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Mallorca 312: As tough as it gets

In-depth
25 Apr 2019
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Words Peter Stuart

The Mallorca 312 is one of the toughest endurance events in the sportive calendar. Originally conceived as a lap around the island of Mallorca, the long course takes in 312 kilometres of riding with over 5,000m of climbing. But recently it’s been all change for the event.

Growing into Mallorca’s largest sportive, and one of the highest profile events in Europe, in 2016 organisers took steps to introduce a total road closure for the sportive.

In previous years the event was on open roads through major Mallorcan cities such as Palma and Magaluf after travelling through some of the most testing climbs of the Tramuntana mountain range.

Maintaining the original route proved impossible with closed roads. Consequently the sportive continues to take on the substantial ascents of the Tramuntana range such as the Puig Major, Col de sa Predissa and Col de Feminina, but now returns back north for a loop which takes in the rustic old town of Arta.

The redirection adds over 500m of climbing to the already savage route.

Former pros such as Miguel Indurain, Stephen Roche and Joaquin Rodriguez have all competed, and Indurain recently surprised many with a very respectable time of 11 hours and 20 minutes for the 312km distance.

There’s no doubt that the event brings together a fantastic challenge on some of the world’s most picturesque roads, with organisation to match, accompanied by a fantastic range of food and drink.

The team at Cyclist has taken on the shorter 167km and 225km courses, details of which can be seen below.

Read on from that to take in our account of the full course in its previous circumnavigational format, which remains one of the hardest events that we at Cyclist have ever taken on.

Mallorca 312

Mallorca 225

It may seem a whole chunk less than the full 312, but the Mallorca 225 takes in the vast majority of the island’s hardest inclines and gains 3980m of elevation.

With the Trumantuna range, the Puig Major and the quiet country roads of the west of the island, this takes in all of the best of the scenery too, solely cutting off the final loop East to Arta of the full distance route.

For us this offers the best combination of challenge and fun. 


Mallorca 167 - Goldcar

You need to make your choice early on when it comes to the 167. Soon after Valdemossa, at the 95km mark is the cut off for the 225 and 312. With most of the climbing done, it’s a breeze home from there.

Having done all three distances, we can certainly say that the 167 is the most leisurely and pleasant, while it still offers a suitable challenge of 2,475m of elevation.

For those who would like to enjoy an afternoon on the beach, or simply enjoy a short and fast ride, the Mallorca 167 is a great choice, and one we're eager to return to.


The original Mallorca 312: Epic indeed

In the world of cycling, the word ‘epic’ is often overused. It’s wheeled out to describe any vaguely tough ride, when the classic use of the word should imply an extended, heroic journey of personal discovery, replete with loss and glory and audacious deeds – a tale for men to recount for generations to come.

It’s certainly a tall order for a Sunday sportive, but in this case I think the term is apt. The Mallorca 312 is epic.

Wet reception

We touch down in Palma airport and it’s raining. It’s really raining. A storm has been raging so violently that our plane was forced to circle above the clouds for 20 minutes. My maiden voyage to Mallorca is a little at odds with its standard image as an idyllic island built for cycling.

Regardless, a party seems to be raging on the other side of the island at the Playa de Muro, where the Mallorca 312 will depart bright and early tomorrow morning. 

It’s the official presentation of the event at the Iberostar hotel and it feels more like a flash rave than an event presentation.

Among the crowd, ex-World Champion Óscar Freire is just one of the A-listers who are putting in an appearance at Mallorca’s flagship sportive, making me feel just a little bit inadequate for the challenge ahead. 

‘Everything has worked out perfectly, except for the weather,’ says Laura Meseguer, the event’s social media guru. Indeed, tomorrow’s forecast is just as grim as today’s downpour.

The 312 was conceived right here in the Iberostar hotel, a surreal haven for cyclists, with a fleet of rental bikes that would put a pro team to shame.

‘We have around 70-80,000 cyclists staying here per year,’ explains Xisco Lliteras, general director of the event.

‘We love cycling, and we felt that an international sportive would be fantastic, so we decided to do it. It’s grown year-on-year. Now we have 300 people attending from the UK alone, and more than 1,000 others from 26 countries.’

And what better than a lap of the entire island to showcase Mallorca’s natural beauty? Of course, that does mean a 312km (194 mile) ride in a single day, with 4,300m of vertical elevation.

That’s the equivalent of cycling from London to the Scarborough Coast having climbed almost the height of Mont Blanc.

The night before the event, I keep trying to remind myself that covering this distance will be an achievement in itself, but I’m as competitive as they come, and despite strict instructions to myself to simply aim for the 14-hour cut off and a 22kmh average speed, there’s a voice in the back of my head telling me it can be done at 30kmh.

