Volcanic activity

My wife hadn’t even finished telling me how partners weren’t invited to her work ski trip before I started plotting how to best exploit a free weekend. This time of year (January) it’s hard to resist the siren call of the Canary Islands and Tenerife in particular. Flights and accommodation are cheap and plentiful, and the weather is like early summer in the UK so it didn’t take much arm-twisting to assemble a bit of a crew.

Rather than the gaudy retirement towns of the coast we found an enormous townhouse in the old town of Arona, 600m above sea level. Our team of seven set about transforming the living area into a workshop as we put our bikes back together. Then, discovering that restaurant options are a bit limited in Arona, we squashed all seven lads into one Peugot 308 – no mean feat given I’m 6’4″ and James is 6’6″ – and cruised back down to the coast to push ludicrous portions of protein into our faces and make our plans for the morning.

Day 1

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After a very lazy start we drop down to El Medano to begin our sea-to-summit climb up the volcano. At 2,200m this is the longest continuous climb in Europe. There’s a bit of procrastination at the beach and we take a second breakfast while the local shop attend to the knackered bearings on James’s rear wheel. “Well sir, if they get too hot on the descent they may disintegrate and then the wheel will lock up”. “You know what?”, said James, “I think I’ll let you change those for me.”

“Two riders come whooshing past me in the big ring, without even the decency to be out of breath.”

It’s enough time for Sean to enlighten us about his unique chamois cream technique. Does anybody else put chamois cream right on their ring or is he just a deviant? I think he uses the tingly menthol stuff too. Definitely a deviant.

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L-R: Me, David, Sean, Laurence, Dickie, James and Martin

AM turns to PM before we grab a quick team photo next to the sea and then aim for the skies. At 6’6″ and north of 100kg you wouldn’t consider a 35km climb to be James’s natural terrain, but he’s out of the gates like a scalded cat, with David, Sean and myself in tow. I glance down at my head unit and see we’re pushing out 300-400 Watts, which I don’t think any of us can hope to hold for long. I back off and settle at 260W, which is a pace I know I can sustain for what we expect to be a three hour climb. Dickie, Martin and Laurence have all been more sensible from the off.

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It’s a fairly punchy headwind, which becomes a gusty crosswind on some of the switchbacks. The climb is steady though, holding fairly consistently at 7% and making it easier to find a rhythm. I make a point of eating every 30 minutes and drinking as often as I can. Approaching the town of Vilaflor I glance back and see a pair of riders in the distance, looking a bit handy. What felt like an implausibly short time later they came whooshing past me in the big ring, without even the decency to be out of breath. Pro riders Fabio Felline (Trek) and Alberto Bettiol (Cannondale).

I clear the cloud level through the forest switchback section and find myself on a steeper pitch around 8-10%. At 1,600m the air is noticeably thinner too. I remember reading that you lose 7% of your power for every 1,000m above sea level due to the reduced oxygen. I distract myself with some arithmetic and adjust my effort accordingly. Ahead of this trip I had plans of doing an ‘Everest’ on Teide (riding it repeatedly in a single ride until you’ve accumulated 8,848m) but this was making me rethink that idea. I watched the elevation on my head unit edge ever closer to the summit and thought to myself “just three Box Hills to go”.

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Immaculate tarmac inside the crater at 2,000m
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Inside the volcanic crater with El Teide’s peak in the background

At 2,200m I reach the crater rim and the view really opens up as I drop into the mouth of the volcano itself. The road is dressed in perfect tarmac, worthy of a race track. I try and maintain my effort, partly to stay warm in the strong cold wind and partly to set a nice benchmark time for the climb to the Parador hotel.

