Training in Tenerife
The winter training camp. It's every amateur cyclist's dream. Give almighty thanks to your almighty if you're ever lucky enough to be faced with the dilemma of choosing between Tenerife and Mallorca as a February cycling destination.
Teide or Sa Calobra? Patatas canarias or patatas bravas? Dos o tres cervezas? Decisions, decisions, delicious decisions. There's no wrong decision of course, but on this occasion I chose the extra few degrees of warmth afforded by Tenerife in February over the variety and sophistication of Mallorca.
But where on the island exactly? The south boasts more sunshine, but more of the bucket-and-bingo tourist traps that come with it. The north offers more greenery and less traffic, but fewer bike hire shops.
I plumped for the small town of Garachico, nestled on the north coast. Mostly because the Quinta Roja hotel looked like somewhere my wife might like to stay. Not being a cyclist, she didn't see the appeal of a three-day cycling break and chose to stay home.
Time and Teide wait for no man
Tenerife tip number one: book as far ahead as you possibly can. The earlier you book, the more of the grim winter months you'll be able to spend savouring warm weather thoughts and plotting your routes on Strava.
What a joy to be packing short-sleeved jerseys and shorts when it's grey and cold outside. A joy surpassed only by the thrill of not having to dismantle a bike and lever it into a box. I'd chosen instead to reserve one of yer fancy-looking carbon bikes through Bike Point Tenerife to save time in transit.
Transit was a ball-ache nevertheless. An easyJet delay preceded a surprisingly long flight, made to feel longer by a queasiness I don't usually experience mid-air. We descended in the dusk and by the time I'd queued for the hire car and driven to Garachico it was pitch black. Shivering like a whippet by now, immediate sleep seemed the best option.
Day One: Playa las Americas to Vilaflor (and back)
With breakfast forced down, I navigated the hairpin bends that cling to the impossibly steep mountains overshadowing the town. The highway then took me to Playa las Americas, the armpit of Tenerife, where my steed was stabled. Despite having sent through the measurements from a recent bike fit at Cadence in Crystal Palace (brilliant), it took a frustrating amount of fiddling and fettling to get the bike feeling right.
The plan for day one was to take one of the main routes from the south-west up Teide, the volcano whose ancient eruptions gave rise to the island. See, Zwift isn't the only place where you can ride up an active volcano. Out of the shop and over the busy motorway, the climb begins right away. My target destination was Vilaflor, a small town that serves as a staging post on the popular western ascent. Over 1400m of climbing in just 23km. A nice, gentle warm-up.
The views aren't necessarily the best from this side, the roads aren't the best either, and the weather on the day was far from the best, but boy it felt good to be riding in the warmth. Not for too long, mind.
Despite a good night's sleep, I was suffering with my mystery bug. Weak of body and weak of mind, thoughts soon turned to turning back. Halfway to Vilaflor, I climbed off the bike and perched my backside on the kerbside, shattered. I swapped texts with Andy, knowing he'd be eager for updates. Naturally, he urged me to man up and push on, like an evil cheerleader.
So push on I did, diverting myself from defeatist thoughts by swiping from screen-to-screen on the Garmin to check progress. Average power (crap), average speed (crap), average cadence (crap), average heart rate (weak), distance travelled and metres gained (not much more than last time I looked). After many tired turns of the pedals, I slumped, sweating under the canopy of a service station on the edge of Vilaflor.
Not too many options from there but to freewheel back the way I came. Sweat, fever and the vibrations of the stiff carbon frame combined to chill my bones and set my teeth a-chatter. Napoleon's retreat from Moscow was more dignified.
Day Two: the Teno Massif including Masca
The plan for day two was to ride west along the coast before climbing inland through the Parque Rural de Teno and looping back to Garachico. The weather forecast wasn't great, but I was feeling much better and when you only have three days to ride, a rest day is unthinkable.
The road to Buenavista in the north-eastern corner of Tenerife is unremarkable, but once you've taken a hard left through the working town, you get to glimpse a part of Tenerife only a minority of visitors experience. No cyclists to be seen. No cars or coaches. Not too many people fullstop come to think of it.
Banks of cloud the colour of wet slate overshadowed the hills ahead. A drenching appeared inevitable, but I spent much of my youth queueing outside the clubs of Manchester. My spirit wasn't dampened. A coastal road return remained the less appealing option. No going back.
The further from Buenavista you get, the better the views become, which is kind of ironic. As the road rises in twists and turns, scrabbly grass turns to rich foliage. Over centuries the steep slopes of the Tena Massif have been cultivated in terraced steps, reminiscent of balinese paddy fields.