Pre-race nerves are put on hold as the starting pistol fires. We nudge into the 30kmh neutralised start that will last for the first 20km of the ride, across the coast and to the base of the Puig Major climb.

As we roll forwards, event organiser Patrick Trainor tells me, ‘Last year’s winners complained that the neutralised section cost them at least seven minutes on overall time.’ I, on the other hand, have no complaints at the opportunity for a gentle warm-up.

Follow the Green Dot Code

Leading out the neutralised start is the Green Dot Group, a bunch of riders from the local Artà CC who will ride the entire day at a spot-on 14-hour cut-off pace. It’s nice to know that I need only stay ahead of them to ensure finishing on my bike instead of in the broom wagon.

We roll across the serenely grey northwest coast of the island, with the day’s highest mountains sitting in plain view ahead. To my relief it’s not yet raining, and the forecasts promise that we’ll clear the worst of the mountains before the torrents ensue. (We won’t).

As 1,000 riders try to make their way to the front, the peloton becomes increasingly tense and I’m actually relieved when the neutralisation is dropped and the pack springs into action, easing the crush as some whippets catapult themselves up the 5% incline at speeds I’d find tough on a descent. 

The journey to the top of the Puig Major is persistent and long enough to separate the wheat from the chaff, or maybe the headstrong from the conservative. I’m conscious of not overdoing the first couple of climbs, especially as Trainor has warned me to head off carefully.

‘A fair few people will have their heads in their hands at the top of the Puig Major, and it’s a long day from there,’ he advises.

We reach level ground, but it’s the climb’s infamous false flat, marked by a long pitch-black tunnel that emerges next to the beautiful Panta de Gorg Blau, a mountaintop lake where we find the first feed station.

Even in this grim weather, it’s a site of significant natural beauty, a testament to Mallorca’s impressive character. Just as I pull up to grab a drink and a bite I see the pack that was just behind roll through without interruption.

I decide the view can wait, grab some food, hop back on the bike and start chasing, eager not to be dropped by the bunch.

As we reach the top of the col and prepare for the descent, the weather is really turning against us. Visibility is a nostalgic memory and the roads are starting to turn to rivers.

I realise that I’ve found myself in a lucky position – I’m surrounded by a gang from the Tunel de Mallorca cycling club. They’re all locals. Despite a complete lack of common tongue, the group is quick to warn me of dangers that lie ahead. 

Shortly before the town of Sóller we hit one such danger, the Puig Major tunnel. It’s long, downhill and utterly dark. The locals take it at full speed. One of them points forward before the entrance and says ‘big rocks’, miming the shape of a hefty boulder.

My immediate fear is that they will be fallen stalactites spread across the path within the tunnel, which I find a touch unsettling. His gesture makes a little more sense when we reach the end of the tunnel, which is abruptly followed by a hard right turn and boulders that separate us from the verge. I’m glad I replaced my brake blocks before I left.

The route to Sóller gets no easier as mist starts to gather, but luckily the seasoned Spanish rider in front of me is wearing full fluoro, making him vaguely visible. This descent is really something of a natural beauty with views of the valley beneath and the sea in the distance… or so I’ve heard. All I can see is fog.

Awed appreciation is replaced by nervousness as I blindly follow my luminescent guide down the mountain.

The descent comes to a welcome end as the mist disperses. We earn no respite though as the road turns up again for our second big climb, an undulating route peaking at the Coll den Claret.

Anyone who’s misjudged the first climb will find themselves in a world of pain here, and we start to mow through those headstrong fools who set off too fast and are paying for it now.

On, and on, and on…

I’ve been nibbling away at snacks throughout the morning, but I’m aware that I need to start taking on some serious calories. At the feed station at the base of the Coll de Can Costa I grab as much as I can pack in my jersey, and I’m not the only person with comically bulging back pockets.

Everyone is feeling the hunger.

When we head back out onto the road, the pack has slowed down to a surprisingly sedate pace. After a while I try to pull off the front, eager not to lose time. ‘Save your strength,’ one Mallorcan explains in pidgin English.

‘We are all strong, but we must wait until the flats.’

The Mallorca 312 is described in two halves – the hills and the flats. It’s not quite as straightforward as that, I later discover, but it’s true that the hills are persistent for around five hours, and once clear the work for the day changes character.

The climb to Valldemossa on the north side of the island isn’t too hard, the Mallorcans are taking it easy and, along with my fluoro friend, I feel confident to set the pace.

The second series of descents approaches and I’m given as good a warning as possible as one of the Mallorcans turns to me, points to the ground and shouts, ‘Holes!’ I take the advice to heart, and he’s right – the road soon loses any sense of smoothness.

Towards the end of the bumpy descent, my Garmin beeps for the 112th kilometre and I allow myself a small internal celebration – only 200km remaining! It’s another lumpy 90 minutes before we find ourselves in Palma de Mallorca, capital of the Balearic Islands.

