Its 2 degrees (C) the sun is not up, and won’t be for another 30 minutes, yet over 6000 riders are lining the streets in Platja de Nuro. Our group arrived ‘late’ so joined the funnel right at the back of the start pens waiting for the 7am starter’s gun to go off. We eventually got going around 7:20, beginning the flat 25km to the base of the first climb. Surrounded by the massive bunch, we were pulled along at a decent pace. We stayed together as well as we could. The first climb would take us out from Port Pollenca and into the mountains towards Luc. The Coll de Femenia takes us up most of the way followed by a few more sharp spikes and the Puig Major. By this point our group had splintered. I had waited on top of Femenia, but with so many cyclists, it was impossible to see anyone.
The descent Soller was intense! I was averaging over 50kph, and getting passed like I was going backwards. Head down, in the drops, focusing on the corners and trying to carry speed. In the cold morning air, this was quite a challenge. Any heat generated going up had quickly been lost. My hands felt like they were not working properly and braking was difficult. The steep corners also made sighting tough and I craned my neck to see where I was going. Once down, it was straight up the other side. Den Beleda was first followed Valledemossa. The gradients were ‘relatively’ gentle, between 4% and 7%, but the views were amazing. Looking out into the Mediterranean with the beauty of the cliffs dropping next to you. Each little village you passed through could have been on a postcard. Col Ferrandell took us up to the second highest point of the day and only 95km in.
Passing 100km, there was a continuous onslaught of ‘small’ climbs, each around 4-6km long and in the 5% range. This continued right up to km 148, when the last ‘big’ climb would be found, Es Grau, 3km at 6%. With 150km down, we had climber over 3000m, but still had 162km to go and another 2000m of climbing.
It was at this point that I made a silly mistake… I skipped a feed station. Having come down from the high hills and still feeling good, I thought I could push on to the station at 185km. I was riding comfortably with a small group and had some food bars in my back pocket and drinks in the bidons. I should be fine for another 35km… 5km past the feed stop, reaching for a food bar, I get tangled up in my Gillette, the food bar goes flying… no matter, and I have a gel. A bigger group comes passed, so I take the opportunity on the flatter roads to jump into the draft. We are really moving now. Average speed jumps up into the low 40kph. I am working with the group, cadence is up, speed keeps going up, I feel like I am flying! The group, however, has over cooked itself, the rotations are slowing down and I am getting less support up front. I can feel my energy and motivation starting to drop. My focus starts looking to the future, how am I going to cope with another 130km? It’s too far, I won’t have the energy… we approach the feed stop at the 185km mark. I hang up my bike, find as much food as I can and get a few Cokes. The other riders are also streaming through the feed station. I take my time.
Getting back on the bike I make a deal with myself – see how you are feeling at the 225 route split point. The rest and food made a huge difference, not only did it allow me to get out of my head, but my focus changed back to the present. Through the 200km mark and I am riding with a group again, this time though, I am watching my power, Keeping it under control, heart rate always steady. The internal debate is still going, do I turn early or push through for the full distance? How was everyone else in my group feeling? How many were doing the full distance? Would I be the only one to turn early? 210km in still no sign of the change point, but now the dialogue has shifted. What would I do with the rest of the day if I turned early? I had nowhere else to be that day and nothing else to do. Why would I want to sit around the finish line waiting for the others? What if I did the 225 route and they all did the 312, how would I feel? Would I really have not had enough to do the full route?
Approaching 215km, the 225 route took a left turn, but the 312 went straight on. There was a small behavioural economics principal in this, I am not sure if it was intentional or not, but the fact that I would have had to make a conscious choice to turn off the 312 route, eased my decision to push on. For those planning to doing the 225, this action of turning off the main route would have also been a significant mental signal that the end was close.
With the decision made, all I could do now was focus on finishing. I tried to join stronger bunches, but they were few and far between. The last big bunch carried through to the feed stop around 240km, as they pushed on after, I let them go up one of the smaller rises, and the pace was too strong for me at this point in the race. This proved to be a smart decision, as over the rest of the course I picked up all the riders that get dropped out the bunch. They were quick to get on my back wheel, but had nothing left to help, I would sit on the front the rest of the way home.
The last feed point was at the 285km mark, and what a party! Beers were waiting, the music was pumping and this was the location of the biggest crowd so far. They got louder every time a cyclist downed a beer! Pushing out from this feed stop, we picked up a very slight tail wind, there were a few small climbs, that were easily dispatched and then the long downhill home. 290km down, the speed picks up, as I push through 300km, I am feeling stronger, keeping the speed and keeping the pressure on the peddles I am flying now. 306km, one of the guys behind me surges forward offering to take some of the work. I sit in for a bit, then come around and push harder. The distance is dropping, 5km to go, 3km to go I can see the finishing straight. The surging gets faster and stronger, pushing for the line. It’s been 11 hours since I started that morning, 10:43 moving time, but the time is less relevant.
With such a long distance ride, I had no way of really preparing for it. My longest rides before had been 160km, but only 6 hours or so as once offs. Everything about this was new territory that needed to be covered. I discovered that this ride is as much about the mental strength as the physical. Yes, you need to know that you can spend that much time on a bike, you need to be relatively fit and you need to keep eating all day, especially when you don’t want to. Mentally it’s about keeping calm and staying in the present. The minute the look too far into the future, you can derail your ride. Self-doubt creeps in very quickly, but can easily be overcome when you focus on what you are doing right now and why you are doing it.
I don’t think I would choose to do this ride again, 312km is a very long way. The additional 90km leg also feels like something that was added on to make the distance, there was no scenic beauty or reason to go through all the farmlands, other than to cover the distance. For those reasons I would choose the 225 over the 312, but I have the benefit of having done the 312…