Here’s a rather long report of a week spent training in Gran Canaria – a nice spot to get some fitness before the race season but also a holiday! A week I’ll never forget, full of banter, with Shane, Aidan, Al, Graham and Daniel – top lads!
I did 28 hours, 410 miles and 46,000 ft of climbing!
After a sound nights sleep we went to collect our bicycles from Freemotion in Playa del Ingles. I was equipped with a Cannondale Supersix with a Shimano Ultegra groupset – good enough for me! After changing into our kit it was time to hit the sunny roads of Gran Canaria. I’d planned a relatively easy day to get the legs back into gear after a day of sitting on trains and planes – well I say easy, as easy as a category 1 climb and 50 miles can get! Navigation out of Playa Del Ingles and west to Puerto Mogan was made easy by the GC-500, a relatively quiet road that follows the twists, the turns, and the ups and downs on the southern coast – by English standards it’s quite a lumpy road. Once at Puerto Mogan we headed North up the valley to Mogan, gradually climbing, enjoying the majestic scenery – similar to the Grand Canyon. Inside the valleys the temperature can get quite hot, upwards of 25 degrees in January – plenty of sunscreen and water required!
The ride to Mogan was not too hard but a few miles later you come to a junction which is sign posted to Soria/Ayacatta, and the road suddenly veers up and away – time to engage the lower gears, and hit the switchbacks. This was my first experience of a climb with numerous switchbacks, and distance – I was excited by the new sensations – but I held back as much as possible because I’m not sure of my fitness on long climbs, having never done them before. Six riders became two, as Shane piled the pressure on the group – climbing really well, having put some hard training in over the winter, I managed to stick by but I wasn’t feel great, having just enough to follow the wheel. We turned off at a junction sign posted for Soria, climbed a bit more, then took quite a rough, technical descent to Soria – our chosen stop for the day. Papaya juice and a Spanish tortilla was the fuel, and it was great to enjoy the local grub sat in the sun.
Once back on the bicycles (we had to separate mine and Shanes as they became mysteriously attached) we flew down the descent, which wasn’t technical, and levelled off to a gradual descent quite quickly. The wind was in our faces, me and Aidan took up the front, with the others coming through after awhile. Once back on the coast road, near Arguineguin, I had a sudden burst of energy and what followed was an every man for himself smash fest…so much for easing into the week ahead – we got back home fast though!
Plenty of food and rest, then we were back at it again – this time 65 miles, and a longer climb. The route started out very similar to the first day – out along the coast road, climb to the Soria junction but here we continued on. I pressed on here and again Shane was my climbing buddy – the climb doesn’t extend much further before it levels off and you descend for a bit (just after a fruit shack). Aidan caught us up but as soon as the road went skywards again Shane gave it some beans and we were a two again.
I really suffered here, and I would suffer on this very same part of the climb later on in the week on Thursday – it’s a gradual 5%, not a great surface, no switchbacks – nothing for a climber to get excited by. I felt the bonk coming but held on, really gritting my teeth as we finally made it to the food stop at Ayacata! I felt bad but once at the cafe Shane and me had to wait for Aidan (a few minutes behind) and then Daniel, Al and Graham – who lost between 30-45 minutes! It took Shane and myself 1 hr 10 minutes…a hard climb! Ayacata has a few places to stop for food and is a nice Spanish diversion from the resorts on the coast of Gran Canaria. You’d think all the climbing was done now but you have a couple of shorter inclines before the descent down to San Bartolme starts – not very technical but you can expect to catch a few cars and pass them. Once at San Bartolme you have to do a real leg breaker of a short climb – 13.6% for 300 metres – we were all tired by this point so it was a real grind! Thankfully a long descent follows to a place called Fataga…but yes, you guessed it, another climb follows, at least 2 miles long, to a viewpoint above Maspalomas at 500 metres altitude. Mind and body was tired after this last bump, and I was pretty happy to be back in the hotel after a 6 mile descent!! Another day in the bag!
We had an epic ride planned today – straight to the top of island, the Pico de las Nieves, at 6,300 ft from sea level – all in about a 30 mile climb! At the start of the ride I suffered quite badly with acid reflux, which was also affecting Aidan – it was probably a result of eating so much throughout the week, my digestive system never really coped with all the calories being thrown at it. The climb from Maspalomas to San Bartolme is a gradual one, with a descent from the viewpoint I climbed up to the day earlier – this is mid way in the climb. We had a nice coffee stop at San Bartolme, knowing the pain that was in store later. Once we got back on the bicycles we continued to the top, first going to Ayacata, and then north from here – it’s here you meet the first hard section, with gradients at or around 10% – Shane pushed on and it was Aidan and me who stuck with the big Irishman. Shane stopped at the viewpoint Roque Nublo but me and Aidan wanted to push on. The climb levels off for a good few miles and you find yourself in dense pine forest, the smell was glorious, although I hated the waft of BBQ from one of the campsites. At this point me and Aidan actually thought we’d done the climb…we were in store for some real punishment as the road did eventually head upwards again once turning off the GC-600 – the final few miles had a real sting, in part made harder by a shocking bit of road – someone wants you to have really earned the summit! Aidan dropped off my wheel and I was alone, I love a proper grind and felt pretty emotional up there, maybe that’s my altitude sickness but that final few miles is why I ride a bicycle – part exploration, part suffering, part achieving. The summit, with Mount Teide in the distance was worth every breath and heartbeat to make it to the top. All the lads made it to the top, we all had our own journey getting there!
