It was one of those “will we won’t we” kind of weeks. Jane Millar and I were in Mallorca on a tri training camp, and when the organisers said that the Mallorca 312 sportif was on at the end of the week, it seemed churlish not to accept the challenge. But when it came to it, the strains of the week’s camp were clear. Jane had picked up a cold and Jon’s neck had gone (again). There were plenty of miles in the legs – though perhaps too many, especially after the monumental ascent of Sa Calobra on the Tuesday.
We had tapered down well, and reassured each other with a kind of “nothing ventured, nothing gained” refrain. Registering on the Friday (the day before the race), we scoured the race regulations with details of start times – and cut off times. It seemed very regimented. If you are caught by the riders in green polkadot, you must hang on. They will help you achieve your challenge, but if you fall off the back, you will not make the time. If you are caught by the broom wagon you must stop and leave the race. Give up your chip. Companions we were travelling with talked of a genuine race – no leisurely sportif here. The need to average at least 26kph and make no stops at all to stand any chance of finishing in the allotted time.
The race comes in 3 distances. 312km, 225km and 167km. We had chosen the latter, but with 2,500m of climbing, 26kph seemed ambitious. “We’ll see what happens” we resolved, and cycled from our hotel to the start with trepidation.
There was truly a lovely atmosphere. None of the macho bluster and race mentality we were expecting. Cyclists were mostly there in groups – from all over Europe – and in a mood to support and cajole each other, and strangers, over the tough parcours. After a speedy roll-out from the coast we climbed slowly and steadily into the mountains. It was alpine style climbing. Nothing too steep, just relentless gradient, and long switch-backs. Once at the top there were downs and more ups. On the downs some riders clearly let the excitement take them over – misjudging corners to end up on the rocks, or skidding down the tarmac. For the most part, though, people were just having fun.
Now, those of you who know me know that I’m happy as larry on the ups – could climb until the cows (or goats) come home. Less so on the downs. I spent most of the last sections of climbing willing the arrival of the green polkadots and broom wagon, to avoid what I knew was going to be a long descent from the mountains. In the end, though, I went into it with watchful optimism. The crowds had thinned out considerably, and if I could put to work the new skills I had learned during the training camp’s descending master-class, all would be fine.
Readers, it was. I can’t say I enjoyed it, as some claim to, but hurtling down the switch-backs I felt comfortable and in control. After this, it was up again, then down, down, down towards the finish.
To give you a sense of the course, most of the climbing is crammed into the first 90 kilometers or so. The rest is a gentle but steady downhill back towards the coast. I felt great as I realised that we’d got the back of the ride broken. We were on our way home. Then the signs started to get ominous. The green polkadots flew by, followed by a 100-plus peleton – the last train to 312 success. Try as I might I couldn’t hang on to the back, and began to accept my fate. A few kilometres later the broom wagon came by. It must be going forward to stop and scoop people up, I reasoned, and slowed down, thinking my day was over. Happy that I’d done the hardest sections, but disappointed not to finish. Then I overtook the broom man, who seemed not in the least interested in sweeping. He overtook me; I overtook him. This carried on several times until the course split and I realised that the green polkas and broom wagon were only for the 312k people. Game (back) on.
Throughout the day, Jane and I had separated and come back together. I seemed quicker on the climbs. She was definitely quicker on the descents, and we rendez-vous’d at each of the three aid stations. So we started the final section together, and stuck pretty much together to the end.
The start and finish were a half hour ride from our hotel, and we thought the course took us back past the hotel before finishing, so decided we wouldn’t bother doing the last section – we’d only have to cycle back, and probably wouldn’t get a time. We were wrong – on all counts. After meandering through farmland and tall avenues of reeds, we pitched up in a residential area. A couple of turns and we were near the finish. We were then stopped by a marshall and told that the timing was finished, but we could go up the finishing chute if we wanted.
We did. He was wrong. Our official time was recorded as 8 hours 4 minutes 22 seconds. We were given a medal after passing the finish, and then wheeled our way back to the hotel, beer and a good rest. What a day. It was a wonderful event. Wonderful riding with Jane and only sad that the third musketeer was unable to make the trip. Get well Cat.