The mallorca 312. A 312 km bike race across the island of Mallorca. From the first time I heard about it, it got my attention, how cool would it be if you can win a 312km bike race? After starting and disappointing last year (because of a lack of training because … blabla … excuses … blabla) I was very motivated to make this year’s edition count.
The road to getting ready for Mallorca wasn’t without any hiccups. Moving to Girona in August meant I had ideal riding conditions but moving your life to another country also means there’s other things you need to take care of and unfortunately those things didn’t always go as planned.
After a good end of 2017 on the bike, with a lot of training and a nice win in a 20km hillclimb on Gran Canaria I took some time off the bike and went to Belgium for the holidays before getting ready for the Catalan racing season, which I had been looking forward to for a while.
The first few ‘social’ races in Februari went well and with our two man team we got 4 podium spots in the first 3 races. A third, a second and a first+second respectively (I got the 2nd in the last one). After that last race however I got sidelined by an injury which meant no riding for a week and easy riding for a few more weeks.
This meant missing the first important Catalan race of the season (which my teammate outstandingly won), a disappointing 11th and a DNF in the next races.
With those disappointments, the next goal was a clear one. The Mallorca 312. The challenge would be combining training with two jobs (with one approaching the busiest time of the year). There were weeks with late nights at the office and no time for training. Life in Girona unfortunately isn’t only riding bikes. But when the d-day came closer I found some time to get some consistent riding done.
After a few years of cycling, always looking for my limits and discovering them more often than not, I’m getting pretty good at feeling how much training I have to do to get me up and running. I did a few 200+ long rides and a ‘test ride’ on Saturday a week before the event. I averaged 33kph on a 210km ride with about 3000m of climbing. I felt the fatigue from the training the last few weeks, but I also felt strong. That was the feeling I was looking for one week from d-day. From this day it was a matter of taking things easier and get to the start line fresh, fed and rested. From this moment, when someone would ask me what my goal for the race was I would say “top 10, maybe top 5” and I would think “maybe I can win”. On Tuesday afternoon I got picked up by the guys from Flamme Rouge, they made sure the bikes of my Belgian granfondeam.be teammates made it safe from Belgium to Mallorca. Together we took the ferry from Barcelona to arrive in Palma at 6:30 on Wednesday morning. The next two days I took the time to get to know the course. On Friday a massage by the skillful hands of De Sportmasseur, Piet Van Cauter. A recovery, coffee and ice-cream ride with Laura Scott. You think 312km is crazy? think again, Laura rode 2200 km … I mean miles with a broken shoulder.
Saturday D-day, thanks to Arne, our granfondoteam.be godfather, jefe, boss, patron, chief, cult leader… we were able to start in the “fast rider box” to make sure we wouldn’t have to start behind the 8000 other race participants.
6 am breakfast. 6:30 change into cycling kit and go to the start line. 7 o’clock 3–2–1 go. Starting with a 25km neutralised start we had some time to warm up a little bit. I’ve always liked to ride as much in the front of a peloton as possible, so today wasn’t any different. Not a bad idea if you’re with over 8000 riders.
After the neutralised 25km, we were at the beginning of the first and longest climb of the race. From sea level to a little over 800m in about 30km, with a few downhill and flat sections along the way. During the first 25km there were a lot of attacks by the main favourites. Like Dominic Aigner who won two years ago and got 2nd last year. Maxim Pirard who is known for liking long distance rides and had made it clear to the world that this race was an important goal for him. I knew more or less which guys I had to keep an eye on. I stayed in the first 10 riders and tried to make sure no strong guys got too big of a gap. Responding to attacks and changes in pace has never been my strong suit. I’m more suited to sustaining a hard effort for multiple hours. I love to make any solo training ride a time trial. Not the ideal training for ‘regular’ bike racing, but today it might come in handy.
