Trip: Cycling in Tenerife – El Teide

After spending a week in Mallorca earlier this year, I was curious about Tenerife from a cycling perspective. Pro riders from Team Sky and our own Dutch hero’s Kelderman and Kruijswijk seem to enjoy the island and the weather (almost no seasonal influence) so I booked myself a nice apartment in the small fishers village El Medano in the southern part of the island. Had two great flights (via Madrid) with Air Europa in business class and after picking up my rental car at the Tenerife North  Airport it was an easy 45 minute drive to the southern part of the island via the TF1 highway. Clearly this highway was not suitable for cyclists and I got to learn that later on during the week again…

The weapon: Focus Cayo

There are not many options to rent bikes of decent quality on the island and I still don’t want to take the risk of transporting my own bike in the plane. The only solution would be to buy a hard body case, specifically made for transporting bikes but the costs of these type of cases and the additional costs from the airlines only level up if you’re doing trips 3 or more times a year.

I ended up with renting a bike with the guys from Bike Point Tenerife based on some only reviews and recommendations. Monday morning 09:00 the shop opened and I was welcomed by a friendly Belgium guy at their location in El Medano, so actually could talk Dutch this time. They also have a shop in Las Americas and if you’re not in the Southern area, they can deliver.

focus-cayo-teide-background

The bike was ready to go as I walked in: a nice Focus Cayo with disc brakes, DT Swiss R24 wheels and a Stages power meter attached to the left crank. Just needed to be sure I had no excuses based on the materials available during the week. The bike felt quite heavy compared to my light Specialized, but since I wanted to do some decent training, weight was not an issue.

I was really curious about the behaviour of the 160mm disc brakes during the descents and I am still looking for a new bike for next year’s long distance events so this was the ideal chance to do some testing. After descending over 200km this week, I can say I definitely prefer the disc brakes over traditional brakes, no discussion possible. Much more control, no problems with high speeds (and high weight…) so could easily speed down from 70 to 30 km/h if required.

First challenge: el Teide

As always: whenever I take a week off work my body is not accepting it: I got some medical problems (inflamed sinuses) the week before I went to Tenerife and had to take some medication so I wasn’t really feeling well. As I was not sure how my fitness  would develop during the week, I was thinking to check off my first item on the list as soon as possible: climb Mount Teide. If I would end up completely dead, I had a week to recover on the beach!

So after picking up my water bottles, backpack, additional spare tires and mounting some lights on the bike (you never know what can happen, right?) I started the ascent from El Medano: a 51km long climb, averaging around 8% for the first 35km, overall around 4%. There are basically 5 ways to climb to the highest point, this is the longest and most direct route possible from sea level to the 2300m top.

The first part took me from El Medano, through San Isidro to Granadilla via the TF-64 road. Considering the facts this is quite a busy road, the quality of the asphalt was really low. Averaging 6,4%, this was a great way to get warmed up. In Granadilla I took the wrong way: I noticed speeds going up instead of going down so something was not right. After a few minutes I found the signs pointing to the TF-21 that would lead me to the highest village on Tenerife: Vilaflor. The roads had great views since it was curling around the mountain. Road quality was average, not a problem for climbing at all.

After a short recovery break, as many riders do in the last place with bars / restaurants before reaching the summit, I went on for the third part of the climb. The scenery was amazing, seeing the clouds above the sea on the same level as you, almost no cars and occasionally a cyclist flying by on his or her way down. The quality of the road was phenomenal, probably 1-2 years old. This was actually helpful, since this part averages around 9,5%, with some parts above 11% inclines.

Reaching the sign of Mount Teide, at 2100 meters above sea level gives a sense of satisfaction after another 78 minutes of climbing, but then there still is 10km to go to the real finish. It means going down into the crater of the old volcano and climb up another 300 meter before reaching the base of the Teide Volcano.  The moonlike landscape makes you forget the pain in the legs and the wind actually helped me through the last few kilometres.

Overall the climb went quite OK. My legs still lacked power so I cut the climb into several smaller parts and made sure I took a few moments of recovery, hydration and getting my heart rate down again. On the end, including all the breaks it took me around 3,5 hours to reach the summit. Only 1,5 hours behind the Pro’s, so enough space to improve during future climbs.

