Tenerife winter training camp
As autumn set in I asked a few friends in a WhatsApp group if anybody was interested in some winter miles on Tenerife in January. Before I’d even finished typing Matt Falconer replied “Just booked my flights” and that was that. I was here two years ago for another long weekend and I hope to do this every year. It’s an affordable way to get some long sunny riding in during the depths of winter. Food and accommodation is very cheap and British Airways don’t charge you anything extra for carrying a bike instead of a regular case. As the Canaries are just west of the Sahara you can usually rely on fairly stable weather all through the year.
I didn’t plan it this way but of all the friends who could make it we ended up with four ultradistance specialists. 2014 world 24 hour champ, Hippy; 2017 world 24 hour champ Jasmijn Muller; 2nd man home on last year’s Transcontinental Race, Matt Falconer; and Hippy’s long-suffering partner, Mal, who it turns out is also pretty handy on a bike. Surrounding yourself with talent is the best way to grow so I don’t mind being the weak link.
Day 1 – The shakedown
Our flight landed at 14:00 and the sun sets around 18:30 so we quickly re-assembled the bikes and set off for a shakedown ride. We started from our apartment in La Tejita and just climbed up the TF-21 road until we ran out of daylight before rolling back to base. I was a bit relieved to hear some barbs about the pace I’d set at the front. I was feeling relatively good despite a bit of time off the bike over the holidays. Maybe I wouldn’t be too far out of my depth after all.
There was a magical moment on the way back. The sun was just grazing the horizon and the warm evening light was beautiful. This particular stretch of road was immaculately smooth and I followed Matt, filming with my phone outstretched. It was like some CGI sequence from a computer game or a movie, where everything looked a bit too perfect to be real.
35km / 903m climbing / Strava
Day 2 – Bang Teide
Tenerife has one of the longest climbs in Europe, starting from the beach and rising to 2,184m at the south west side of the crater rim. When I was here two years ago I had a proper go at the segment (Strava activity) and today I was keen to repeat that and see if I’d made any progress. The plan was to regroup at the Parador hotel at the summit and then ride over the other side and return in a clockwise loop. It’d be a big day so probably best to keep a little bit back on the first climb up. We took a team photo at the water front and I gave the gang a headstart while I faffed with Instagram. From the beach you could see that Teide had a fresh dusting of snow.
Apologies for this next bit. I realise talking about power numbers is super dull for most people. Back home I rarely do efforts longer than the 50 minute crit races or 20 minute fitness tests, so I don’t really know what power I can sustain for a 3 hour climb. Last time up here it was 244W and that was an all-out effort so I figured I’d try and hold 260W and then adjust it later if I was fading. But I fell into a natural groove at 275W and could feel the legs coming to me as I warmed up into the climb.
I passed Hippy and Mal just out of San Isidro and caught Matt and Jasmijn in Granadilla, dealing with layers. Jas soon caught me and we rode together for a few miles. As my body settled into the climb I found a nice rhythm and rode off to chase my target, hoping I hadn’t misjudged the effort and the guys wouldn’t find me collapsed in a sweaty over-optimistic heap somewhere near the summit ‘having a thrombo’.
Vilaflor is the last urban pocket at around 60% of the way up, before you enter the forested section to the crater rim. This part often has some cloud cover and while today was nice and clear you could feel the moisture in the air. In some shaded sections, with cold air sinking down off the mountain, my breath froze into a thick fog. There are lots of places where you think the summit is close but it’s a long old climb and the final slopes are hard to read.
The air has much less oxygen at altitude so your effective power is reduced as you climb. By the time I reach the summit at 2,200m the formulas suggest my available power will be 10-13% lower than at sea level but I wasn’t feeling those effects. This might be because my breathing rate is actually quite measured and it’s my ability to process the oxygen (VO2 Max) that’s my personal limiting factor. My heart rate and power output stayed very consistent for the whole climb. I crested the crater rim at 2h 28m 31s to knock 12 minutes off my previous best. I’m pretty happy that this was accomplished with 10% more power and at the same heart rate. That’s a great improvement and I think my recent shift in training is paying off.
Dropping down inside the crater the temperature instantly plummeted. The shaded sections were now coated in a sparkling frost. Traffic was backed up at the TF-38 junction and the basin itself was closed to cars, with a lowered barrier on the right side of the road. Up ahead I could see pedestrians and park officials seemed happy for me to enter on my bike.
The frost was slippery in places and every so often the rear wheel would spin just a little under load. Then it squirrelled sideways a couple of times and I realised it was actually black ice. I was still a bit too focused on my second target of the Parador hotel and I figured I can pick my way through carefully. I realise how dumb that sounds now. The road bore left with a little camber and I instantly hit the deck as the bike slid out beneath me, landing hard on my right hip and feeling the burn of scraping my arm against the rough ice. Idiot.
