We set off in the Hennessey fun bus late Thursday afternoon for Luton Airport, loaded like the Brady bunch and with the best part of £10,000 worth of hardware, Dave’s particular brand of non-concentrating driving was under close scrutiny from anyone who had their eyes open!
I don’t think anyone quite knew what to expect. Fortuna Ranch has never entertained road cyclists and none of us had ever ridden in this part of the world before, so there were a lot of firsts. What we did know is there would be a guide, it would be hot, someone would cook our dinner and a litre of lager was 60p.
After an uneventful flight and some faffing in Alicante Airport, with a bit of Rinaldo's Spanish-Italian arm waving hybrid language we arrived at our destination at around 2am, where for some the drinking continued until 3am. Seeing as we were meant to be tackling the longest ride of the weekend at 8am the next day and the bikes needed putting back together again we quickly realised that maybe we need to let our guide know we might not be bang on time.
It was three hours later than planned that we eventually rolled out of the ranch. This was after a stirring breakfast that included a stack of toast higher than the mountains we were staying in. The re-assembly of bikes earned Tom the title of “The Mechanic”, not because of his Jason Statham like action hero qualities, but as a result of attempting to put his pedals on backwards and stripping the threads in his cranks. The crank incident only held us up for 30 mins, but Toms legendary Pre-ride “Grade A” Faffing took the rest of the time.
The route was to do one of the climbs from Stage 8 of this years Vuelta and while our guide had a limited grasp of English it was certainly more than our Spanish and it didn’t stop Hennessey having a full on conversation with him although I’m not convinced either knew what the other was saying. Being up in the mountains the opening part of the route is all descent and we were treated to a fast, wide and swoopy drop into Fortuna, which is about 7 miles from our base. The generally downward nature of the terrain continued for 20 or so miles where, with the exception of navigating through towns the pace remained above 20mph. Soon enough we arrived at the climb, distinguishable by the number of Valverdes scribbled on the road and the smell of the pine trees. We all settled into our own pace with Ed storming off the front as we meandered our way up the mountain imagining how much busier this would have been just over a month ago.
On arriving at the top we were presented with an exceptional view over the town of Murcia that gave ample opportunities for a photo session.
The descent was quick but we were advised to rein it in a touch by our guide, but we quickly arrived back in town where Bomber made his first faux pas of the weekend by filling his water bottle from a stand pipe - more on that later. The route back was fairly direct and rolled along the same tarmac where Sagan's Vuelta ended with a collision, and whilst the roads were reasonably busy every driver was patient and courteous when overtaking, whether in a cement lorry, taxi or Harley Davidson, which does make you wonder how bad the motorcycle outriders actually are. Our guide Juamni from Aroca Bikes mentioned cerveza or casa so we opted for cerveza in Fortuna, where we enjoyed a couple of litres of Estrella and plenty of tapas, especially a very garlicy Aioli. What we didn’t appreciate was the length of the climb back to the ranch and with a belly full of beer and food this made the efforts much harder than they should have been. We quickly strung out with Linny (our host) taking numerous photos of our pained faces. An eternity and a couple of wrong turns later we all started to arrive back at base, where a quick dip in the bracing pool was called for.
It took a while but eventually we realised we were a man short, Bomber was nowhere to be seen. Linny was the first to go hunt for Wally Bomber, returning empty handed, then Dave, Simon and Ed went out. After about 45 minutes to an hour later he arrived back at the ranch and it’s safe to say he didn’t have his happy face on, but he had managed to drink the contents of his standpipe filled water bottle. Sometimes it’s difficult to gauge when it’s too soon to take the rise, but if you start immediately then you know where you stand. He did use a few uncharacteristic long group words like “Should have” and “Waited” but we ignored these, put it down to sun and preceded with the “where’s Wally” jibes.
