In 2019, Stacey Welsh loaned me her old Mallorca 312 jersey for the NorthCape4000, a self-supported 4,000-plus kilometre bikepacking race from Turin to North Cape, Norway. I wore Stacey’s jersey to shreds that summer: through Italy, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and then some. I wore it for 76 hours straight during the Paris-Brest-Paris grand brevet, and then to Corsica for a more leisurely week of touring. Regardless of where I was, other cyclists would inevitably spot the jersey and strike up conversation: What event distance did I do? How did I like the roads in Mallorca? What did I think of Puig Major?
A terrible liar, I responded with the truth: that I didn’t even know where the island of Mallorca was. I laughed about my utter cluelessness but couldn’t avoid reading disappointment in their faces. At end of the summer when Stacey said she wasn’t really interested in me returning her now sun-bleached, candy bar-stained, yellowed-around-the-armpits garment, I vowed to sign up for the legendary endurance ride and finally earn the Mallorca 312 jersey.
From Epic Road Rides: “The Mallorca 312 is one of the most famous sportives in Europe. No surprise really, given it’s held in one of the world’s most spectacular cycling destinations on totally closed roads. It’s also got a reputation for being one of the hardest amateur cycling events out there. The full 312-kilometre route includes over 5,000m of climbing!”
The event draws 8,000-plus participants who have their choice of 167, 225, and 312 distance events. Feed stations, mechanical and medical support are available along the way, as well as a lively pasta party finish. 312 riders must complete the distance in 14 hours to earn their medal; top male finishers usually come across the line in 9-9.5 hours, female finishers in 10-10.5 hours.
The route starts in Playa de Muro on the northeast coast and charts a 312-kilometre loop of the Serra de Tramuntana mountains. The final segment of the course loops out to Arta, chasing narrow walled lanes through rolling farmland. Featuring a lineup of quad-busting climbs, namedrop-worthy competitors, and dramatic vistas—plus a great jersey!— the annual Mallorca 312 promises to be a topnotch ride (but definitely no walk in the park).
I opted to skip breakfast so that I could accumulate a few extra zzz’s before pedalling the fifteen kilometres from my hotel in Port de Pollenca to the start. Fuel strategy-wise, I knew this was suboptimal, but I’d had a fitful night of anxiety-ridden dreams and those extra twenty minutes were precious. I literally rolled out of bed and into the saddle, my pockets stuffed with granola bars and fruit to munch on the startline.
The chilly air scrubbed my knees; waves crashed through the darkness to my left. I emptied my brain and spun an easy cadence. Urged my face and neck muscles to relax as I focused only on the illuminated patch of road directly ahead of my bike lights. When I reached the resort in Playa de Muro officials directed participants into a holding space, and at 5:30 am we were let into the starting box to await the 6:30 am roll out. Spanish pop music and familiar classic rock hits blasted from speakers; the quiet anticipation of the crowd grew more audible every minute, the air electric. I snacked on the contents of my pockets, sipping an iced coffee as the night sky bruised denim and plum before snapping—in what felt like an instant—into a clear, bright dawn.
But I really needed to pee.
I entrusted my precious Cannondale to the guardianship of a Rapha-clad fellow and dashed off to find the outhouses. When I re-entered the crowd, everything felt unfamiliar, and it took some time to spot my bike. Only when I tried to sashay away with the bike did I realize that it wasn’t my Cannondale at all.
“Did you lose your bike?” the owner asked, his defensive scowl transitioning to a look of pity.
I wandered away in a panicked trance, afraid to respond or acknowledge the truth: I abandoned my bicycle somewhere in a crowd of 8,000 strangers and I had no clue how I was going to find it. An announcement shouted from the speakers: diez minutos; ten minutes until go time. I slipped through the jumble of carbon and Lycra wondering why I didn’t at least leave my bike with someone wearing more distinguishable kit—aside from the 312 event jerseys, every second person seemed to be wearing Rapha. I stumbled into my bike just as AC/DC’s Highway to Hell started up, the music accompanied by a gang of diablos with pitchforks who raced down the sidelines in some sort of cart. Did they have torches? I want to say there was fire (photographs later proved this to be true). My heart skipped over in relief and for a few moments, I could actually take in how incredible it was to finally be at the startline of this event.
Never in my life have I ever witnessed—let along cycled in—a crowd anywhere near this size, but it was actually far less chaotic than expected. I kept my eyes on the road and my senses tuned into my surroundings. The pack parted gracefully around the roundabouts; determined competitors raced along the lefthand margins to claim a spot at the front. We reached the base of Coll de Femenia in a tidal wave rush, but by the first switchback the crowd started to splinter as the quicker climbers danced up the grade and everyone else dug in for the long ascent.
