared relatively quickly once we started and headed out of town at quick pace. Quick turned into fast as I jumped on the back of some fast-moving teams and we flew towards the mountains. The closed roads were smooth, the shelter from the peloton made riding easy and there was no wind. This experience only got better as the route became mountainous, the sun rose in the sky and it was one of those days where you couldn’t help but feel happy to be alive.
Ascents turned into descents and then we reached the highest point of the course at Puig Major. I was delighted to find that despite having no mountain climbing experience that I was freely passing scores of riders, only to see them all fly past me on the descent where my average over 8.75 miles was 31.4 mph!! On a serious note, if you want to improve your time then learn to corner properly – that’s my top tip and aim for my return visit!
Shortly after my ‘schooling’ the route separates and those doing the 225/312 separate from the 167km riders. At this stage I had planned to ‘turn left’ (which is usually good advice!), however Sportive Breaks Founder Phil advised only the night before that to do this would ensure that you missed out on some of the most scenic parts of the route.
So, I joined those hardy souls and very quickly realised he was right ad the road took us out along the coastal road and some of the most beautiful riding conditions imaginable. This whimsical flight of fancy came to an abrupt end when we turned into a ferocious headwind and I believe it was at this stage that I contemplating selling my bikes and taking up a new past time, like lawn bowls!
Fortunately, I had a word with myself, swallowed a man up pill and pushed through until I found a group and some shelter. The course then moved inland and through some villages, where the locals kindly came out to cheer us on and shout ‘vamos’ and ‘rapido’ which surprisingly seemed to work!
From 80 miles to 100 my legs felt heavy, my water bottle ran dry (nb – watch out for the Feed Stop at Es Capdella as there is no advance warning) and my sentiment towards Sportive Breaks Phil changed from one of thanks, to one of inflicting bodily pain for the extra 40 miles he had suggested that I do!
However, the hills turned into flats and my legs came back to me, aided by some super strength local caffeine gels and a water stop. The last 20 miles was an absolute blast as I hooked up with a small group of riders that resembled the United Nations. We rocked through towns and villages at a phenomenal pace, indeed it felt like my weekly #cakegang club run until without warning we swept into Playa Muro and the finish line.
All sense of team ship rapidly vanished as we flew down the finish line racing our hearts out and then crossed the line!
It was a fabulous end to a momentous day and we were rewarded with a rather splendid medal, some equally splendid ice cold German lager and a gigantic bowl of pasta.
The atmosphere was extremely friendly and post-race was equally relaxed, as we free wheeled back to the hotel, jumped in the pool (another benefit of bring in Mallorca!) and then enjoyed some more fantastic food/beer.
So, would I recommend the 312 – Yes, yes, yes! Sportive Breaks made the whole process seamless and I see that they have already looked to improve this again for 2019. Will I be going? Let’s just say our family holiday might be earlier next year!