On the descent down I felt like pushing on so was again riding by myself – what fun, the sun in my face, leaning in and out of corners, overtaking cars, rising out the saddle and sprinting up any inclines – I could descend in Gran Canaria for the rest of my life. We returned back to San Bartolme, this time for a cheese and ham sandwich and a Fanta. Once back on the bicycles, within an hour we were back in the hotel – time for reflection on a truly epic day. Well, reflection, and more food.
Rest. Well needed rest. After the third day of riding my legs never really went back to feeling fresh, for the rest of the week I felt fatigue – which would be grim in Northumberland but with the sun on your back it’s nothing. Even so, today was a ‘rest’ day – if 3 hours in the saddle is a rest day. My average heart rate was down under 130, which for me is nice and easy. The loop was up to San Bartolme from Maspalomas, then descend to Santa Lucia and finally onto the GC-500 coast road, which has the added boost of a tailwind – this way is a very easy ride back home. Well it would of been but for the Spanish police that stopped me, Shane and Al (the rest of the group did an easier day) because of a minor traffic violation – we were shouted at because we hadn’t stopped at a stop sign – I’d slowed down, looked for traffic and continued – anyway, here I just had to accept any verbal bashing and move on. I’m not the sort who likes to break red lights and road rules anyway.
The afternoon was great – finally some chilled out hours, we headed to the dunes in Maspalomas – a great landscape!
The fifth day already! Today I’d planned a long ride, and today I suffered like a dog – one of those days where I spent the whole day sitting on. We followed the coast road west again, climbed to Mogan and then hit the hard climb to Ayacata – growing in confidence I increased the pace on the switchbacks, then recovering – if I go back I’ll be ready to properly attack, it feels natural for a skinny guy like me. Aidan had a few digs but it was Al who then came to the fore – I had to sit on his wheel a bit, and thankfully we had a short break for water at the fruit shack mid way into the climb. From here it was a sufferfest – I just clung to Al’s wheel – we weren’t going fast but I didn’t have much energy – I made it to the top and wasn’t broken! After two chocolate bars in Ayacata we descended all the way to Santa Lucia via San Bartolme – we stopped proper in Santa Lucia for some tapas (!) – a random choice and one that would cost us 10 euros each! Back home the easy way, where the powerhouse Aidan did a great effort on the coast road (some 30 mi/h sections) – Aidan did a lot of work on the front throughout the trip, good man!
I didn’t take a photograph this day – I think I couldn’t be bothered with the effort required!
The biggest ride of the holiday on the second last day – I must be mad! I’d wanted to do this ride for about 6 months – it included the Valley of the Tears, one of the toughest climbs in Europe, or so they say – on top of that there was a long climb over to San Nicolas. Good job my legs felt okay, not fresh, but not as bad as the previous day. We took it easy all the way to San Nicolas, where we stopped for a drink – over on this side of the island (the west) it was quite hot, with little wind. When we entered the valley before the VOTT my Garmin read 35 degrees…I thought I was going to melt. I knew the climb started at the bottom of a dam, and the lead up seemed to go on for ages, the anticipation of what was to come – would we survive!? It was a relief to finally hit the lower slopes, and yes, it was relentlessly steep for a few miles, upwards of 20% gradient, on a rubbish surface – rear wheel spin, pull up on the bars, control the breathing, punch the pedals, keep going. I love this stuff, the hard steep stuff but I controlled myself early on – Al and Shane followed me in the short but slightly dangerous descent before you get to Carrizal – once here you can see a wall which you have to cycle up, it broke everyone, and I was alone, out in front. In truth, on a climb like this, you can only go at your own pace and just suffer it out. Dare I say I enjoyed it, roads don’t get more epic than this – it was just continously pitched upwards, with no choice but to pedal to conquer it. Once passed through El Toscon it almost felt easy, maybe the gradient eased, or I sensed the end which was only a couple of miles away. And that was that, the Valley of the Tears…done, and in good time, I could go faster on fresh legs…I’d love to go back again!
From the top we descended to Ayacata for a drink, then to San Bartolme for something to eat. I stopped pushing on and enjoyed myself, knowing my time on Gran Canaria was very finite. As I descended I had the biggest smile on my face, perhaps a happy tear or two – what an experience. You can’t help but smile and be thankful for your health. I’ll try and think of this emotion when I’m feeling down or I’m beaten up in a bicycle race – nothing feels better than a hard day, finished with a long sunny descent – cycling at its best!
And before we knew it, it was over. Well, we had just enough time to soak up some more sun, heading west on the coast road and up along the road to Soria from Arguineguin – Grahams knee was bothering him so we called in early to have a drink at a local spot. Once back on the road the hammer went down, so other riders blazed past and Al/Shane couldn’t help but join in the blast, I sat back with Graham and Daniel but we quickly found ourselves in the big ring. Graham sprinted full gas to bridge the gap, suddenly finding himself in no mans land, clever boy! I luckily had Daniels wheel to sit on (getting stronger all week) and he took us across. Once back on the coast road, Al and Daniel smashed it, and I sat on (a broken man) – we blazed home. Shower, eat, take the bicycle back, fly home. Done.