As I noted before, the quality of the roads overall was not as good as I expected so during the descent, the last 20km was quite tricky. There were some parts of the road I was really hoping nothing would break loose from my bike. Due to the combination of a stiff frame, the disk brakes and the great road between the summit and Vilaflor, I was able to go down quite fast (top speed at 78km/h) for the first 15km but after that it was a challenge to keep on going across all the bumbs, holes and cracks in the road to El Medano. I was happy to wear a wind jacket and the next trip I’ll bring long gloves to prevent cold fingers when going down with these speeds. Strava: 101,7km – 3294m, 5:22:47

Coffee is what I need

Since it was the last day of taking antibiotics and I didn’t fully recovered during the night I just rode around a few of small villages next to the sea. Had a few coffees and rode across the numerous banana plant “factories”. Nothing special but as you can see in the Strava height profile:  flat roads do not exist in Tenerife resulting in over 500 meters of climbing again. Luckily, I was starting to feel better so I had a relaxing day recovering and making “plans” for the rest of the week. Strava: 50,4km – 531m, 2:07:00

A true adventure: a 10 hour ride on chocolate cookies

The only plan I made for the day was climbing el Teide again, but then from the most popular side. In the early morning, during a lovely sunset scene, I rode to Los Cristianos via the TF 655 road. The sun was already shining bright, with temperatures already around 25 Celsius. After having a coffee and a nice chat with the bar owner, who had nothing to do around 09:00 in the morning, I went off for the 45km climb. The first part, following the TF-51 road, was quite heavy. The quality of the roads is  decent so probably this is the best way to go up if you hate bumpy rides. The wind was coming from the North and around Arona some parts were above 14%. Good for waking up!

The TF-51 continued via a number of hairpins and great views over the smaller villages next to the sea. After 71 minutes I entered Vilaflor again, ordered a coffee and enjoyed the views. Since I rode the same road at Monday, I wanted to improve my time for the last 13km as much as possible. This attempt took me 69 minutes compared to 78 the first time. So the next time my goal will be a time below the 1 hour mark.

After I ate an expensive pasta lunch and restocked my water bottles I had to make a decision: go back the same way as I did during the first ride, or try to go via the North route. Google Maps and Strava showed me some roads that I could take to end up with around 120 kilometres in total for the day. Lesson 1: never trust Google and Strava if there is a lot of mountain biking going on. I ended up taking the TF-24, the worst quality major road I’ve seen, to the North. Since it was starting to get cold and the road quality was so bad my arm muscles were having a difficult time I had to stop a few times before I finally found a asphalt road (TF-523) down in the direction of the sea.

tenerife-observatory

During all the coffee breaks, stopping to warm up and trying to find a route back to El Medano, the sun disappeared completely and I was lucky I mounted the lights I bought for the 200km race later this year. The TF-523 was of decent quality and all the locals were having diner already so I had the roads for myself. Finally I arrived at sea level, wanting to take the TF-1 highway to El Medano. There was only one problem, the police didn’t allowed me to ride on the highway and the only way back to El Medano was by taxi or back via the mountains. Since I have been sweating out salt the whole day, my bib-shorts were starting to get hardened due to all the salt and burned away a piece of my ass’ skin every pedal stroke. No pain, no gain is what they tell you, right?
guimar-piramides
Strange Guimar “Piramids”

Back to Güímar was the only real option for me, feeling safe enough with the excellent lights I had installed. The only real challenge was to get across another 1100 meters of climbing before being able to descent again. Since I only had lunch and no dinner, survival mode kicked in and I moved slowly but steadily across the beautiful TF-28 road. Overall the road quality was very well, some exceptions in a few of the villages I crossed.

Riding in the complete dark was something new for me, especially in terrain that goes up and down,  continuously and corners every 50 meters so it took me some time to get used to it. Hunger actually started to kick in and the road was not leading anywhere, circling around many corners.  The great thing about being at 800m heights, without any artificial light sources in the neighbourhood is the amazing view of the sky. A bright moon, so many stars and a clear view of the milky way disk. Not too bad for just a Wednesday night, only some food and fresh legs would make it a bit more comfortable.

Luckily after 2 hours without food I finally found a small supermarket, or a least that was what the sign was telling me. The lady behind the corner probably never heard any English before, even the word “water” was too difficult to understand. I had to choose between cookies, pasta, wine or beer so not much to choose from. I ended up with 3 litres of water and a double pack of American chocolate cookies.

supermarket-to-rescue

That really saved me and gave me back a bit of moral to go one and not ask for any help. Once I was riding again bad my battery from the Garmin died, so next time I always will bring a separate battery to make sure I’ll always be able to use my navigation. I slowly continued my way along the mountain road, enjoying the views of all the small villages below and thinking about the hot shower waiting for me. After another 2 hours I finally managed to get back in El Medano and survived a 10 hour, 184km ride containing almost 5700 meters of climbing. Since all the shops were closed and restaurants didn’t served any food anymore I ate another bunch of chocolate cookies and went to sleep quickly. Strava: 184,2km – 5.679m, 9:58:37

Resting and astronomy

After waking up really early and finding a super market that could help me out with the hunger that developed over the night, I took a short nap and tried to recover a bit from the adventure yesterday. In the afternoon, I took a tour at one of the biggest and modern astronomical observation stations in the world. Next to the ones at Hawaii the observatory at Tenerife is on high grounds (2300 meters above sea level) so it has clear views of the sky year round. In Tenerife the main research is about observing the behaviour of the sun, learning about the developments of stars in solar systems like ours. Fun day, talked with some interesting people and was able to have a look to the sun in detail.

tenerife-observatory2

Ride 4: Teide for the third time

There are 5 main ways to climb el Teide and two of them start from the North side of the island so I had only one real option to go up again: via the small cities of Adeje and taking the TF-38 to go all the way up again. The climb is stretched out over almost 50 kilometres making it less steep compared to the other roads. My legs and buttocks were still hurting quite a lot so I took an easy pace and had a break half way during the climb.