I found myself going out much harder than anticipated. Again and again, I glanced at my power numbers and told myself to dial it back. But I ignored my instincts and kept the watts high. Adrenaline surging through my veins, I felt strong, and more than anything I was curious about where the day would take me. I strategized that the descents would provide brief intervals of rest, while my big endurance base would power me though the final flatter miles to the finish. The early morning light played off the rocky outcroppings and woods around us. Swept up in the sea of colourful jerseys flowing up the mountainside, my heart sang. Overcome with sheer, giddy joy in being part of the crowd.
After the high point on the course at Puig Major a glorious descent brought us back down near Sóller. From there the route wound up, and then down. Up and then down again. Time after time, through charming seaside villages and alongside plenty of sweeping views. Some folks had cleverly taped the elevation graph to their top tubes—why didn’t I think of that?
But after the first few ascents, I found my rhythm and decided that the charts and numbers didn’t matter. I only needed to commit. Keep pressure on the pedals—simple. I made a game of catching those ahead of me and grinned into the breeze as I crested every hill, anticipating the sound of my gears shifting down for another flying descent. The only threat to my momentum was the constant temptation to pull over to properly take in the rocky coastal vistas.
I will return, I promised myself. I will come back to this road and stop at every lookout point to take photos. But today, I am here to ride.
And then suddenly, the route flattened out and I found myself in a pack of twenty doing 40 km/hr on the flats. I actually have no idea how fast we were going because I was too laser-focused on the wheels ahead of me to glance down at my computer, but it was incredible, truly. As someone who spends most of her time riding unaccompanied, the advantages of drafting were mind boggling. We passed single and pairs of riders as though they were statues along the side of the road. Despite my empty bottles, I wasn’t at all happy when we rolled into the feed station in Lloseta since I knew it meant the demise of the fast group.
The part when things get tough
I guzzled a Coke, stuffed a handful of fruit my pockets, and mixed my third bottle of F2C Nutrition Glyco-Durance for the road. My stomach has a history of rebelling over long, hard efforts, and so I try fuel with liquid carbohydrates as much as possible. I set off alone at a good clip, but jumped on the opportunity to join a wickedly quick four-person pace line after a few kilometres. When my turn at the front came I pulled for only a minute before peeling off, my leg muscles utterly tapped from the short effort. Then we reached the split point for the 225 and the 312 riders and the group pulled left, and I went right. No wonder they were going full gas, I realized—they were emptying their tanks before the finish line. I, on the other hand, was left to face off against a nasty headwind with 90 kilometres to go, and no one but potholes for company.
My speed plummeted. The salt that had been accumulating on my Lycra all day grated against my skin and the finish line felt impossibly far away. I desperately wished for someone to work with, but found myself instead in a sweltering wasteland of the in-between: not a group in sight, and every solo rider I passed appeared to be in even worse shape than me. I released an audible sigh before tucking low as the wind whipped the grassy plains around me.
Just be consistent, I told myself. Keep going. Drink your carbs. You’ve got this.
My speed increased briefly when a group of three passed me on a climb, the lead rider hollering “Allez, allez!” with a grin. Fuelled by his encouragement, I summoned the strength to pick up my pace and join them, once again relishing the advantages of pack riding. With over 4,000 metres (that’s four kilometres of vertical!) in my legs already, each subsequent hill felt more punishing than the last. I managed to hold on until we reached the base of a really, really steep pitch—the kind of climb that makes a road-weary cyclists’ quadriceps tremble, their eyes water up.
Deep breath, Meaghan. Power though.
I absolutely buried myself on that climb. Yet as hard as I pushed, I couldn’t keep up with the group. My legs burning—my overtaxed muscles as fiery hot as the devils’ torches ushering us over the startline that morning. By the time I grade evened out at the summit I could barely turn over the pedals and the others were nowhere to be seen.
Luckily, I was able to get my legs back on the flats, and fed off the energy of the growing crowd as I closed in on the finish. There’s nothing like cheering spectators, high fives from kids, a red lobster cracked open on the road and someone bashing a gong-like instrument (no clue what that was all about) to turn one’s mood around. One minute I was slamming another Coke in the midst of a street party in Arta, and the next I was rolling over the finish line in Playa de Muro with a time of 11 hrs 02 minutes.
The Mallorca 312 taught me that I’m stronger than I thought I was, but also that I have plenty of room to grow. It was incredible and humbling to encounter so many athletes that are faster, more skillful cyclists than me. In addition, I discovered the joy of closed road descents, and left with a newfound appreciation for large, organized mass start events. Sure, I could go out and do the entire route in my own, but it wouldn’t be the same without the celebratory energy of the crowd and the support of the community. I’m grateful for the opportunity to ride hard, dig deep, and share the once-in-a-lifetime experience with athletes from around the globe.
Big thanks to Sportograf for the amazing photos!
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