50km into the race on a flat kilometre where a group of about 50 came together and everyone took the time to eat and drink a bit. Next to come was about 3km of climbing to the highest point of the race, followed by a 15km descent. As soon as the gradient went up again I decided to go my own pace. A steady power I know I can sustain until the top of the climb. Usually high enough to discourage people from trying to get away but not really hard enough to drop anyone. After a few hundred meters I glance back and realise I was by myself with a small gap. In the past this would’ve been a sign for me to go harder. Having learned from my many mistakes I kept going my own pace. I felt like a few other riders were quite a bit stronger than I was so any lead I could get on them before the top of the climb would be useful. The classic ‘anticipate the big guns’ move. The expected attacks took a while, and by the time I was at the top I was still alone and couldn’t see anyone behind me. Next up, a 15km descent. I focussed on going down efficiently. I didn’t pedal to try to get that extra kph that won’t make a big difference but tried to recover and save the energy for the next climb where an extra kph would make a bigger impact. Beautiful wide smooth roads and no cars meant about 15 minutes to get from the top to the first granfondoteam.be feed zone at the start of the next climb. I threw away my arm warmers and gilet/vest (pick one, depending on which version of English you speak), grabbed a full drinking bottle and managed to shout “send me the time difference” to the guys of our amazing support team.
Next climb; eat, drink and ride within myself, there’s probably going to be coming someone from behind anytime soon. I check the phone, a message saying “3 minutes on a group of 30”. I kept going like this for the next 60km, all the time looking back, trying to find out where the chasing group was. I asked the Guardia Civil, who were clearing the road on motor bikes, in my best Spanish (which, after all this time is still quite meagre). No info. I had the route on my garmin and was definitely on the right way. Did everyone crash in the descent? Something is not right, I kept thinking while looking back.
Near the top of the climb before the next granfondoteam.be feed zone I sent a text in our group chat “can you guys measure and send me the time difference, I’m coming” and continue. At km 127 I grab two new bottles. From here it’s about 22km to the last long climb of the race. The others must be coming soon now, they will probably catch me on the next flatter part of the course. I check my phone a few times but no updates. Near the top of that last longer climb I check the phone again “9 minutes 45”. Godver, scheiße, joder, coño, cazzo, shit… I think I might stay away… Still not halfway though, but this is where I started believing my ‘anticipation move’ might end up in a very nice result. Mentally I also felt different, I wasn’t waiting anymore, the others were late.
Just over half way and next on the menu was about 65km of slightly downhill and flat kilometres. A chasing group that works together would be able to make up a lot of time here. Eating, drinking and riding as efficiently as possible were the things going through my mind. I got into “the zone”, found a nice rhythm and the kilometres flew by. — During my solo training rides, pushing hard isn’t the only thing I try do. I focus on being efficient, get into an aero position and try to hold it as long as possible, first 10 minutes then 30, 60, 2 hours, 6 hours… Or I compare my speed in relation to power. If I can go 40kph at 260 watt in one position or 38kph at 300 watt in a more comfortable position, I would focus on trying to stay in the faster position. During this part of the race I started passing the cyclists who choose to do the 167km ride, they cut off a part of the long course so we joined roads. There were few times where I had to slow down a bit to be able to pass a bigger group but no big problems. The roads were wide enough and passing all those people at a much higher speed gave me an extra nice rush (sorry guys). Onto the next granfondoteam.be feed zone at 170km. Getting two fresh bottles and some encouragements at high speed and back into the rhythm.
I knew at km 215 I can choose to go straight and continue to finish the 312km or take a left, do another 15km and win the 225km. At approximately km 200 I check the phone again: “12 minutes”. If I turn left I can win the 225 with certainty. For the 312km though, 12 minutes at km 170 is a nice lead, but just a puncture could make that comfortable lead very uncomfortable.
Two new full bottles at the team feed zone at km 200. At the split I decide to go for it. I’ve been telling everyone I’m doing a 312km race so I should do a 312km race. The next 30km are hard. Straight into a headwind on wide open roads, no cover to be found. For a few fleeting moments I regret not taking the “short” 225km way to the finish line. But I also still felt good: eat, drink, pedal, repeat. Also here, my training on being aero for a longer period of time came in quite handy. Although the few moments I had some cover from the wind I needed a bit of stretching. Another message, about half an hour after passing the 210km point. “24 minutes”. YES, I actually said it out loud. Still about 80km to go. With quite a few short and nasty climbs. But something really serious would have to happen to not make this a success. I keep going my speed though, after all I have been going at this intensity for weeks, why slow down now? One last bottle at km 250 should get me home (I still had a full one from the last feed zone).