The Parador is a magnet for pro cyclists and many of the top teams base themselves here for the winter and beyond. They enjoy the blood-boosting benefits of spending time at altitude and then descend to train in the balmy conditions. The enormous climb back up to base at the end of the day probably excites their coaches more than the riders themselves. Cannondale Drapac were here in numbers. Today I dived into the tourist-trap cafe next door to wait for the rest of the gang.

parador

On the way down there’s a short drop back into the depths of the crater before a 200m climb back over the rim and into the descent proper. That first drop was enough to chill lazy legs and the short climb didn’t do much to warm them up in preparation for the big descent. The cloud had come in and the southern side of the island was shrouded in a cold, wet fog. The temperature at this altitude hovers just above freezing. Thankfully the gusty winds had died down but visibility was very low, so I abandoned my impulse to go banzai on this mammoth downhill. Past Vilaflor the road surface turned to shit and made for a punishing ride at speed. Any lingering thoughts of doing an Everest on this route were banished for good. There was bugger all chance I wanted to ride this corrugated descent four times in a day. I feel like at this point in the year I have the fitness for an Everest but not the conditioning; my hands, neck and knees were groaning and my arse hadn’t enjoyed three hours in the climbing position.

“I spent the next 3km praying to a god I don’t believe in that there weren’t any cars coming around the corners that I was about to overshoot.”

There was a sting in today’s tail. I blindly followed the GPX file we were riding to and found myself on a terrifyingly steep, narrow back lane with a broken surface and some seriously acute corners. Mostly blind ones at that. The road was so steep I spent the final 3km braking at full force, failing to control my speed and praying to a god I don’t believe in that there weren’t any cars coming around the corners I was about to overshoot. It didn’t help that I’d worn through the braking track on my rear wheel (upgrade time!) but luckily I found a couple of escape lanes at critical times and avoided any head-on dramas. Martin had missed the turn completely and ended up back at the coast, sticking an extra 25km and 600m onto his ride. I think I’d have preferred that.

Another trip in the Tardis and we’re at a different restaurant, beginning to realise that Canarian food is basically meat and potatoes. I get the impression healthy-eating cyclists aren’t the largest demographic here. The portions are gargantuan. The prices are not. We’re slowly eating our way through Noah’s Ark.

Strava link // El Medano to El Teide // 106km & 2,800m // Relive video

Day 2

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Despite our lofty ambitions Saturday kicks off in typically lethargic fashion. We’re away at 10am to roll down to Playa de las Américas for ride supplies and a second breakfast. Today we’re skirting the Adeje coastline in a fast paceline. The rolling hills are just short enough to barrel over them in the big ring and keep a tidy pace, despite a strong coastal headwind. After an hour of that we find ourselves on the 1,000m climb up to Santiago del Teide. It was no steeper than climbing Teide yesterday but the mid-twenties temperature at sea-level made it feel quite a bit harder. When Sean needed to stop for water at the petrol station half way up I selflessly volunteered to stop with him.

We regrouped at Santiago del Teide where Dickie and Laurence found a table in Tenerife’s slowest restaurant, while the rest of us climbed the savagely steep pass to Masca. The original plan was to drop down here and loop back around to rejoin the guys for lunch, but we’d left it all a bit late and the road looked too narrow and busy to be worth it. A quick team snap preceded a quicker descent back into town for lunch.

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A mellow and pretty climb to 1,100m opened our afternoon before a 30km long descent back to sea-level. The wind had swapped directions over lunch so we had a headwind once again. I was on the front pushing 250W while the guys behind were freewheeling, wondering what I was playing at. Then as soon as anybody came past they’d instantly hit the wall of wind and find themselves pedalling hard to maintain speed. Despite that we were still ticking along on the drops at 50kph for most of the descent, promising ourselves to work on our core strength when we got back to the UK.

I’d not studied my route closely enough when I plotted it and we were now climbing a bit of a pointless loop up through Adeje, only to drop back down again before the climb back to Arona. However, if we’d not ridden these extra KMs we’d have missed the opportunity to meet Arturo. This chatty pensioner snared James in conversation near the top of the hill and then ambushed the rest of us as we waited. He had us pinned down and despite our protestations he insisted on telling us all about his unusual saddle, which meant we were treated to the full history of his prostate. His shorts were rucked up so high I thought we were about to see his prostate!

Having finally escaped the clutches of Arturo we still had to tackle the 600m climb back up to our house in Arona. It’s a steady climb at 6-7% but it’s still a challenging way to finish what had already been a lumpy ride. Showered and changed, we recreated the farting scene from Blazing Saddles in the living area; a result of too much meat and too many energy gels.