A distance like this plays tricks with your mind, and this is the point where I temporarily lose sanity. When 160km clicks around on the Garmin I know I’m over half way, so I slip onto the drops and push the speed up to the high 30s, even flirting with 40kmh.

My frazzled logic tells me that at 40kmh I have only four hours left – I’m nearly there. As I said, it’s a moment of insanity.

My sudden burst of speed means that I leave the safety of the pack and make the acquaintance of two British riders keeping a similar pace, after a slightly comic exchange. Travelling through the city of Palma, the three of us exchange pidgin Spanish: ‘Allez!’, ‘Gracias’, ‘Lento!’.

At a set of lights in the city centre, a man on an S-Works Venge turns to me and says, ‘It’s Paul, by the way.’ Another man called Andrew riding a BH responds with a jolted, ‘Oh, you’re English too.’ 

We don’t get too long to appreciate the absurdity of the situation before the Mallorcan pack catches us up, and we quickly learn that traffic lights are little deterrent to the locals.

The pack keeps growing as faster riders bridge onto us and we soak up more of the strong starters who have since slowed. The pace gets inexorably quicker and my heroic turns on the front go from long to short to non-existent.

The Mallorcans weren’t lying – they were saving their energy for the ‘flats’, which are far lumpier than they had implied, I might add. My gradual exhaustion starts to snowball.

Running on empty

Seven hours have passed. As 210km rolls by I start to worry seriously about my food situation. I’m completely out of fuel and I’m beginning to show signs of depletion. I’ve got pins and needles in my hands and feet, and green blotches are emerging in my vision.

I worry that I’m in real trouble. We drift into Ses Salinas at the very south of the island and the penultimate food stop of the 312 suddenly pops out of seemingly nowhere. It might be one of the happiest moments of my life.

My tiredness slips over into crankiness, when one of the many enthusiastic local helpers starts filling my water bottle with cola after my muffled request for water. I snap at the poor volunteer who rushes off, and immediately I feel terrible. But I have got the entire length of the Paris-Roubaix in my legs already, and no inconsiderable distance still to go.

Staring down at a Garmin which is showing 225km gone, and knowing that nearly 100km remain is a soul-crushing sensation, and nearly sucks out the enthusiasm to carry on. The pack turns from a well-oiled machine to the physical embodiment of weariness.

Every time the road spikes up ahead, the group groans audibly.

In the pack that I was once leading, I’ve now become a wheelsucker of the worst kind. I commit myself to holding on for at least another 50km. The group is growing wearier by the minute, to my relief.

A kind of fatigue that I have never felt before settles into my body. I babble something about feeling like death to British companion Andrew as he pedals alongside.

‘I wouldn’t worry, we’re all feeling that way,’ he says, and let’s me slip into the line of riders ahead of him. It’s a surprisingly comforting response, and helps me to cling on as we roll over the flat and sprawling landscape of the east of the island.

Arriving at Artà, another party is in progress at the final feed station. It’s a vibrant spot, a warm welcome to the final stretch where the weary throng can stop for a beer and a burger. No one in my pack even slows down.

With the end in sight, and nine hours 40 minutes on the clock, everyone clearly has a target finish time in mind.

The final stretch

As we leave Artà in the northeast of Mallorca with 30km to go I’m suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of optimism. I’m going to complete the course! It’s that hope that gives me new energy and a sense of satisfaction that makes the pain of the last few hours worthwhile.

A descent through the mountains from Artà to the signpost for Sa Colabra is surprisingly long and straight, and I’m able to average 55kmh for just under 6km. The kilometres tick by mercifully quickly.

Then the road slopes up cruelly once more and it proves too much. I lack the power to contribute anything to the pack and I’m swaying around the road with an inability to compose myself. With the finish in sight I let the pack slip away.

I’m well within the last 20km and I feel as though I can navigate my way to the finish without blowing up. It’s not easy, though, and the distance that was once a stone’s throw now seems a continent away.

Again I seriously wonder whether I’ll complete the course. I’m beginning to feel light-headed, hungry and weaker by the second. The good news is that my legs don’t hurt, mainly as they went numb hours ago.

My last hope of fuelling sits in my back pocket – the chocolate cake I’ve been saving since the final food stop. It could be the sugar rush I need, maybe my only chance of crossing the line.

Pulling it out of my pocket, though, I fumble and watch it bounce down the asphalt behind me. With traffic on this wide road I have no intention of turning around. I want to cry.

Then I hear a voice coming out of the mist behind me. I turn around and see a figure emerging.

‘Get on the back wheel!’ It’s Paul, who I met in Palma and I assumed was with the pack ahead. I pull myself together and squeeze out the last drops of energy to keep up.

