"Here we go. Up," says a Mancunian voice behind me as the road starts rising. Here it is, the moment I've been waiting for since I got my start spot at the Mallorca 312 international cyclosportive.
It’s basically a tour of the island held every spring, with the first half dominated by some pretty hefty mountains – so big and so steep that they're the preferred training ground of both Team Sky and Sir Chris Hoy.
But first, a confession: I won't be doing the full 312km. I've opted for the 'short' version which is half the distance but still involves around 7,500ft of vertical ascent. Gulp. Six weeks of panicky training up and down the blustery hills of Somerset go by in a flash as I worry about the thigh-achingly long climbs that await me.
The shorter route takes riders through the same mountain passes as the 312 riders, then as we get close to the capital of Palma it'll double back up through the interior along relatively flat roads, rather than continuing anticlockwise along the coast. We’ll all return back to the seaside town of Alcúdia for the finish.
I've done long rides before, but this will be something else for me – I wonder how I'll cope. Frankly, I wonder if I'll manage it at all.
Bike boxes everywhere
Dawn breaks at Bristol airport with vivid streaks of orange across the sky, and the check-in desks are swamped with bike boxes. Everyone wants to go cycling in Mallorca, it seems. The plane's certainly full for my 6am flight, most people in couples – young and old – heading off for a romantic break, eager beaver cyclists or the obligatory hen and stag parties.
Relief that my bike's arrived in one piece and I pile into the hotel taxi. Can't wait to catch sight of those mountains and turn the pedals over. "Which one’s Puig Major?" I wonder as the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range passes my left window. That's the biggie, at 854m it marks the island's highest point.
I catch myself worrying about the wind and how it'll affect stamina, and make a conscious effort not to obsess about things that are outside my control. Nutrition, pacing, drafting – these are the things I should be concentrating on.
My hotel for the next few days is packed full of sporty looking types, many drawn by the 312, who are variously renting carbon-fibre road bikes by the outdoor pool, heading off to the spa for a post-ride rub-down or gorging on carbs at the restaurant's all-you-can-eat buffet. I'm in the right place then.
Race day dawns and I haven't had more than five hours of sleep, tossing and turning past midnight as the Puig Major weighs on my mind. Oh heck, what have I let myself in for? Chatting to 220 blogger Sophie Radcliffe the previous evening, I'd felt excited – confident even. Now… where's that feeling gone?
But my bike’s prepped and checked, suncream is on and my jersey pockets are stuffed full to bursting with energy gels and cereal bars. It's going to be beautiful riding up top with the blue sea stretching out into the distance. Feelings of trepidation melt back into excitement. Let's do this.
We roam the still-dark lobby, my fellow guests transformed overnight into gran fondo warriors. I follow them outside to the start line, past the ride-out leaders that include Irish cycling legend Sean Kelly, and join the back of a very long queue.
The sky is beginning to lighten but there's no sun yet. Riders chat and joke with their neighbours, everyone beaming. We'll be spending the day cycling on some of the most beautiful roads in Europe, what's there not to like? Earlier fears seem small and silly now I'm on the start line. I ask someone to take my photo.
7am and the horn goes off, followed by the click-click-click of thousands of clipless bike pedals being snapped into. We ride out of town a seamless shoal of riders, through roundabouts and past cheering crowds. Spinning easily along the coast road, the speed passes 35kph on my Garmin.
The sun just clears the horizon on the sea to my right… and I nearly lose my balance admiring it. Pay attention! We cruise past the harbour of Puerto de Pollença, which I haven't seen since a family holiday 15 years ago, and take a sharp left. Hitherto out of sight, them mountains suddenly rear into view…
Pine trees line the road and the mood shifts perceptibly, everyone in anticipation of what's to come.
Continue reading – the mountain stages (2/3)