Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Mallorca 312 - A tale of magnificent cycling and a chest full of green oysters...

There is something really rather pleasant about cycling in shorts and short sleeves in April, so being in Mallorca is proper medicine for the soul after the long period of wet and windy weather we've been having since, well, for ages!

Lorna and I booked this AGES ago having seen the event advertised and having our curiosity piqued enough for it to become a MUST DO event.
Our rider numbers of 184 and 185 give some indication of how early we got our entry in :-)

We stayed over at the Airport Inn (which had been the Holiday Inn when we booked) at Manchester Airport on a Stay and Park deal which was better value than the Park at the Airport one, and included free transport to and from the airport. It was a very efficient little system which worked well.

The journey was a ....... journey ;-)
Although I got the better deal when it came to the people we were seated next to on the 'plane, because I was too much of a cheapskate to book specific seats :-O

[apologises profusely to Lorna who got Stinky Drunk Teenage Boy, whereas I got Quite Pleasant Young Engaged Couple!]

Anyway - it was a journey!
We arrived at our Hotel nice and early and after a little kerfuffle with making the safe work, I reconstructed the bikes and we took them for a little toddle for an hour and a half to make sure everything was in the right place, and our legs hadn't fallen off in the interim, 

....although I understand that it is that running thing that makes your legs fall off ;-)

...and to get used again to riding on the right and looking left!

I digress!

So we did a short loop out to Sa Pobla via Ca'n Picafort, into the wind on the way out and with it on the way back, which only included right turns while we re-orientated our heads to what traffic does in these foreign climes.
I like riding on Spanish roads. Bikes are considered legitimate road users, and the laws actually protect them. Minimum of 1.5m space, and in a collision the driver is held at fault until or unless proven otherwise.

And the Police carry guns - would *you* argue?? ;-)

It means that you get given loads of space (overtaking vehicles on the OTHER side of the road amounts of space) and if an overtake can't be made, they wait patiently behind you until they can.

Easy to spot the locals and Europeans.
Equally easy to spot the Terminally 'Entitled' from the UK in their hire cars!

Anyway that was a super little ride, bikes working fine just needing a few bits of finetuning and they were sorted.

The hotel had had pretty decent reviews. Set up for folk who Do Stuff - there were a few groups of Trianguletes dotted about the place, and plenty of others who looked like real cyclists :-) and a reputation for decent food, both in choice and quantity.
That was spot on - not going to starve here :-)

I was supposed to be doing a race prep week in my schedule - short rides with top end efforts in them just to get the legs ready for Saturday.

What I did was:
The 167 (104 miles) route as taken from the 312 website with Lorna on Monday instead of a 1½ hour Recovery ride;

An early start up to Sa Calobra via the Caimari climb to Col de Sa Bataia, and back through Pollenca (73 miles) instead of a 1½ hour Recovery ride with 5 second sprints, on Tuesday. This was the point at which I had a suspicion of some neck glands appearing, so I made sure that I ate heartily in the evening and planned to take plenty with me tomorrow, to give my immune system a fighting chance if I was brewing anything;

A lovely 86 mile ride through the flatlands to Bunyola then over the not-the-tunnel road to Soller and then the long climb to Puig Major, and a return down the Caimari descent, instead of a 1:15 ride with a progressive threshold effort in it, on Wednesday;

Wednesday night - neck and groin glands did the "OI! YOU! WERE YOU NOT TAKING ANY NOTICE OF US!" thing and I developed and insane sore throat and cough
and cough
and cough
and cough


bollox - Green Oysters from chest - this is not good!!!

On Thursday I was feeling properly crappy, couldn't swallow and was somewhat perturbed by the volumes of Green slimy gunk I was coughing out of my lungs, and blowing from my nose.
So no riding and lots of resting and eating as much as I could.
Abs were getting a good work out from the cough reps though! :-)

We had planned to meet a club mate, Hotdog (not his name, but it *is* what he goes by ;-) ) to sign on and collect our gubbins for the ride on Saturday, and we had a coffee at the hotel bar and a wee chat.

By the evening I was no better, but was hoping that a decent meal and a long sleep would see me right :-)

And in the morning I felt a little less crappy, and was convincing myself that the Green Oysters were become less green
We went for a short ride. 
Lorna said, "how about 4 hours at *my* pace?"
I said "how about an hour at mine" So we did a short loop following the first bit of the Event route, and the last bit of the 167. I put in a 10 minute Tempo effort to stop my legs thinking they could switch off before tomorrow, and to see how it felt. 

Not terrible, but not great either. Hmmmm!

From that I knew I'd be OK to start - would be OK to toddle around the 167 if I was feeling crappy by the route split at Valldemossa, and if the Green Oyster Gods were feeling benevolent, I might be OK to continue round the full 312.

Admission time:

I'd been targeting getting around in about 10 hours - I knew it would be a big ask, but my training had gone well and I had been feeling pretty strong.

