Back in rainy old Amsterdam now, layering up against the cold again.. Less than a week ago I was still enjoying the stunning and exhilarating landscape of the largest of the small group of Canarian islands, situated just a few hundred kilometers off the coast of west-Africa.
Tenerife is a popular tourist destination in general. With the British holiday go-ers on the south of the island, the germans on the north and everyone else scattered all over the rest of the island. What many don’t know is that Tenerife has grown to become, arguably, one of the most popular destinations for professional road(race) cyclists to do their winter preparation for the upcoming season. As a results many enthusiast (like myself) end up renting a bike from one of the local shops and share the hills with local riders, amateurs and professionals alike. Making it into a colourful and mixed scene out on the roads. I must say I really, really enjoyed that.
I was positively surprised at how respectful local drivers are of cyclists sharing the road. Particularly on the climbs where the cyclists do not carry that much speed, they courteously stay behind the rider until there is a very clear opportunity to pass them. When doing so they leave a rich space of at least 2 meters between themselves and the cyclist so as not to scare him/her. Amazing! In contrast: My nation is called a ‘cyclists heaven’ but by no means are car drivers this respectful and considerate out on the roads where I am from. Something to observe and learn from.
Anyway, the point here is that mid-week during my stay with my lovely better half I mustered the courage to attempt the ascent of the Mt. Teide from the north-eastern side by starting in one of the island’s most beautiful and oldest towns, La Orotava.
Of course, I left from home and would cycle a loop until I was back home. If you take yourself even a little bit serious as a cyclist you cycle from begin to end. So same rule applied to my attempt. I started in San Juan de la Rambla, where I was staying and rode the first 20km to La Orotava without any worries. There the climb from almost sea-level to the highest point of paved road started in earnest. This part of the climb is 6% in average gradient for a whopping 37 km straight. Something this kid from the low lands had never attempted before. Understandably I was quite nervous to see what would happen.
But things went well.. very well.
One third up the climb the last opportunity to fill up with water presents itself in the form of a little town called Aguamansa. I duly filled up my two bidons and continued on, only to stop after a couple of minutes to put on every extra layer of clothing I had with me as the temperature had rapidly dropped from a comfortable 19 degrees in La Orotava, to a shivering 3.5 degrees in the shadow of the mountain at around 1000m elevation.
On I went.. ‘keep the pace steady’ I kept telling myself. I rode the climb based on a particular heart rate zone I was familiar with and knew I could maintain for a long time. This way I could keep up a nice speed yet not go overboard. I wasn’t allowing myself to blow up and struggling the rest of the climb and the rest of my ride. The other thing I kept telling myself is ‘to keep eating at least one piece of food every 50 minutes’ When you do a long distance ride up a high mountain your body burns a tremendous amount of calories. When you are riding your bike for 7-8 hours straight it is essential that you re-fuel at set intervals so as not to run out of energy and hit a wall. So I kept eating and drinking diligently which worked out well.
At around 1800m elevation I started to develop a light headache. The thought ‘lack of oxygen due to high altitude’ crossed my mind. The head ache wouldn’t give way and I started to be a bit light headed and nauseous too. Definitely less oxygen available to my brain. No real cause for alarm, just not a pleasant state to exercise in. I kept a close eye on it, but after a while the head ache and nausea eased off and then disappeared completely.
After this brief setback I crested the summit and was cruising along the impressive crater rim. Here the gradient is much less steep and you can pick up speed again. It’s still another 10 km to get to the cable car station where you can hitch a ride to the ‘pico’ of the Teide. A jaw-dropping height of 3500m. The road up to the foot of the cable car station is the highest paved road in the whole of the island, so I wanted to make it up there too, to include it into my ride.
After a short rest and a couple of silly selfies I continued on to conclude the ride. Supposedly the fun part was now starting, a swooping 1 hour long descent, but luck was not on my side. Against all odds (and fair warning by the local roadies) I chose the worst of all four possible descents you can take to come down from the mountain. The road from Bauca Tauce to Chio is by far, far the worst of the four and to be frank one of the most shocking (literally) pieces of road I have ever had the ‘pleasure’ of riding on. The first 50 minutes of the descent (average 45-55 km/h) were just gruesome. The road was broking up in multiple places with potholes and loose stones everywhere. I had to ride with my bum off the saddle, using my legs as shock-breakers for most of the downhill as my spine would have been pulverised if I’d stayed in the seat. Skinny tires and potholes are never going to be friends… Just 10km before the bottom of the descent the road turned into smooth tarmac again and the grin on my face returned. Lazy left and right handers alternated and I was flying. No feeling like riding a bike downhill fast with a stunning landscape greeting you around every corner as you descend down further and further.
At Santiago del Teide I enjoyed a much needed chicken caesar salad for lunch with a large glass of coke. I refilled my water at the petrol station and continued on through toward home crossing though the Masca area, which contains some of the most hard and steep climbs in the whole island, with ramps up to and above 20% gradient.
After I left the peaks of Masca behind I was well on my way home. The last little climb I had to do before I could just coast down toward home was a road leading back up to 500m elevation up and over the ancient port of Garachico, a little coastal town that was covered entirely by a late volcanic eruption in the early 1700s before being rebuild again from the ground up. The Garachico area provides ample opportunities to take stunning scenic pictures. From here it was pretty much downhill for the last 15 km and after a long day out I arrived home safe and sound, filled with memories that will last a lifetime.
Here are some of the stats from the day.
Moving time: 7h05min
Total km: 155,9
Elevation gain: 4040 meters
Calories burned: 5172
Speed: Avg: 22km/h Max: 73,8 km/h
Link to the activity on Strava https://www.strava.com/activities/47968386