Words: Katherine Moore (@katherinebikes)
If you really can’t stand climbing, don’t go to Tenerife. And if you only do the climbing to earn rapid descents, think again. But if you’re after a welcome relief from wet and cold winter miles, a chance to rekindle your relationship with that shiny summer bike in a land of unbelievable landscapes and challenges, Tenerife is the destination for you.
From the sea to the top of Mount Teide, the volcano that dominates the island, there is a range of roads to explore, from steep and testing urban streets to Scandinavian-like forests, switchbacks through banana plantations to the moonscape of the volcanic summit.
Read on to discover why Tenerife is an awesome choice for a winter escape and some advice for when you get there.
Winter in the UK can be tough for even the hardiest of riders equipped with the best technical kit: winter bikes, full mudguards and a good helping of determination to weather the storm, quite literally. In the dark and blue early months of the year, Tenerife is the warmest destination within Europe, just a quick and cheap flight away.
The Canary Islands lie off the West coast of Africa and are privileged to warm weather year round. Unlike Fuerteventura, AKA the ‘windy island’, the calmer weather of Tenerife earned it the name of the ‘Isla de la Eterna Primavera’, or the island of the eternal spring, for its year-round mild, dry and sunny climate; perfect for riding. Average temperatures range from 17 to 24 degrees Celsius, so you can ditch the winter layers and reach for the bib-shorts year round.
Exploring new roads away from your home training grounds, you’ll be pleased to find a real variety of different landscapes with only one thing in common; you’ll either be going up or down. Forget miles upon miles of flat seaside stretches or fast rural lanes - expect to be heaving up out of the saddle up a sudden 20 percent side street wondering whether you’ll even make it or spinning away for hours uphill in a constant, sustainable rhythm.
But it’s not all hard work - the effort will earn you the most incredible views over dramatic coastal cliffs and barren volcanic scenes like nothing you’ve seen before. It’s amazing that on an island only the size of the Lake District, with so many different environments you could easily believe that you were in the Andes of South America or the Arizona desert.
Challenge yourself on the climbs
Many cyclists choose Tenerife to tackle the monster Hors Catégorie (HC) climb that is Mount Teide. From sea level to the highest road, there’s 2356m of climbing, making it the longest continuous climb in Europe. Compare that to the Col du Tormalet climbing 1404m over 19km or Mont Ventoux ascending 1617m over 21.8km, and you can soon see why this challenge is just too devilish to resist.
There are five main routes up the volcanic mountain; via La Oratava in the North, Vilaflor from Los Cristianos or from El Médano in the South, from La Laguna in the East and via Chío in the West. Each varies in length, average gradient and road quality, giving a good choice of different routes to try. A single ascent really does make a whole ride, with hours in the saddle ascending through different zones from coast to forest to the lunar landscape over up to 52km.
8 Top Tips for Cycling in Tenerife
So - perhaps we've convinced you. Maybe you're even booking your flights and writing your cycling holiday kit list right now. If so - then we've got some tips to help make sure you enjoy every second.
Plan your routes
Unlike cycling in the UK when it’s usually better to stay off the main roads, in Tenerife, it’s a good idea. These roads provide an easy to follow route, usually wide and well-surfaced roads, and most importantly a gentle gradient - in comparison the side streets that is! Don’t be tempted by the most direct routes; these entail unbelievably steep residential roads that seem impossible to ride either up or down!
When planning your day's route, throw mileage aspirations out of the window. Forget about distance here - it’s the altitude gain that’ll determine how long you’re in the saddle. It’s a good idea to start small and build up - you’ll be amazed how much harder a fifty-kilometre ride is here when you throw in over a thousand metres of climbing. Pace yourself too, especially on the long climbs, remembering that even the pros take hours up some of these challenging ascents.
Hire a Berlingo
Well, it doesn’t have to be a Citroen Berlingo, but it seems to be the locals’ choice and great for transporting bikes around the island very economically. With a hire car, you’ll be able to start rides from different areas of the island; enabling you to explore much more of its varied terrain. Must-ride routes include the spectacular ride to Masca from Garachico and the beautiful TF-12 route in the Anaga Mountains.
Fuel for the ride
Hours of effort in the saddle demands energy - there’s often no respite, a chance for a tow or to coast here so it’s imperative that you keep adequately fuelled. You should get to know your requirements whilst riding before you visit, but remember that at a high intensity you’ll need plenty of reserves, so it’s well worth having a pocket full of your favourite cycling snacks.
Don’t be afraid to be unconventional too - a ‘bocadillo’ (filled baguette to you and I) is perfectly pocket shaped and provides a welcome savoury relief when halfway up the mountain. Add your name to the visitor's book in cycling cafe Snack-Bar Parada in Chio if you’re passing and say hello to local cycling legend. There’s fantastic local cuisine for after the ride too, such as the speciality Canarian potatoes, ‘papas’, with mojo dressing giving a really delicious way to stock back up both on carbs and salt!
Dress to descend
Getting your kit right can make the difference between having an awesome ride and a miserable one. When riding in Tenerife, you can find a range of weather environments on a single ride, so it’s important to be prepared for them all. Remember that even if the weather forecast is for a cloud, if you’re climbing Mount Teide you’ll ride above them - don’t forget the suncream!
Descents are often very long and can get very chilly - especially when descending through cloud which can feel more like a light drizzle. Packing a windproof jacket or arm warmers and a gilet will help you get back down safely and enjoy the ride.
You’ll want to check before you jet off that your bike is geared suitably for the sorts of gradients and lengths of climbs that Tenerife offers.
Compact chainsets [50/34 tooth chainrings specced on most women's and endurance bikes] and large ratio cassettes [11-32 is considered large ratio] are much more suitable than race gearing and will make life a whole lot more enjoyable for you. Several manufacturers are now introducing super compact chainsets [48/32 tooth chainrings], such as the FSA Adventure Cranks, allowing you to increase your climbing range whilst keeping your existing road cassette and derailleurs.
Train with the Pros
Keep an eye out on the roads for pro teams when you’re riding in Tenerife. Many world-class teams choose the island not only for its great and varied climbs but to sleep at altitude which promotes blood haemoglobin affinity for oxygen, improving aerobic capacity. Pros including Team Sky and Trek-Segafredo use the unassuming Parador Hotel at over 2000m altitude to help their athletes reach optimum fitness for the season ahead.
Stop to take in the views
If you’re so focused on smashing it up the climbs for that QOM or KOM that you never stop to take in the view, you’re missing out. Tenerife offers such a diversity of landscapes and vistas that every ride offers something different - look out for the ‘Mirador’ signs, meaning viewpoint. It’s such a gorgeous reward, and you’ve earnt it.
There’s nothing but a four-hour flight between you and some truly enjoyable winter miles, on an island of incredible landscapes, roads to challenging your legs with and the miracle of great weather year-round. So what are you waiting for?
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