Kilometre 285, Artà: this town hosts the last feed zone of the organisation and legend goes, they have beer there… I wonder whether they have beer for the first guys to pass too? I would have time to stop for one… but then I see a big arch above the road with a clock that says 8h15 minutes. 312 km in under 9 hours, sounds great, doesn’t it? And the idea gives me an extra adrenaline rush. A 5km drag out of Artà is the last real obstacle. The closer I get to the top the harder I push the pedals. A full on sprint over the top and back down the hill. I get up to speed on the first part of the descent and get into an aero position on my bike. A few seconds of recovery before starting the last flat 20km of my ride. Adrenaline rushes through my body and I feel euphoric. Time to complete this crazy mission. I get into my aero tt position again, elbows on top of the handlebars and keep turning the pedals. Even when I’m racing I try to enjoy the views and soak the surroundings which can be so beautiful when cycling. Not now though, I keep my head down, focus on the white line in the middle of the road and use the map on my garmin to see if there’s a turn coming up. There are no more turns, I realise, it’s a straight road. As I swipe to the next page on the garmin, the distance marker jumps from 299 to 300 — average speed 34.9 — current speed 42 — ride time 8h35. 25 minutes to cover 12km, that’s a recovery ride. 18 minutes later I see the finishing straight. About 10 different arches over the road. I’ve got no clue which one is the finish. There’s one with a mat on the road, that must be the one. Because I don’t know my exact time I keep going until the end. 50 meters before the finish line I realise I haven’t thought of a victory salute. I just go for the good old classic “arms in the air”. I cross the finish line with a time of 8 hours 54 minutes and 54 seconds. 28 minutes in front of the second rider. I did have time for a quick beer in Artà after all…
After crossing the line I don’t brake, I don’t want to slow down. I ride past the people handing out finisher medals, a camera man and a girl who wants to interview me, my teammates who had been waiting for me at the finish line. The (pretty) interview girl catches up first, congratulates me, asks whether it was my plan to do 260km solo and how I feel (not the plan and hungry). Next to catch up is someone to give me a finishers medal. Then the teammates who shout and sing through my interview. I’m obviously not quite used to winning.
I have a rest and a chat with everyone there. A short solo ride back to the hotel and a shower, change into some fresh clothes and walk back to the finish. After all, quite a few of my granfondoteam.be friends are still riding and it’s always nice when there’s someone waiting for you at the finish line. I want to be there too for as many of them as possible. Most people are finished, have had a shower and some food, others are still coming in. We split the group and a few of us go for dinner. Back to the finish after dinner. The official time limit is 9pm, that’s when it gets quite dark. Time for some spectacle, drums and fire breathing devils.
I have endless admiration and respect for people who have the willpower and perseverance to keep riding and complete these kind of challenges even on a bad day. I know everyone out there suffered as hard or harder then I did. But I didn’t suffer as long. At 9 the whole team was still waiting for one member, we thought something might’ve happened. Also at 9 there was going to be a podium ceremony where I should be. Reluctantly I went. Still hoping to get some news before I had to get on. A few minutes before it was my turn the rest of the group arrived. They told me she made it to the finish (which she couldn’t find because people had started clearing the signs). Hereby a special mention to Caroline, well done!
Of course all this wouldn’t have been possible without the help of a lot of people:
First and foremost granfondoteam.be aka Arne, thanks for taking away the stress of organising hotels, transport and race registration for everyone and also catering to my special personal requests . I have done quite a few granfondo’s with the team already and never had an outstanding result, although the team is more about the team spirit and friendship, hope this one makes up for that. Also a big thanks to Katleen, who has to deal with Arne dealing with all the stress (it’s about time you marry her, mr. vdw).
Richard Spink, for helping me recover from my early season Injury.
My parents, for being my parents, and helping me through my ‘moving to girona hiccups’.
Bike breaks, for giving me a job but also the freedom and time I need to ride my bike. And letting me off the hook once in a while for a race. (check out their ‘girona cycling festival’ if you want to visit me and discover Girona!).
All my cycling friends, for making me slow down on group rides once in a while. Special thanks to those friends in Girona, making this city the place it is.
See you next year Mallorca!