My 'B' target was getting around in under 11 hours - still a pretty tough ask, but eminently doable
With the events of the last couple of days - I wasn't dismissing the idea of hanging on to the wheels of the Green Polka Dot (green again - is this a sign?) sweeper riders who were riding the route in 14 hours!

The optimist in me was still expecting my body to deal with the Green Oyster virus overnight, but the viral rash (I get these a lot - so was expecting it) that appeared at bedtime suggested that I might be being a little *over* optimistic.


Up early - check we'd got everything (all of the organising was done before bed) check the tyre pressure of both bikes, have a couple of bananas and a pre-emptive gel for me and a coffee, and roll out of our room straight on to the start line with Hotdog who'd arrived to leave a bag of kit with us.

From previous experience, I know that I could tolerate 3 Torq gels an hour, so I'd planned to do that for the first 3 or so hours (which would see me to the route split) and see how I was going.
I'm not normally one for taking lots of stuff with me on long rides, but THIS ride was different - If I was going OK I was going to be working hard..... for 12 hours or more..... and I was still harbouring an unwelcome guest!

Luckily the Torq gels are very palatable and I had 3 different flavours to keep it interesting. Still - 28 gels weighs quite a lot in your back pockets!!

Hotdog and I slotted in to the melee at the 100m from the start/finish mark and V'rap made her way a little further back.

For some reason we didn't actually get underway until about 07:11, but it only took us about 2 minutes to get over the start line and away.
My God there were a lot of cyclists! There was a bit of unnecessary jostling in the first mile and similar to many running races there were people at the front who would have been safer starting a little further back, but overall it was pretty civilised.

We trundled along the seafront through Alcudia and to Pollenca at the best part of 22mph and the slight drag up to the start of the Coll de Femenia climb started to string things out slightly. 
Hotdog is a skinny whippet of a bloke and his strength is in climbing quickly, so we parted company at the base of the climb, and I settled in to seeing *what* I was likely to be able to do.

I had a target effort level for the climbs and an average power to aim for overall, and within the first km of the first climb it was obvious that climbing power number was going to be too high, so I settled or one that didn't make me cough my lungs on to the road :-)
That said, by the top of the first climb I was still averaging 16.1mph! Pretty happy with that - a quick calculation had me finishing the 312 in just under 12 hours if I could hold that average, and the hardest part of the course is the early part.

It occurred to me at this point, that I was starting to think in terms of the whole ride........ optimistic? Probably, but I ran with it.
I got to the garage café junction at the coll de Sa Batiaia in 1:30 - pretty happy with that too, with my average pace back at 15.8mph.

The first water station was at Gorg Blau at round 30 miles, by which time I was expecting to have finished my first bottle of Torq juice. There's a tunnel before it, and I was wondering how the organisers would marshal and manage the tunnels...

Bugger Me! It's got LIGHTS! Now that was a fabulous surprise :-)

A really short stop just to fill my bottle with plain water, and crack on to the top of Puig Major, the highest point of the day at 34 miles and around 2:16 total time.

OK so average speed was back to 15mph, but a big chunk of that distance had been uphill, and I was pretty pleased with:
a) how I was feeling and 
b) how I was riding.

From the tunnel at Puig Major (more lights - Yaaay :-) ) to Soller is a descent - 9 miles of it - with just over 800m of down


15 minutes later I was at the bottom :-)

Two things I'd noticed. I was coping well with hold a decent power at speed when I wasn't climbing, and my breathing was feeling a lot clearer.
17.1mph in Soller - Ooh! That would be about 11:15 if I could hold *that* pace, my pace calculating brain told me!

Well? You have to do *something* to fill the time, and that kind of maths is quite fun :-)

The coastal road from Soller to Deia is Stunning - with a capital GORGEOUS.
A snaking climbing road with a couple of lovely descents all in the most incredibly breathtaking setting. 

Go there - ride it - you SO won't regret it, being amongst all that magnificence, and having time to take it all in AND see more than if you were walking.


Excellent :-)

As I made my way to the feed station at Valldemossa, I'd already decided that I was going to do the 312. Body was behaving fairly well, and I was riding well enough for a reasonable if not spectacular completion time.
Bring it on :-)

For some reason my time wasn't recorded here, but for the record, I got there in 3:23. Pace was at 16.2mph and I was happy with that! :-)

I left as soon as I'd refilled my bottle and when I reached the junction that marked the split for the two routes, it seemed as if it all went very quiet. For a few miles I was on my own - this was a new section for me, but I'd been told by a few people that it was similar to the Deia section - it was - Fabulous.

A short way ahead of me - 200m or so, I saw a couple of riders who were holding that distance as we climbed the Coll de Claret - nice little climb, not too steep, not too long, and I reeled them in on the descent. It was clear that they and I were similar paces on most things, so I said "Hi" to Antonio and Ignacio. Two fantastic Spanish lads who'd ridden the event on 4 previous occasions, and so knew it well.