There are 12km still to go and we’re sitting at 37kmh on the flat. I’m not sure whether it’s the taste of the finish or a basic human instinct to chase the wheel ahead that keeps me moving, but I manage to keep up.

Paul shouts back every kilometre (‘8k!’, ‘7k!’) and it helps them pass quickly. We hit Ca’n Picafort, the same road that we departed from. The rain is still lashing on the blank stretch of dual carriageway.

The next thing I know I’m lying on the floor, barely aware that I’ve passed the finish. Around me concerned onlookers ask if I’m OK in a multitude of languages, while others watch with an air bordering on disapproval.

I’m not looking my best, I realise. I managed 10 hours 40 minutes, a whisker short of my 30kmh aim.

I’m fried, mentally and physically. It’s far and away the toughest sportive I’ve ever done, but I know that when I recover I will have tales to tell of long journeys, brave endeavours and lessons learned.

An epic indeed.

Euro sportive planner: Mallorca 312

Mallorca 312: Key information

When: 25th April 2020 - postoned to 10th October 2020
Where: Playa de Muro, Mallorca
Distances: 312km/225km/167km
Cost: €70-80 (£63-£72)
Website: mallorca312.com

Mallorca 312: What is it?

The Mediterranean island of Mallorca is an understandably popular spot for cyclists, offering year-round sunshine and perfect roads through scenic landscapes, including several iconic climbs.

What better way to showcase its beauty than with an epic sportive that takes in a lap of the island’s best bits?

And that’s just what the Mallorca 312 is – a 312km route packing in as many of the island’s highlights as possible, and a leg-busting 4,300m of climbing. All in a single day.

Mallorca 312: The route

The ride starts in Playa de Muro, a resort on the northeastern coast of the island. From there, it heads along the mountainous northwest coastline, over the Coll de Femenia before tackling the infamous Puig Major climb.

Before the summit, a tunnel brings you out by the stunning Panta de Georg Blau lake, where you will also find the first feed station – a chance to recuperate before taking on the final push to the top of the climb, but don’t linger too long as you’ve still got a long, long way to go and the clock is against you…

After the summit comes the long and thrillingly fast descent to Sóller before a series of shorter cols, and the road continues to rise and fall in this fashion until the descent off the top of the Grau de Superia climb at around the halfway point of the ride, with around 100 miles under your belt.

From here, the route becomes flatter and faster but there’s still a long way to go and the terrain is still lumpy enough to test wearying legs as you head back northwards towards Sa Pobla, then eastwards to Artà and the final feed station before a final blast back up the coast to the finish at Playa de Muro.

How long will it take?

As if just competing the distance weren’t enough of a challenge in itself, there’s a 14-hour cut-off, which means you need to keep up an average speed of 22kmh (14mph) – this may not sound too fast but the sheer amount of climbing involved means most cyclists are pushed to their limits – though the fastest riders will complete the distance well inside 10 hours.

If you don’t feel up to the full distance, there are two shorter route options at 225km and 167km, which both focus on the northwestern corner of the island and both include the Puig Major climb.

The event organisers also run a five-day tour that takes in all the bits the 312 misses out, including the famous Sa Calobra. 

Is it well supported?

As you’d expect of a major event like this, there is plenty of support, with six feed stations along the route, as well as mechanical support and first aid.

In the build-up to the event, you can take advantage of the training plans available on the official website, and if you’re worried about missing the cut-off time on the day, just try to stay ahead of the ‘Green Dot’ group – a bunch of riders from a local club who ride at a steady 14kmh all day to act as a kind of broom wagon.

Note that although traffic is restricted on a number of sections of the route, roads aren’t fully closed for the event, so you will be mixing with traffic at some points.

What’s included in the entry fee?

Every entrant gets an official jersey included in the fee, and there’s also the option to buy a matching pair of bibshorts (€70/£63) and gilet (€45/£40).

All finishers get a commemorative medal, which you can have engraved with your name and time for an extra €6 (£5).

There’s also optional hire of a GPS tracking device (€15) so friends and family can follow your progress during the ride.

How do I enter?

The event is open for online registration now at mallorca312.com. You’ll need to provide your passport number as part of registration, and unless you’re a member of the RFEC (Spanish Cycling Federation) or hold a British Cycling race licence, you’ll also need to pay an extra €12 (£11) for temporary insurance.

Registration is divided into three waves, with the price depending on which wave you enter – it’s cheaper for early entrants and places are limited, so don’t delay.

The organisers have also partnered with local hotels, car hire firms and travel agencies to provide a range of travel packages, including airport transfers.

The host venue for the event is the Iberostar hotel in Playa de Muro, a very cycling-friendly venue that also has an impressive fleet of bikes available for hire.