Predictably, the rain began to fall. First fine mist, then tepid drizzle, then a proper downpour, pear drops bouncing off the tarmac. In no time, water was cascading across the road surface with my front wheel carving a shallow wake. I sought temporary shelter at a bus stop, with a random kitten for company. We've sadly lost touch since.
Masca lay ahead. A four kilometre climb with an average gradient of 11% - nearly double that of Teide. The road snakes around the lush mountainside of the Parque de Tena, its concrete barriers resembling the Great Wall of China - although this wall could hardly be seen across the valley, never mind from the moon. I'd love to return and give it a go in clement conditions.
The drop off the other side would have been exhilarating in the dry. On the day of my descent, it was more like a Bon Jovi album: slippery when wet. Cold too. I was chilly by the time I reached Santiago (as opposed to Santiago in Chile), but at least the rain had relented.
The TF-82 is the main road north out of Santiago. Unless you like sharing your highways with 16-wheel trucks grinding their gears, I'd suggest you find a way to avoid it. The section from there to El Tanque was a drag, but the reward for all the drudgery was a splendid seascape and a series of serpentine switchbacks that deposited me back in Garachico, trigger fingers frozen to the brake levers.
Day Three: Teide from La Orotava
Sun's out, guns out. Welcome warmth. Electric blue skies.
I chose to bundle the bike in the hire car and drive to La Orotava, about 30km east of Garachico. You could start at sea level in Puerto de la Cruz, but I was keen to avoid the busier roads. It was easy to find a shady parking spot near the foot of the climb and with a clip of the cleats I was in the saddle and off.
The 35km ascent of Teide from La Orotava offers three distinct stages. First, the sprawl of the small town, with the detatched villas and roadside restaurants getting ever sparser. The road is smooth and accommodating. It wasn't long before I was looking over my shoulder and marvelling at how far above the town I'd already risen.
After 10 kilometres of steady ascent, you're beyond the burbs and into pine forest. It's kind of foresty - trees, leaves, that sort of thing - and it goes on (and on and on) for another 15 kilometres. The sun wasn't brutal, but had it been, the tall trees would have offered welcome patches of shade. Best set off early if you're planning to do this any later than April.
Then it gets interesting as you enter the expansive crater of the volcano. The next 10 kilometres brings some of the most other-worldly cycling terrain you'll experience in Europe. If you frequent the Atacama desert, Australia's red centre, or the planet Mars it might appear mundane. Coming from the green garden of England, it felt positively foreign. Even the road surface looks parched.
The hamlet/drive-through of Las Cañadas de Teide offers a handy place to stop for a cold coke. The last space base in the galaxy. Even out of season, there were a couple of coachloads of extraterrestrial tourists queueing.
Then onwards to the foot of the volcano cone that itself sits within a larger crater - the highest point you can reach by road, around 2,400m above sea level. A cablecar - the Teleférico del Teide - marks the spot. With the road flattening out, I rode on a little further, just to be sure I'd summited.
Then down down down again. Pack a gilet and gloves as it's cool at that altitude. You might also want to pack a good book, a deck of cards, or a board game to pass the time on the interminable descent. With the gradient being so gentle, there are few sharp turns to test your bike handling skills. It feels peevish to complain that it's just a little bit tiresome, as well as tiring.
Tenerrific or Tenerrible?
Would I recommend a cycling trip to Tenerife? Hell, yes. It's warm, friendly and convenient. Who wouldn't want to ride the same roads as the pro teams and add an active volcano to their palmarès? But having since been cycling in Mallorca, I'd probably return there first. There's just more island to discover. For the same reason, I'd love to visit Gran Canaria. Or there's Girona, or Andalucia, or Calpé, Denia and Javea on the Costa Brava... the list, thankfully, goes on.
The other brother
It's ‘only’ taken Steve the three years to do this write-up. With any other review, in any other year, I’d have been gently pressuring with the odd (by that, I actually mean frequent) unsubtle hint by text. ‘Any closer with Tenerife?’... ‘Desperate to read it, bet it’s awesome’... ‘Can’t wait to share it’... But this year is obviously totally different to any that have gone before.
Covid this, coronavirus that... Life has changed and so has social cycling. Not for the better. So it was refreshing to get a blast from the past, nice to get a reminder about LBC (Life Before Covid). It gives me hope that one day, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, things will get back to somewhere remotely normal and we can get back to planning amazing trips together. And when we do, Tenerife and Teide will now be near the top of my list.