Strava Link // Santiago del Teide // 99km & 2,400m // Relive video

Day 3

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Another ‘early start’ means we were clipping in at 10:30am for our final ride of the trip. The rain that had threaten to spoil the weekend had finally arrived and we were back to wearing the layers that we’d grown used to from winter riding back in the UK. We were down to five riders when Sean turned back at Vilaflor after his hip flexor raised the alert. It was misty drizzle and gloom most of the way up the climb, turning heavier after Vilaflor. Despite the body heat we generate when climbing we still had to stop and don rain jackets to stay warm.

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David and I rode the climb together at a steady 200W today, hoping we’d punch through the cloud level at some point and emerge into sun. Not long after we’d crested the rim that’s exactly what happened. An instant shot of temperature was very welcome and the short descent helped to dry our wet kit.

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On the climb up to the Parador I suggested we try the hotel instead of the cafe, hoping we’d find some better food. It was quite a swanky place inside but luckily they didn’t bat an eyelid at having four Power Rangers in their restaurant, classing the place up. I’m guessing we’re not the first cyclists to do this. The waiting staff were enjoying having some fun, younger guests (with full control of their bowels), photobombing us and generally having a good time. The food was great too. I’d definitely recommend this option if you’re looking for something a bit more substantial than a coffee and a stale pastry up on the summit.

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Dickie had ridden straight up and over without dropping into the crater. He sent word that the ‘lava road’ was really rough, gradually improving at 1,600m. He wasn’t wrong, which was a shame because this is quite a striking piece of road and it would’ve been nicer to take in the view instead of furiously scanning the road, searching optimistically for the least broken path. The contrast couldn’t be greater from the immaculate surface of the crater road. In places the lava road was raised like a causeway above a sea of giant black rocks the size of cars, which at some point had been spewed from Teide.

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David and Martin emerging from the cloud onto the Lava Road.

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Eventually the surface improves but never enough to fully relax. Hopefully this road will get the same TLC at some point because on a still day that would be an incredibly fast descent. We’ve hit our most northerly point and now we cut a corner via a steep B-road to rejoin the main route we descended yesterday. I have a deadline to meet our host at the house so when we pick up a couple of pinch flats riding over metal grates I offer my spare tubes and then make a dash for it, pushing up the final climb one last time, as hard as I dare after three days of lumpy riding, making it with three minutes to spare.

Strava Link // Teide through the gloom // 104km & 2,600m // Relive video

Day 4

summit-snapBikes repacked and with time to kill a few of us take the drive up to the summit for breakfast. For the first time during our visit the winds are light enough for the cable car to open, so we take a trip almost to the top. If we’d had more time (and warmer clothes) we’d have taken the 20 minute climb right up the very peak and peered into the small crater at the summit. We’ll save that for our next trip to Tenerife, because we all agreed this was definitely not the last time we’ll be here. With flights, food and accommodation so cheap it’s an easy way to escape the harsh UK weather and bag some quality training during the depths of winter. It’s no wonder it’s so popular with the pros.

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Taken from the summit, 1,700m above the crater, itself 2,000m above the sea.
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7 thoughts on “Volcanic activity

  1. Nice read – I enjoy your writings! So are you going to bite the bullet and go disc brake then? No rim failures and consistent braking (I’m more MTB oriented tho…)

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    1. I’m already a vocal fan of hydraulic disc brakes and I miss them every time I switch from the J Laverack to the Canyon. Any bike I buy in the future will be disc-braked.

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  2. Lovely stuff. It was a toss-up between Tenerife and Mallorca for our winter club trip this year. Mallorca won out but after reading this I’ll be making a big push for Tenerife in 2018.

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    1. Photographic equipment? Just an iPhone. Stevie Wonder could take great shots in Tenerife.

      Thanks for the tip. Sounds very interesting.

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      1. In every photo, setting the frame is the primary key. And that’s all on you.

        That iPhone can definitely sing! 🙂

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