You may have seen here that I had a trip to Tenerife on the horizon…. Well that horizon has been and very sadly gone and I got back on Saturday (it’s Monday now) so thought I’d write up my thoughts on the island and general impressions and experience. I’ll try to keep it brief, though there’s quite a lot to say.
Well, to start with the most important things: Mount Teide.
This is the volcano that dominates the island and which tops out at 3700m ish, with the crest of the main road climb climaxing at 2200m.
The unique thing about this lump of ashen rock is that it offers the opportunity for the longest continuous road climb in Europe; whilst Italy and France boast roads topping out at 2500m+, ascents in the Alps tend to start at around 1000m above sea level at least. However, you are able to climb Teide from sea level, making c.2200m of continuous climb. We did it one day (more of which below), and it’s a loooooooonnng old ascent, trust me.
There’s at least three ways up the volcano from the south, all of which come together at a town called Vilaflor around 1300m up. From there, there’s one road only. The most interesting and tranquil of the two variations on getting to Vilaflor that we did starts in Granadilla; a narrow and winding road that feels far from civilisation, and offers around 45 minutes of great climbing. At only 5-7% ish all the way, and with plenty of hairpins and little pitches, it really invites you to attack it and keeps your mind interested with the views.
From Vilaflor on, the road unfortunately gets more busy with tourist traffic heading to the crater at the top of Teide. In contrast to many of the wild and desolate feel of most climbs on the mainland of Europe, it can feel a little manmade on this section, with a wide gutter on the side of the road and walled in sections on the side nearest the face of the mountain. Nevertheless, the road is still stunning, as it cuts through a deep pine (I think?) forest for many kilometres before opening into a barren expanse of rock and sand at the top. This part of the climb can be pretty brutal, not just because of the kms of climbing in the legs having ridden up to Vilaflor, but also due to prolonged straight steep ramps of around 10% that can really sap both the legs and the will to go on. The big gutter can be a little terifyin at times of total kelly legs… it seems to almost invite you to crash into it. Not something to be doing as a coach load of spray-tanned package tourists cruise past you in their tour bus.
The crater at the top of the climb is something that really must be experienced; it’s truly otherworldly, with lava flows, cacti and ashen rock contrasting snow covered peaks and clear blue skies. I certainly will never forget riding around up there. It felt like nowhere I’ve ever seen before, and has to be one of the landscapes of cycling lore alongside Ventoux and Col D’Izoard etc.
We were out there in early March, and experienced ‘bad’ weather for Tenerife. The first few days were a bit grey and cloudy and peaked at around 20 degrees. However, at the end of the week, it reached up to around 25 degrees, clear blue skies, and beating sun. Hot enough to create the cycling tan lines that you weren’t warned about. The lesser-spotted cyling mitt circle of burnage:
One thing to be a little wary of on the island is the wind. Although we were sheltered from the worst of it in the South of the island, there are strong onshore winds most of the time that can really affect air temperature, and can be a little well, ‘interesting’ when descending. During the early part of the week in the gloomier weather, those of our group with aero bikes received a fair old battering from gusty sidewinds during descents. Serves them right for taking aero bikes to a mountain! (I’m just jealous really).
We spotted Astana and Simon Geshke from Giant (you can’t miss that mighty beard) whilst out riding. Tenerife is renowned as a pro team winter training destination, and it’s easy to see why, what with the great weather and largely shallow and consistent ascents, meaning that climbing legs can be honed, and intervals and structured workouts can be completed on the roads up Teide.
The experience – my time on Teide
This part is a much for my own memories as anything else, and is a reminder to me of the riding through the week.
An easy spin for all the three groups of riders (we split up according to the intensity of the ride and to ensure riders were with others of similar fitness / strength) converging on a café for a social. This was super easy but a great ride to spin off the stifnesses from the plane and to ensure that bikes were in working order. There was a small push up a 25ish minute climb which served as a great reminder to me of how much I love being in the mountains and how much I love riding up them. A nice start to the week and perfect way to whet the appetite.
After an easy start to the week yesterday, we headed north up the island to find a nice long climb that wasn’t Teide in order to ensure that we had our climbing legs to the ready.
After a pretty miserable first hour navigating around tourist towns full of orange brits, we took on a 50ish minute climb, at which point we came upon a cloud enshrouded, wind battered town. From thereon, we climbed a true Belgian berg, which was around 400m of 14% pain. At the top was a viewing spot looking out over the coast. Given it was about 5 degrees up there and windy enough to blow a whippet like me far into the Atlantic, we beat a hasty retreat down a long cold descent to a sunny restaurant for a pizza and pasta recovery feast.
The day of Teide had arrived. After a very easy and slightly nervy ride out to Grenadilla, the town from which we would start the ascent (see description of Teide above), the ‘Intenso’ group of 6 of us all soon split into our own pace, with James, the most aero rider I’ve ever ridden with, going off on the front, pushing what would prove to be an unsustainable pace as I was able to catch and drop him towards the end of the climb in true hair and tortoise fashion (much to my satisfaction).
