Both Catalan bikers arrived in Menorca to face the challenge of completing the whole lap of the island and trying to beat the Camí de Cavalls 360º Non-Stop record. They finished satisfied of having completed the challenge and set the second fastest known time: 12 hours and 16 seconds. We spoke with them to hear about their harder-than-expected experience.
Pau Zamora and Joan Llordella have a wide experience in mountain biking competitions. They have biked all over the world and faced events of the highest level. But nothing had prepared them for a challenge like Camí de Cavalls 360º Non-Stop. They arrived in Menorca with the aim of completing the lap of the island in the shortest time possible and with the ambition of improving the time of 10:55:08 that Ismael Ventura had set weeks ago.
They left with a smile on their lips for having enjoyed real mountain biking and their legs sore due to a challenge that was much harder than they had imagined. In the end, they set a time of 12 hours and 16 seconds, which is the second fastest known to date.
The next day, we spoke with them to know the details of their adventure and their feelings about the route and about biking in Menorca:
“Isma Ventura did a brutal time; I can think of very few names who could cut it”
Which was your goal for the challenge? How did you outline it?
Pau Zamora: We came with two very clear goals. The first one was enjoying this challenge, the Camí de Cavalls, after we have heard a lot of good things about it. The second one, which we knew was very complicated, was trying to improve Ismael Ventura’s time. In the end, we didn’t get the second one, but we really enjoyed this spectacular Camí de Cavalls 360º –although we ended very tired.
You can accurately value this challenge, as you both have done the entire lap, you know Isma Ventura very well and also the best runners in this world. Do you see possible to cut his record? Which would be the time that could be set?
PZ: Yesterday we already congratulated Isma and, after having finished the challenge, I think he has a brutal time. I do believe that someone can improve it, although I believe it is impossible to do it in less than ten hours. The one who does it has to be a very technical biker and maybe he can cut about ten minutes; but I can think of very few names that can beat Isma’s record. He did a brutal time.
“In the northern zone, the landscape is harsh, wild and unspoiled; it’s spectacular”
How was your start and first kilometers?
Joan Llordella: The start was at seven a.m. from Ciutadella. We started quite well, at a fairly cheerful pace. With the first legs, it looked like we were going for a good time, but later it got complicated. Through the first technical stones section, we went at a good pace, enjoying and flowing. Even so, Pau fell once… but the start was good.
How would you describe the landscapes of the north of Menorca from a biker’s perspective?
JL: In the north, the landscape is super rugged, wild and unspoiled; it’s spectacular. It is all very harsh and hard, a place where life is not easy and everything is really tough.
Which was your situation on your arrival in Maó after completing the first part of the route?
PZ: We didn’t know very well whether our time was good. The truth is that we arrived there quite tired, perhaps because of the headwind and the heat. We knew it would be very difficult to beat Isma’s time, but we hoped that in the south the wind would turn a bit in our favor. But we were already worn out and we couldn’t stand Isma’s time. Actually, the north left a big mark on us, because of its harshness, the wind and the heat.
“People think that the north is very hard, but the south is too”
Has the north seemed harsher than you expected?
JL: The north is very hard because the elevation gain is bigger than in the south, but you are also cooler and you can overcome it quite well. In the end, it is more or less what I expected: super hard but not very long climbs. The south was harder for us because of fatigue and the hours that we had been biking.
How would you describe the south?
PZ: It’s amazing how everything changes from north to south on a relatively small island. In the north there are almost no shadows and it is much more harsh, and in the south there are many more shadows, much less unevenness and that misled us a bit: we arrived in Maó with 2,000 positive meters and we thought that those 1,000 positive meters in the south were going to be a lot easier, but it’s also very tough terrain and I think it’s misleading. People think that the north is very hard, but the south is too; it was also very sunny, so it fooled us a bit. The south is harsher than it seems.
Which was the worst moment of the whole challenge?
JL: You go through so many moments on those so many hours… moments of euphoria, moments of slump… At K50, I was already so tired and I thought “you won’t finish this today”. After a while you get over it, you cheer up again, eat a little bit and manage it as best you can. I think we had a very hard moment at the end, when fatigue adds up with the stones and you really want to finish the challenge. I think this was the hardest one.
“Going alone you might go faster, but going together made us enjoy it more”
How was the understanding between the two of you during the twelve hours?
