Gran Fondo: Modestans join the Spanish ride

The Las Ventas Bullring
The Las Ventas Bullring Submitted by Robert Fores

Modesto attorney Robert Fores, his wife Cindi and four other couples are on a cycling sojourn to participate in the Gran Fondo Quebrantahuesos, the biggest cycling event in Spain.

Fores is blogging over the next several days about their adventure. Following are his first two installments:

Day 1, Wednesday, June 17:

Bonecrusher Centrale.

Quebrantahuesos (QH). This is the compass point directing us to our destinations in northern Spain and southern France. My Spanish-speaking friends tell me the word means Osprey, a bird. They politely tell me that the word also means “bone crusher.” This vacation obviously will not be starting with a whimper.

At 13,000 riders, it is the largest Gran Fondo in Spain and takes place in the mountains of northeastern Spain. This is its 25th year. Gran Fondo loosely mean “big ride” in Italian. These bicycle rides have enjoyed immense popularity in Europe for years. With the advent of the exploding popularity of cycling in the United States, particularly among baby boomers, such rides in the United States and abroad are increasingly on the radar of the American cyclist.

So, how does a bicycle ride in the mountains of the spectacular Spanish and French Pyrenees (northern Spain and southern France) make the consciousness of a cycling newcomer and late middle-aged rider in Modesto? My friend Mike Lynch of Turlock, a consultant, is married to Ana from Jaca, Spain. Ana’s brother-in-law Roberto is the ride director of the QH. I heard about the ride of from Mike. The 50-page glossy of the ride that he brought me after a visit to Ana’s homeland was like throwing down the gauntlet, a dare of sorts.

As a way to lead a healthier lifestyle, and inspired by my mother’s passing 10 years ago, I started riding. Some would say a lot. Having grown up in small towns and mountains, I started dreaming of riding some of the famous routes of the Tour de France (TdF) that frequent small towns and famous climbs. The QH resides in beautiful mountains, small towns, starts in Spain, crosses into France, and returns. One of the climbs on the France side of the QH route has periodically appeared on the TdF. I set out to combine this ride with some other TdF climbs in France for a vacation and invited like-minded friends.

After hundreds of hours of internet research, thousands of emails, countless telephone conversations and meetings, five couples from Modesto and Turlock are visiting Madrid, the Pyrenees, Provence and Barcelona: 17 days, five of which will be in the saddle. Not all will ride, but all will experience the rich culture, history, food and traditions of northern Spain and southern France. The game plan is a customized bike vacation that includes only these five couples, in geographically spectacular areas that are rich in history and of course great food and wine. I am particularly looking forward to riding out to a picnic next week in the iconic lavender fields of Provence.

As of this writing, Balvino and Kathleen Irizarry, Mike and Michaela Purnell, and my wife Cindi and I have met up in Madrid and will be transported the five hours north to Jaca on Friday prior to Saturday’s GH. Dave and Ginge Jamieson will be meeting the gruppo next Monday. In the meantime, we are missing Julio and Rosa Hallack who are expected to join us here in Madrid on Thursday.

Day 2, Thursday, June 18:

We learned today that there are three distinct architectural themes in Madrid, according to Anthony, our tour bus guide: the old, the French and the modern.

In the old section, the stunningly monstrous Royal Palace no longer houses the Royal family although it is used for state events. The Moors and Muslims had a significant influence on Spain for hundreds of years. Anthony indicated that the narrow streets were characteristically Moorish.

The wide boulevards and ornate buildings near the old part of town reveal a French influence inspired by the Borbon family.

Modern is modern. Madrid is a financial and business center of southern Europe. The tall glass silos in the business district can be seen in any major American metropolitan city.

While I have never seen a bull fight, the Las Ventas Bullring built in 1929 must be the bull fighting equivalent of Fenway Park or Wrigley Field. It is a large, brick enclosed stadium with ceramic touches that reveals its Moorish influence. It seats 25,000. It’s cool looking.

On the other side of sports architecture, Santiago Bernabueu stadium, which houses the famed Real Madrid soccer club, and seats 85,000 “hooligans” per Anthony, is reminiscent of Candlestick Park. It is a big, boring mass of concrete.

Columbus Park is a tribute to Christopher Columbus for discovering America. It is across the street from the Hard Rock Café where we enjoyed a soda on a break from the bus tour.

We departed the bus tour at the Prado Museum. This museum houses many masterpieces, and includes significant work by Picasso, Goya, Breugel, Titian, Bosch and others. On current exhibit are several of Rogier van der Weyden’s well known lamentation paintings of Jesus and the Crucifixion. The Prado is considered one of the great museums of the world.

Tonight, we enjoyed a leisurely and, in the Spanish custom, late dinner at the Plaza Mayor, tapa-style. We feasted on shrimp, paella, squid, a potato tort and local Spanish red and white wine that is remarkably good and remarkably inexpensive.

Some Notes

Make sure you take your passport when you are completing the car rental process in Spain.

Late in the afternoon, the streets in the old town begin to fill with people and by early evening the streets become packed; we saw lots of members arm and arm slowly meandering the streets engaged in discussion about their families.

The “WhatsApp” app has been helpful for free texting on Wi-Fi connections. I am still challenged with completing regular texting over here.

On deck for tomorrow is our journey to Jaca and Sabinanigo for Saturday’s Quebrantahuesos.

Happily Julio and Rosa made it to Madrid today. Their delay is a story that will be told. But first, they need some space. A hint: every traveler’s nightmare.