So, sometime last Autumn a msg popped up in Facebook, telling me I’d won a 5 day cycling training camp. Yeah right, I thought… But after a few exchanged messages, it turns out that was not an attempt to get my bank details, or a friend winding me up…it was in fact true. Cor blimey. 5 days for two in Spain, half board, including bike hire & guided rides. All I’d have to cover was flights and insurance. Well, even if I hadn’t enjoyed last year’s training camp so much, it’s not like I was going to turn it down, now was it? Even better, I had until April 2016 to take it, whatever dates I wanted!
And to cut a long story a little shorter, that’s Chris and I were in Bristol Airport on February 17th, heading off to what would hopefully be sunny and warm, unencumbered by bike boxes. How cool is that? Well, as it would turn out, slightly cooler, albeit slightly cooler than hoped for literally, but pretty cool nonetheless 😉
This fab price came courtesy of Ciclo Costa Blanca, which is run by Terrence Kerr from HQ at Meta Bike Cafe in Albir Playa which is just down the coast/road from Benidorm. They run cycling training camps, cycling breaks, help with bike hire, cycling holidays, in fact…cycling anything if you want to be over there, either with them, or independently. The accommodation part of our prize came courtesy of the Marconfort Essence in Benidorm, who are working on being a cycling friendly hotel. We were collected from the airport and taken there to check in and get settled, and Terry arrived later that afternoon in the support car, complete with the two shiny bikes that would be ours for a few days – 2 Ridley Fenixs. Nice. After a little while spent fitting our own saddles and pedals to them, plans were made for the next day, and Terry headed off. we took them downstairs to the secure bike storage room, which came complete with lockers, as well as bike stands, tools and the like. Ours weren’t the only bikes in there, which, from the clientele we’d already seen, came as a bit of a shock. Of which more later…
Right then. We had been thinking of going for a test ride, but it was getting late, it wouldn’t serve much purpose, and there were other things to do. Like having a beer, checking out the hotel, and checking out the beach that could be tantalising seen from the balcony between tower blocks… Since we were on a half-board basis and hadn’t taken advantage of that yet, we didn’t need to find food, just beer, because the best way to annoy your mates back home in a chilly wet miserable UK is to post photos of beer and tapas 😉 After a walk along the breezy bright beach, and around the older town bit to get our bearings, we found a little local corner place and ticked that box *grin*
Back at the hotel for dinner then. Which was all very nice; a large buffet of a whole variety of everything. The food was perfectly presentable but the whole thing was just slightly canteen, probably due to the pristine white slightly clinical decor. However nice it was, it didn’t really make me want to do it every day…although having free wine and beer on tap didn’t suck as a concept… 😉
Onwards to the more important stuff. After a pretty good night’s sleep, it was time to be up and faffing and fretting. Breakfast was better, it being a meal that just works better as a self-help buffet, and as we had places to be we were amongst the first down there. There was a whole heap of things on offer – fried stuff, cake, continental, you name it. I was just pleased to discover muesli and soya milk (not ideal but lactose free), so even with my bizarre requirements it was reassuring to know that I was going to be able to fuel every morning. As for the faffing, it being our first day, it was really hard to decide what to wear. It was sunny, but chilly, and a bit windy. Although we’d been advised that all we’d need for the trip was summer kit plus arm warmers and a gilet, at the last minute, I’d thrown my lightweight tights and a base layer into the bag, and I decided I’d rather be too warm than too cold. So, tights, base layer, s/s jersey, arm warmers, mitts, and gilet. The muset bag for the support car got my waterproof, over gloves, gels and the like. Have faffed with all that, there was then a degree of shenanigans with regards to getting the room key to open the garage door which meant that we were a little behind schedule by the time we finally hit the road.
Benidorm is a shortish flat ride from Meta Bike Cafe, which ended up being longer than planned as we didn’t know where we were going and were relying on a combo of instructions, phone maps, and road signs. Unfamiliar routes always seem to take forever…but as it turns out we got where we were supposed to be, were only marginally late, and we weren’t the last to arrive. Training camp season meant that today’s guided ride would see us joining the U23 RP Vision Racing Team (!!!). Just the girls today, like that’s supposed to suggest that it would be an easy ride! 😉 They were all staying at the ‘official’ hotel just down the road so once all the guides and support car were ready & loaded up (with our bag in), we headed off down there to mill around in the sunshine. Organising a group of U23 riders takes even longer than organising me 😉 Out of the wind outside the hotel, and having been riding, I was actually feeling a bit warm, and I was tempted to sneak off and get rid of my base layer, but I was persuaded that I could always do this later if necessary, so I didn’t.
Time to ride. And I don’t remember all the details, but thanks to Strava, I know it went something like this. Luckily the girls had various goals to achieve – warm up, practice lead outs, practice sprints, etc. Which also involved various stops for briefing, layer changes, and the like, thus meaning it wasn’t a constant slog trying to keep up. It took most of the ride to get the hang of the bike. It fitted me just fine, was nice and light, and handled well, but with the brakes the wrong war around I was a bit cautious, and worried what would happen if I got it wrong in extremes… We stuck together (mostly!) on the flats, when they weren’t doing drills, and climbing up the hills (of which there was quite a lot) were an every girl for themselves thing, which meant I could plod up them my way, enjoy the stunning views, and wish we had climbs like this back home.
On the upside, even among this lot, as I got used to the bike, I was still amongst the very fastest down hill – which assuaged the slightly depressed ego somewhat 😉 I was glad to have kept my kit as it was as it remained distinctly chilly, even in the sun, thanks to the wind. And the top of things was even cooler than the bottom. On the way back there was a sheltered coffee stop where I could indulge my fizzy orange habit, and the very small, very skinny, girls could descend on large slices of chocolate cake like a venue of very happy vultures! Still, they’d more than earnt it, especially being many days into their week, and it was amusing to watch cake dematerialise before your eyes…
Back to the hotel, a little too late for lunch. Luckily both of us had carried various food stuff with us, not that I felt like eating mine. I don’t really do eating. We did find time for a quick pint in the hotel bar, with snack food, still in kit, watching the residents take advantage of the all-inclusive bar, playing cards, knitting, and so on. Those that weren’t permanently installed by the pool and outside bar that is. Which definitely engendered an interior slightly smug superior vibe …we’d been out and seen the world and exercised and been fit and healthy and everything. Go us! After a shower, more faffing and a nap, it was time to head out in search of a more appetising dinner, which didn’t go all that well. Places that were empty, places that were not appealing, places that turned out not to do food at all. It’s just possible we were too fussy…. Nice though it was wandering the streets of an out of season Benidorm, food really was a priority. Getting a little desperate, we headed back towards the hotel and found a tapas place not far from there that seemed to have locals eating in it, which is always a good sign.
Oddly for somewhere that is flooded by tourists every year, the local places don’t speak much English at all, and I found myself using, and remembering, more of my Spanish than I thought I would/could. I guess it’s probably because your typical British tourist a) never leaves their all-inclusive hotel and b) if/when they do, they end up at one of the more British places; pubs, bars, cafes…egg ‘n chips anyone? Our little tapas bar was currently feeding lots of Spanish folk, off a menu that I had to guess at. It was a bit hit and miss. Various ham, cheese, and bread things worked out well, as did the marinaded anchovies (I love those), but the local speciality octopus dish was less successful. All reasonable cycling fodder if you can load up on bread to go with it, less so otherwise…but since I wasn’t hungry (I rarely am), I was yet to be aware that wasn’t ideal. Food had been required, food had been found, job done.