From this new lower vantage point I could see the entire road was glazed with a layer of glassy ice. I was like Bambi trying to even stand up and totter my way to the safety of the rough verge. Back on safer ground I tried to remount but had a painful cramp in my right hamstring – obviously I hadn’t taken on enough electrolytes for the effort I’ve just done.
In any case, notions of pedalling on were kiboshed when I saw a car resting backwards off the side of the road, having also come a cropper. Finally some sense returned and I walked the remaining 3.5km up to the hotel, finishing the full sea-to-Parador segment just 2 minutes slower than my last attempt. Dashing inside to get out of the cold I fired off messages to warn the guys and then inspected the damage. A light graze on my right arm, a decent cut and a graze to the right shin and a fair old haematoma on my right hip, which had swollen up like a cricket ball. I’ll spare you the X-rated photos.
Matt arrived 20 minutes later, clutching his back like an old man, giving away that he’d suffered the same fate. He picked up a superficial graze on his arm but he’d landed awkwardly on his ribs and aggravated an old injury. Jasmijn and Hippy still hadn’t picked up the messages and I was worried they’d fall victim too but there was little else I could. We tucked into some papas arragudas (‘wrinkled potatoes’ – potatoes boiled in their skins in very salty water – ideal ride food). Eventually Hippy replied to say he’d turned around after reports of two cyclists hitting the deck. 90 minutes passed and I reasoned that Jasmijn was too sensible to take the risk or would’ve been rescued by one of the snowploughs that had been working to clear the route. Chatting with Hippy I finally realised Jasmijn was with him when he turned back and she was safe.
If Matt and I rolled back down we’d probably just get cold and stiff and our injuries would really set in. We watched a couple of pro riders leave the hotel (most pro teams will stay at the Parador hotel for the altitude benefits and because there’s nothing for riders to do after rides except recover) and head off in the other direction. It climbs a little higher there but it would be east-facing and probably free of ice. We figured we’d spin our legs and keep the blood pumping through our broken bits so we set off to continue our original route.
What an amazing landscape. A huge basin of spewed volcanic rock and rivers of cooled lava, dusted with snow. The side walls of a viewing area were encased in thick glassy ice. In the distance we could make out the observatory perched on white peaks. The harsh shrubs that survive up here were now coated in rough spiky ice, just adding to the extraterrestrial feel of the place.
Damn it was cold. We kept moving but couldn’t resist the lure of the camera on several occasions. I could spend days shooting up here. We hit the highest bit of road on the island (2,325m) and then dropped over the other side into freezing fog. Shards of frozen air stung my face and bare fingers as I picked up speed, peering into the gloom to try and read the road. As we dropped altitude the fog became damp and a sheen of moisture covered me, freezing in the windchill. So, so cold. I know I’ll warm up if I can only get down this mountain. The fog eventually clears as we race into the tree line but now the danger is all of the slippery tree debris that litters the road, so I back right off for the fast corners. Melt water drips onto me as the icy leaves thaw above.
At last we emerge from the clouds on the eastern side of the volcano. We’re out of the trees and the fog but the new danger is the ferocious winds that funnel through the network of valleys that flank the giant mountain. We’re rolling at speed and now as well as studying the line of a corner I’m looking at the treetops to see what invisible forces I’m riding into. They’re flailing around pretty violently and I scrub as much speed as possible before turning in. The gusts are savage and turbulent, snatching my front wheel in all kinds of unpredictable directions, trying to throw me off like a bucking bronco. I’m trying to keep as much weight over the front as possible while staying as loose and relaxed as I can.
After an hour of descending we’re at 350m elevation and finally feel warm enough to think of a cake stop. The smell of fresh pastries wafted up the road to meet us in Arafo. A Coke and a sweet stodgy thing was just the ticket. Matt had ice cream, naturally.
The final 60km is rolling terrain without a single straight bit of road in it. It swoops and curves like a ramen noodle the whole way back. Matt reckons it was his favourite bit of riding. It’s a lot of fun straightening the corners and sweeping around hairpins with good sight lines and a friendly tailwind.
Day 3 – Masca Valley
Today we’re staying a bit lower to avoid any problems with ice at the summit. It’s a chance to explore another national park area in the northwest corner of the island; commonly known as Masca Valley. First we need to skirt around the west of the island, past the gaudy horrors of Playa de las Americas and tracking alongside the motorway to Puerto Santiago.