The view was amazing but the road was the worst I’ve encountered on Tenerife. No traffic at all so I think this road is not being taken care of anymore since everyone used the other two main roads to go up to Teide National Park. I would not recommend anyone to go down via the TF-38 because the holes in the road are so deep, it is just not worth taking the risk of crashing.

road-quality-tf38

Road surface TF38 – Photo credits: Liesbeth Muurling

I was already warned but nevertheless I forgot to take enough water with me so the last 1,5 hour I was without water and struggling to keep the pace up. I knew that once I reached the top, I needed to go descent only 35 minutes to get to a nice place to have a coffee and get hydrated again so I just pushed through without thinking. My legs were hurting more than my body was asking for water so that solved it anyway!

After descending to Vilaflor and having a short break, I decided not to take the main road down (TF-??) due to the average quality of the road surface, but to take a alternative route via the smaller TF-655 road. Best choice ever: no traffic at all, great surface and better views without the trees compared to the standard route. Bit more risk since the road was a not as wide and not all the corners had guardrails to catch you when missing a corner but it was worth it. Thoroughly enjoyed the descent! After 5,5 hours I was back in El Medano and had a lovely diner during sunset.
Strava: 122km – 3.064m, 6:04:03

Final Ride: Shut up legs

Again I had a bad night of sleep and my body was not happy with going out on the bike again but luckily my head did wanted to go and do some more climbing. After starting easy, riding to Los Christianos and having lunch I decided to do one small (just 8 kilometres!) climb to end the week. The temperatures raised far above thirty degrees Celsius making it a bit more challenging as I can’t handle those temperatures well. To end the trip with a decent climb, I rode up to San Miguel via the TF-65 which I already rode twice but then in downwards direction. Overall a nice and easy ride and I actually had the feeling I returned more fresh compared to when I stepped out of bed in the morning. Time to recover for the 200km race next week. Hopefully my body created enough natural EPO and red blood cells so I can perform outstanding at Drenthe200 without being questioned about my results. Strava: 67,8km – 1.245m, 3:19:07

sanmiguel-view

San Miguel view

Tenerife cycling Trip Summary

Overall I was a bit disappointed by the road quality. Some roads really were so bad, that it took away the fun of cycling.and spending all the hours on the bike. Especially if your pushing hard, giving everything you have and then the road is making you suffer even more by requiring additional efforts all the time. El Medano is a great place to stay, not to many tourists and enough shops and restaurants. The route possibilities are numerous but if you go for 2+ weeks, it could be a bit limited if you look to the longer climbs available. I performed less as I wanted but considering the fact that I had to start the week with antibiotics and did some brutal efforts at Wednesday, I’m happy with the amount of climbing I did. Next trip? Probably Mallorca again or explore Gran Canaria!

One thought on “Trip: Cycling in Tenerife – El Teide”

  1. Jan
    Well done again for your #IPWR ride which was clearly tougher in lots of ways other than you expected it to be. Very sad indeed.
    Thought I would let you know that 4 weeks ago I too hired a bike a bike from Bike Point and tried to ride up Mount Teide.
    Funnily enough the Belgium guy also served me but seeing my age and weight kept insisting I should take an electric one, little did I know !
    Informing him that I had ridden some Alpine climbs we settled on a Ridley Fenix which was a nice bike.
    So pedals fitted ruck sack on back I set off. Climbing from the shop up to the garage on the right I felt ok and then it dropped down and I had to get over to the other side to start the climb.
    Starting the climb was where the pain began to set in and I realised my weight which is 15st and age 66.
    But I struggled on up and up, stopping starting walking, walking was the thing I really did not want to do but when needs must and all that.
    On and on it went and more and more other cyclists passed me until I got to Granadilla where I stopped for a coffee which turned into two and a longer stop.
    It was at this point that riding back down hill felt more appealing than continuing to ride uphill and I set off back to our hotel.
    I consoled myself by remembering what the café owner had told me about some cyclists putting their bikes onto a bus and just cycling back down so at least I hadn’t done that.
    So it was interesting to read that you had ridden it so many times and even though you clearly are a seasoned cyclist you still found it tough going.
    After viewing all the YouTube videos as I will never be able to do one I am definitely going to become a spot follower as I just find what you all do very interesting and such a personal achievement for you all.
    Good luck on the British one and I look forward to following you all. regards Ted

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