Linny had bought 18 litres of beer and was under the impression this was going to last more than the evening and we started tucking into the first pack as Juamni fired up the BBQ to make us a chicken Paella. After an evening of eating and drinking me and Bomber were the first to slope off to the bunkhouse and had just about got to sleep when Dave and Ed came bursting in giggling like a pair of teenage girls waking us both up - this would become a regular event.
Once again we were later leaving than planned this time mainly for no other reason than hang-overs and another outbreak of faffing from Tom, also it still being dark when waking up isn’t the greatest of motivators, and I was again the brunt of numerous jokes about dressing in the dark with my “Coral” kit selection for the day. Bomber was making his first rumblings, or more like his stomach was making the first rumblings about being displeased with the contents of his water bottle from the previous day. Now more familiar with the descent we opened the legs up a bit. On one of the corners there lies a decaying animal which we had decided was a dog and henceforth this corner was affectionately renamed “Dead Dog Corner” or DDC and you knew when you were upon it as the smell hit you. If you messed this turn up it wouldn’t be the only thing to hit you, as it was FAST!
Once again we felt like we were pointing downhill for around 30 miles with the average speed remaining in the 20’s. The road surfaces are generally very good and a faster rolling surface compared to the UK, off the beaten track roads tend to exhibit a similar state of disrepair as their UK counterparts. Whilst the first 30 miles went downhill the next 30 went up and although there was no major climb today the ascending was still in excess of the previous day and with lessons learnt the stop at the end of the ride for cerveza was in Garapacha, which is above and only about 1km from our base.
The plan for the afternoon was to go to a spa but no one was overly keen so we decided to hit the town for provisions (beer), driven by our Italian chauffeur with all the geographical skills of a drunk pigeon we circled the town several times and in a various selection of unsuitable gears (it obviously had all the controls in backwards!) we finally found a supermarket and the van was loaded up with stocks, including a watermelon and very nearly a leg of some animal. After a quick couple of beers in a bar and propositioning from some local “ladies” we headed back to a mountain of food and beer at the ranch. Again sleep was disturbed by Ed and Dave.
The final day was a 45 mile trip to the coast. Bomber had spent some time on the can during the course of the night and looked decidedly peaky, Dave and Ed moaned about the particular form of alarm call as the toilet was next to their room. Talk was now that as we were more familiar with the opening descent we would really cane it today. So off we set pushing the pace a fair amount higher than before, we all out braked ourselves into one turn but Bomber professionally misjudged one of the corners and ended up breaking himself with a 30mph + OTB onto his head. For a few worrying moments we though he might have ruined our day J but he dusted himself down (which joking aside was the stuff of hardmen) and save the road rash on his arm, a bruised back a ruined helmet and a suspected bill of upwards of £150 he appeared ok. So to recap here…….he got himself lost, got the runs and crashed badly. All this in 3 days, without him the weekend could have been a bit damp.
The route to Torrevieja was downhill all the way and at one point forgetting we were base mile training we formed a chain gang for a good while racking up the miles at over 30mph, and flying past unsuspecting Spaniards at a rate of knots We must have been a sight….6 mad Englishmen (one with claret pouring out of him and a twatted helmet), 3 Spaniards straight out of the bar (I kid you not) and a guide howling in broken English/Spanish//French/Italian “Alez Alez Alez. We arrived at the beach after about 2 hours and promptly found a bar on the beach and there we stayed until they closed a 6pm, Bomber was “fixed” and Facebook status were updated. There was some talk earlier in the day about riding back but that soon evaporated and our hosts drove us back as night fell. Ed, Tom and Dave continued the drinking back at the ranch polishing off the remaining bottles from the previous day.
Again sleep was disturbed by Dave and Ed, Dave appeared more excitable than ever
So how was it ?
Whilst the routes could do with some fine tuning I think we all agree it was a fantastic weekend and we would definitely return. Linny and Stu could not be faulted as hosts and their hospitality was top notch. Juamni was an excellent guide and quite the character. What with the weather, the price, the laughs, the roads, riding and Bombe'rs antics what’s not to like?
See you next year, Fortuna Ranch