Mine look something like this:
- Great weather - it is always better when it's warm and sunny
- Great roads - a mixed terrain (preferably mountains), adds variety
- Great planning - a good route and signage; no-one likes getting lost
- Great people - riding companions and event helpers are a key feature
- Great food - tasty pre, during and post ride refreshments are vital!
- Adventure - something new and different is exciting
- Competition - a bit of gentle rivalry always adds some exhilaration
- Back-up - sometimes things go wrong; it's good to have a contingency for peace of mind
- Nice kit - your bike and riding kit are all part of a good ride
- Atmosphere - friendly support fuels an incredible willingness to take on a challenge!
On Saturday, I rode the Mallorca312: a sportive/race around the perimeter of the Mediterranean island, it had all of these perfect ingredients and more...
It was, quite easily, one of the best days I've had on a bike in a long time.
The Lead-in (The Mallorca600 Challenge)
The first day, I rode (in reverse) the route of the Mallorca167 route (the younger brother of the Mallorca312). The route takes in most of the major mountain climbs on the north east coast of the island, including names like the Puig; it proved a great reconnaissance before Saturday's event.
From the off, Mallorca didn't fail to disappoint: mountain roads, friendly locals and historic villages to stop for coffee in. This place has all the characteristics of a cycling Mecca.
Friday called for a gentle 150km spin, to the west coast of the island, with a good friend. Stopping at Porto Cristo for a café break, and soaking in the Mediterranean atmosphere; we enjoyed pedalling through the vineyards and catching up on old times.
The Main EventSaturday brought the main event, and what a ride it was.
Great weather - Alarms stirred us at 5:30am, and as we enjoyed a breakfast of pasta and fresh fruit, we watched the sun rise on another perfect Mallorca day. 25 degrees and a gentle warm southerly breeze, presented the perfect conditions for a long day on the bike. Kitted out in shorts, summer jersey and sunscreen, I lined up with 3,000 other participants on the start line; eager to get started on the challenge.
Great roads - The Mallorca312 follows the perimeter on the island. Hugging the coast, you traverse the mountain range on the eastern side, with its major categorised climbs. Then, as you reach the southern coast, you skirt along the length of the Palma bay; before proceeding onto the rolling open roads of the western coast, with its vineyards and farms. It's a incredible mix, and offers challenge and variety to keep you focused and interested.
Great planning - From the moment I arrived in Mallorca, the planning for this event proved to be faultless. Whether it was the check-in and race briefing, the police escorts, the closed road sections or the feed stations: everything was meticulously organised, to ensure that you could focus on the challenge in hand. The organisers went to another level compared to most organised sportive events that I've done; it really does result in a superb experience right from the word go. "Preparados....Listos......YA!!!".
Great people - Lined up with me on the road in Playa de Muro, were participants from all over Europe and further afield. During the course of the day, I rode with Spaniards, Scots and Belgians. Every rider was friendly, every rider happy to work together to share the load in a headwind, and every rider encouraging to their fellow participants. Perhaps it's because 312 kilometres is a properly big challenge, perhaps it's because it was sunny; I don't know, but the feeling of camaraderie was superb.
It wasn't just my fellow riders that were enthusiastic and cheerful though, so too were the event helpers. Every feed station, every town and every road had enthusiastic locals and event volunteers cheering you on; with smiling Mallorcan children offering you chilled drinks and food. What a fantastic amount of local support to make you feel welcome!
Great food - That first feed station is always a great relief, and a milestone to tick off. The Mallorca312 stations were some of the best I've experienced. Fresh fruit, cake, Etixx products and savoury snacks like nuts and sandwiches; variety is key on a long event like this, and the feed stations provided a great pick-me-up each 50km or so.
Adventure - From the moment we climbed up into the mountains from Pollenca, with the sun rising on our backs, this felt far more like a mini adventure than a normal sportive. The foreign roads, the culture, and the enthusiastic locals; it all added to the intrepid feeling. If you need a reason to do a sportive abroad, then this added feeling of adventure is definitely up there for me.
Competition - The words sportive and race blend together in an event like the 312. At the top of the ranking, this really is a full on race; riders battle it out for the fastest time round the island. For everyone else, it is a challenge to do it in the best possible time. I was very happy to finish in 10 hours, but my competitive self is very eager to come back again and really give it a full-out effort, to see how fast I can go.
Back-up - Of course, for some it's not so much about getting the best time, it's mainly about finishing within the 14 hour time limit. That's still a huge challenge.
Something I really thought was incredible on the 312 route, is that they have distinctive back-markers dressed in green polka dot jerseys. These riders will do the course in 14 hours, and will encourage those around them to meet the time cut-off. Behind their mini peloton is also a minibus and trailer, to collect the stragglers.
If ever you need reassurance of back-up, then this is as good as it gets in a sportive/grand fondo event! What a selfless thing for these riders to give up their day, to make 100 other riders' day special; a real demonstration of locals supporting a great event.
Nice kit - Every rider in this event gets a stylish black and yellow Starters' jersey and all Finishers get a distinctive black gilet; great event kit that you'd happily wear for 312 kilometres, and is a super memento of the challenge.
Fantastic Atmosphere - My last, but definitely not least special ingredient is atmosphere. Sportives always have a fun and friendly atmosphere, but Saturday's really was something unique and special. Locals cheered you on as you rode, road workers stopped traffic to let you pass through, cars beeped their horns in encouragement; riders crossed the finish line with arms simultaneously aloft. Everyone enjoyed a much deserved beer at the finish line. This was a special event, with a unique atmosphere that made you smile, even after 10 hours of hard riding.
So, there you have it. My list of ingredients that put together can create a great ride/event; and there is no doubt that Saturday's Mallorca312 was a superb ride.
Quite easily the most enjoyable day on a bike I've had in a long time.
I'd highly recommend this to anyone. Stay at the Iberostar hotels that organise the event, and you'll be treated to an incredible few days of riding and pampering; just the kind of break that leaves you refreshed and gives you a great feeling of accomplishment at the same time. This is a foreign bike challenge at its best. Viva Mallorca312!