Once past Vilaflor, we found ourselves in a thick layer of frozen cloud and fog, and the temperature dropped substantially. Oddly, the weather seemed to really affect the oxygen availability. Despite being at around 1500m, there was no air at all (this typically only happens above 2000m), and even taking a swig from your bidon on chowing on an energy bar was a really breathless task. I’ve never really experienced that before and it certainly makes life hard.
The odd weather continued as, once at around 1900m, the cloud cleared and we were basked in blue skies and burning hot sun. Having regrouped at the lip of the crater, we went on a sightseeing excursion around the otherworldly bowl for a stop off at the most expensive café ever for doughnuts and cokes before an awesome but chilly descent.
I’m not the best descender, but I love the adrenaline rush of coming down off a mountain, trying to pick the best lines through hairpins, knees gripped against the top tube, arse aloft. Great fun.
Many of the group wisely and understandably opted for a rest day after a tough ride the day before. However, being an idiot, I didn’t go for a full on rest, but a much lighter ride instead, with two short climbs (one with Piglet and James, one solo) and only around 2 and a half hours total riding time.
It was still eventful though – the Spanish don’t seem too bothered about maintaining the roads, and, whilst most of the surfaces in Tenerife are immaculate, some are total shockers. I was blasting across a flat but hideously bumpy – to the point of being flandrian cobbles – section, when the mounting tabs at the back of my Garmin totally broke, with the unit flying out of its mount. Fortunately i saved the Edge, but was due to spend the rest of the week with a slightly DIY mount. Not the most aero… but then I’m probably the least aero man in the world so am not going to be losing any sleep over it. A replacement garmin is being arranged!
Todfay was the day of the sea level to summit challenge – 2150m of continuous climb. After a quick roll down the hill to get to the 40m above sea level start point, over two hours of continuous climb started. And, to be honest, it wasn’t as bad as envisiged. We took it very easy to start up the more direct but slightly dull road to Vilaflore, so easy that many of us actually felt a little short changed when we reached the top a few hours later. I’m by no means saying that it was easy, but i think I could have pushed harder.
As such, with energy still in the tank, I split from the group, who were going for a bimble around in the crater, and descended back to the base of the volcano before heading home via another hillock where I emptied the tank in a quite pleasing 25 minute effort, given that the legs already had a lot of stress in them. Another great day on the bike in basking sun.
This was the last full day we had, so I opted to try to breakmyself as much as possible. The day started with the climb to escalona, a brilliant, 40ish minute ascent over beautiful quiet winding roads offering fantastic views, steady gradients, and really engaging riding. From thereon, it was back up Teide the interesting way (i.e., from Grenadila) and home via the 25 minute climb i rode on day 5.
By this point, our group of 6 had all split to do different things, and from thereon, it was a solo ride of c.110km and 3000m. It went reasonably ok; the power wasn’t there after a long week, but i still felt relatively energetic. There were a few points where, on near exhaustion, I felt i may topple into the aforementioned Teide guttering though! And I did have a little moment at the top of Teide – the third ascent in four days was quite punishing on the brain and legs.
When I got back I was feeling quite pleased with myself for the amount of puishment I had inflicted upon my unsuspecting legs. This sense of twisted pride was destroyed when speaking to newfound buddy Nick (from the ‘intenso’ group, second from right on the pic above) on his arrival home. He clearly had experienced some sort of sun-provoked madness and decided to do a double ascent of Teide from Grenadila. That’s two climbs lasting around 1 hour 45mins. Solo. For no reason. On day 6 of training camp. Kudos to you, you twisted lunatic.
You know what they say – mad dogs and Englishmen….
I felt pretty broken by this point. Cue a very easy spin up the beautiful Escalona climb on my own at sunrise, before dropping back to the hotel for breakfast. It was super quiet and super serene, and a great way to end the week, with the focus being on getting my head up and looking around rather than starting at the power number on my garmin or the wheel of whoever was in front.
What next for me?
I went out to Tenerife with the hop of getting some solid milage in and reminding the legs how to climb and the mind how to descend, and I certainly managed that. The niggles I’ve had with my foot didn’t cause me too much grief either and that’s very pleasing. Also, I felt I recovered well day to day thanks to paying attention to eating right, and getting a good load of stretching a rollerering in every afternoon (all good practice for Haute Route).
Now that the spring is approaching, and hopefuly the sun, it’s time to increase the intensity, working on more short focussed efforts. So, it’s the traditonal base – build transition per template training plans. I’m a proper diesel at the moment and need to pick up a bit of snap and acceleration. Vo2 max type intervals indoors, and hill reps on the road beckon methinks….
But first, a bit of rest. Am pretty knackered after the week, and so will be on the high cadence low power indoor sessions for a few days til the legs feel fully ready and rebuilt for more punishment.
Lastly, I’d like to thank:
Azur Tours for organising this amazing week and making it run so smoothly
Athlete Service for the great mechanical support, insights into technique and recovery, and most importantly the Honey Stinger bars. I couldn’t have made it up the Volcano third time around without them.
Paul ‘Piglet’ Hamblett for being an awesome guide for the ‘intenso’ group, being good company and full of good tips, and for his awe-inspiring displays of fuelling / re-fuelling (i.e., a nice way of saying, gluttony).