We chatted about this and that, and the 7 day fire that had destroyed so much of the forested area in the NW corner of the island by someone who "was, you know 'loco' in the head - did it with a BBQ..." Ignacio was telling me. 
It has been devastated! :(

The boys asked if this was my first time at the event and helpfully told me that after Calvia "the 'mountain' were finish, a few small climbs, and after Palma is flat and [forwards hands signal] wssssssh FAST :-) "

They were great fun :-)

There were a few short climbs before Calvia, and I noted with pleasure that I seemed to have re-found my climbing ability, and the 3 of us started sharing the work. Good for them, as there was an extra body to help them out, good for me, because working in a group is such a bonus on something like this!

We got to the Calvia feed station with around 5:21 on the clock and the average pace at 16.5mph [brain was now thinking.....faster bit coming up - could we get close to 11 hours??? THAT would be fabulous!] Stopped a couple of minutes longer than I was planning, but I thought it would be good to remain with the Antonio and Ignacio on the flats!!
Good decision.

I got to experience first hand how vocal Spanish cyclists are with cars and pedestrians who put them at risk - AND how apologetic said drivers and pedestrians are when they do something silly.

AND - there were police and orange-jacketed marshals EVERYWHERE as we rode through Palma. They stopped the traffic at all the roundabouts and junctions and waved us through, there was a coned off lane along the front just for the event riders. It was an amazing experience to have an infrastructure that put the safety and priority firmly with the riders, and yet there seemed to be very little traffic being held up. 

The ride down the West coast was quite hard! A crosswind which had us eschelon'ing for much of it (in 3's because the road was quite narrow) and we'd picked up a couple of other riders, and along this section we also swept up the 7th lady finisher who'd become a bit isolated, but jumped on and was clearly glad to be in a group. She was a good rider too :-)

The group was now 6 and worked pretty well in the crosswindy section until we turned left at the SW corner of the island and had the wind at our backs :-)
We stopped at the feed station at Se Salines (140miles) just for a bottle fill, a can of full fat coke and a wee (for me - well, I AM old!)
A quick check on the Garmin showed we'd upped our average pace to 17.5mph with the riding time at about 8:00

We discussed chain gang'ing the next section, and a bunch of chat in rapid Spanish ensued. And off we went. Fabulous fun, and well ridden for the most part, but it tired the lady in our group.
It was suggested that she hold on to the back while the other 5 of us did the work, but I think she was just too tired and dropped off. An older german chap also started to sandbag a bit but getting to the front then just easing off, and a younger Spanish lad started to do the same, so it was back to the 3 of us doing the work again.

It wasn't *that* far to the Porto Critso stop (164 miles - 9:18 - 17.6mph) where the boys said "We stop 1 minute" 
"Fine" I said - "I just need the Toilet"
"1 minute" said Antonio again
"I'll be 40 seconds ;-)

That made him chuckle!

And I was - and had time for another full fat coke ;-)

Just under 20 km to Arta and then the last bit back. I said to Antonio, looks like we'll be good for under 11 hours. 
He agreed.
I was elated!

We headed off quickly in a group that was working quite hard initially and then a few miles before Arta they all started pissing about, and at the top of the small rise before into Arta almost ground to a halt.

Well! I wasn't having that!

I put the hammer down down the hill and into the town - and it was quite a good thing to do because the townsfolk in Arta (176.5 miles) really take this event to their hearts, and there is a timing gantry which we went under at 9:59 and a few seconds, and the streets in the centre of town were packed with cheering and clapping people. Ignacio and I went through at the front - so we experienced it first - bloody awesome, and out of the town I discovered that I still had climbing legs and stretched them a bit.

I was hoping to shed a good number of the freeloaders. Part way up the hill a group of about 7 went past - no way I could stay with them.
Antonio came past looking to pick them up and gave me a friendly push as he did, and I just kept on working up the hill. At the top, my turn was done, and Ignacio took over. I looked back and we'd whittled the original group of over 30 riders down to 7.
Hard down the hills to the two rivers and hard back up the other side both times and we were down to a 3.

The third was the young Spanish chap from earlier who didn't have the legs to pass me and Ingacio.

I could have sprinted (not sure where that came from) but instead I put an arm on his shoulder and thanked him for a fantastic day out.

We crossed the line together :-)

10:47:57 GET IN!

You know that jelly legs thing - I got it when I got off my bike. So I probably worked quite hard :-)

All things considered I'm REALLY pleased with how I did - and thanks to a couple of young Spanish fellas, had an absolute blast.

Lorna found me just after I finished and pointed me to the T-shirt, bottle and tickets-for-food tent, and then took my bike away while I went and stared into space for a bit with some pasta on a plate and beer in a cup.

This was an INCREDIBLE day
Amazing event - really special!

I'm very glad that I was able and decided to complete the long route.
I suspect that I'm going to suffer for it though.

Green Oyster Chest is still about.

Best do some Recovery then, eh! :-)

As we were riding along the South coast with the wind at our backs, and working for 25-28mph and more at times, I thought and said out loud "this is what bikes are made for - this weather, these roads, like-minded people! Antonio and Ignacio looked at each other - and me - and nodded* :-)

* I may have misremembered or stylised a few interaction details. The old brain gets fuzzy you know