The 1,000m climb up to Santiago del Teide is relatively mellow but I took things easy all the same, saving my legs for the sharper stuff in Masca. The final ramp to a viewpoint above the valley is pretty grippy. Here we waved Mal off as she headed back to return her rental bike and Jasmijn rode straight up and over to avoid getting cold. I’d brought the drone with me today but managed to completely miss the rest of the gang fly past and wasted 15 minutes wondering why they were taking so long.
Traffic was heavy on these narrow roads, with buses needing to 3- and 5-point turns at many hairpins. It was mostly unsighted and steep enough (11% average) that I needed to ride the brakes most of the way. Canyon now make a disc braked version of the Aeroad and I’d have that in a heartbeat. Rim brakes on carbon wheels is OK for racing but less than ideal for such a relentlessly technical, steep descent on busy roads.
There was a bit more climbing to do and then a long flowing descent down to Buenavista del Norte. This part of the island was shrouded in cloud and it was a cold ride down through the rain. I thought about stopping to add arm warmers but figured it’d be a net loser. Best to just get it done and warm up at the bottom. Back at sea level on the north coast I found the rest of the guys looking for lunch options. A little pizza place worked a charm and then it was off along the coastline to pick up a climb back to Santiago del Teide. Somewhere up ahead we knew the road peaked at 27% so the four of us (all ‘flatlanders’) braced for the worst.
The really silly stuff was near the bottom and, thankfully, didn’t last too long before it mellowed out to an average 6% for another 18km. It was pretty cold again and still covered in damp clouds so it was quite a relief to pop out into the Ariba Valley and find the sun again. A short descent and a regroup at Santiago del Teide for Cokes and local orange-flavoured mini doughnuts, then it was time to head back.
A brief and pretty climb to Las Manchas at 1,100m leads to a very long shallow descent southward. We were cruising along at 50-80kph barely touching the pedals for about half an hour and all the while the sun was dropping down into the ocean on our right.
There’s a weird routing quirk that happens at Miraverde, where we suddenly spot an arrow on our lane pointing the other way. Without warning the road had somehow changed and we were heading against the flow of traffic (which luckily wasn’t there). This happened to us on our last trip too. After a bit of pavement action we rejoined the road then had to bunny hop some ridiculous grilles on a roundabout, which look like they were purposely designed for snaring the wheels of cyclists. One of them caught Hippy and he pinch-flatted. Be careful if you’re riding past Costa Adeje folks.
One last 400m climb up to La Camella and then it was mostly downhill in the fading light back to our base in La Tejita. We only rode 100 miles but with all that climbing it was a long day in the saddle from 08:00-19:00. A quick shower and it’s off to the neighbouring restaurant complex for our last meal together. Curry night.
Day 4 – Filming
Our flight wasn’t until 17:45 but we’d need to check out of our apartment by midday so Matt and I decided to make an early start and drive to the top of Mount Teide for sunrise. It seemed like less of a good idea at 6am when the alarm went off after too little sleep, again. Matt had decided against any cycling but I threw on my spandex and loaded the bike into the car. We set off in the dark and tried hard not to crash as we pushed through the clouds with our jaws on the floor.
It was so pretty but oh so cold. Mercifully there was no wind but the the temperature on the dash said 2°C. We had a short wait for the sun to reach the crater and then grabbed some footage with super long shadows and totally empty roads. The crater is such an other-worldly place anyway but it’s quite something to be up there at sunrise and have the place totally to yourselves. It feels like somebody paved a road on Mars.
I soldiered on in summer kit trying really hard not to visibly shiver during the shots. The windchill on my bare fingers was savage and when we wrapped at one location I jumped back in the car for a 5 minute scream as the blood began to return; Raynaud’s really is no fun at all!
Then it was off to the scene of the crime; further around to southern side of the crater where we both came off on Day 2. The sun was a bit higher now and we bagged some gratuitous lens flare shots on the endless road. Look out for an edit soon on my Instagram feed.
Traffic had started to arrive and we were running out of time anyway, so Matt jumped in the car while I rode the bike back to base. I’d hoped to nab the KOM for the 40km descent but there was a headwind today and I could only manage 4th place, 40 seconds off the top spot. I had a total blast doing it though. How can you not love a 42 minute descent?
42km / 254m climbing / Strava
This short trip packs such a great punch. We were only on Tenerife for 72 hours but that was enough to cover 400km and almost 10,000m of climbing in mostly sunny conditions. I’m in good shape for this time of year and it bodes well for my big target events later in the summer. This is my third such trip to the Canaries and each time it’s cost £450 door-to-door. When winter really starts to bite in the UK a weekend like this offers such a release and a chance to really get your season off to the best start. Where to next?
Big thanks to Crankalicious for getting me to Tenerife with a sparkly clean bike; to Endurance x Nature for the plant-based training fuel and to London Bike Box for keeping the bike safe during the journey.