PZ: Actually, if we have to highlight something that we knew it would be easy in the challenge, that’s coexistence between us. We know each other very well and we have a similar pace. Joan surely was a bit stronger than me, and I had a couple of falls on the descents and we lost some confidence… I even asked him three or four times if he wanted to go ahead on his own, but he told me that –to maybe cut ten minutes– he preferred to go with me. In the end, we were both tired enough to say “let’s go together”. I do think that by going alone maybe you go faster, but going together made us enjoy it more.
When it comes to setting a fast time, then, do you think it is better to go as a team or alone?
JL: I have always thought that if you face a challenge in order to make a good time, it is better to go alone. When you go as a team, you always go at the pace of the slowest member. It’s true that in the headwind section on asphalt we did relays and I think we won a few minutes. But I’ve always thought that when it comes to challenges, to go fast, you have to go alone.
“The fact of crossing the finish line is already a victory”
What was it like to cross the finish line in Ciutadella?
PZ: That’s what you are looking forward to, but you are not aware. The moment you arrive, the only thing you want is to cross so that you can put your feet on the ground and rest. When you have already crossed it, the feeling of having achieved it invades you. Even more in this one, because perhaps we underestimate the challenge and didn’t think it would be so hard. It is a very complicated challenge and just the fact of crossing the finish line is already a victory.
Joan, when you finished you explained clearly that it was the hardest thing you had ever done… and you can’t say that you haven’t done lots of things, after a lifetime on the bike.
JL: I have been competing for more than 25 years, I have raced all over the world and among one-day races, events or wild things, I think this is the hardest one I have done so far. Because it’s technical, because of the stones, because of the hours, the heat… it all added up and I think it was the hardest single bike day I’ve ever done in my life.
“If you have the strength to do this challenge, you shouldn’t miss it”
Let’s speak about the initiative to promote attempts to complete the challenge and try to establish a fast time. What do you think about it?
PZ: The project of trying to make the Camí de Cavalls 360º record in one day, I think it is a very good initiative. Especially in current times, although it is available to very few people. I think you have to know how to differentiate between the people who can come to try to finish it in one day –which is a big challenge already– and then the challenge of trying to cut Isma’s time, which is something very few people can reach. You made the mistake of bringing first Isma, who set a time which will be so difficult that few people will come after that… But hey, it is a challenge that people who have the strength to do it cannot miss it.
How would you explain what Menorca is like on the bike to whoever is going to do Camí de Cavalls 360º, whether in Non-Stop or not?
PZ: I think there are several items. If you come to do the Non-Stop, it is very hard and you have to like mountain biking a lot; you have to like single-tracks with a lot of stone, walking on the beaches… It is an uncomfortable terrain, it is not pleasant, but if you like mountain biking it is a spectacular challenge.
For the general public, doing it in two, three or four days has to be very spectacular. Sometimes you pass by places and you would like to stop; we have not had the chance… So there are two opposite options: if you want to come to suffer and enjoy an extreme mountain biking day, then you come to do the Non-Stop; and if you want to come to see the island in three or four days, then you come to do Camí de Cavalls 360º.
“If we can make it, we both will be here in November to participate in the Epic Camí de Cavalls 360º together”
There is a third way to do it: the Epic Camí de Cavalls 360º, which is a three stages race, by teams or solo. Is it something you would like to do some day? Would you like to come in November?
JL: The three-day, three-stage race has to be very interesting. I have not had the opportunity to do it yet, but I think it is more enjoyable than the single-day event. It is not so extreme and in three days you can do the competition sections faster, and then you have all the evening to enjoy the island, have a beer, a good dinner and you won’t reach the fatigue level of doing it in a single day.
PZ: Yes, I think that we both will sign up for the three stages in November… Shall we sign up, Joan?
JL: Come on.
PZ: So you already know. If we can make it, we will be here in November.
“It is a very long one-day adventure where anything can happen to you”
You had a fall in a bad curve…
PZ: Yes, this is what the organizers don’t want to know, the B side. I explain it secretly: I had three falls, the rear disc bent, Joan’s chain came off the plate and we stayed for a long time, I got a branch in the change and we lost two minutes… Everything happened to us!
The level of fatigue was also very high.
PZ: We got to some points, like Cala Galdana for example, where I was exhausted and couldn’t even speak. Camí de Cavalls 360º Non-Stop is a very long one-day adventure where anything can happen to you.