Cycling in Tenerife
Fed up of having bad weather on your training camps or want to get away from the horrible winter weather at home? Looking to get your 2014 sportive or racing season off to a flying start? Are you training for one of the big randonnees such as the RAID Alpine or events like the Etape du Tour or La Marmotte?
Tenerife is the perfect winter/spring training location or also a great place to get some relaxed winter sun riding in.
Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands, 200 miles off the west coast of Africa. It is a four-hour flight from the UK but conveniently within the same time zone. Triangular in shape, it is dominated by the volcano positioned right in the middle of it. The very top of El Teide is 3,718m, making it the highest mountain in a Spanish territory but the road, the part we were interested in, only goes to a little over 2,300m.
The climate in Tenerife makes it the perfect winter training camp destination. The south side is in the rain shadow of El Teide and is dry and barren, but the north is more lush and green. This makes for varied riding even on a relatively small island. The road circumference of Tenerife is just 358.88 km.
The weather in Tenerife is much more stable and predictable. Even in December when we visited temperatures can reach as high as 26Â°C in the day and they remain a comfortable 10-15Â°C at night.
Beyond the pleasant climate, the relatively cheap flights and a wealth of accommodation, there is one very significant reason why Tenerife is a great winter cycling destination: El Teide itself. Although not the highest road in Europe, it is the longest continuous ascent as you have the opportunity to start the climb from sea level.
In just 35km you can ride from zero to 2,100m and it really is continuous, not a flat section or banked hairpin alleviates the strain on your legs. For the dedicated pro rider looking to accumulate as much climbing as possible it is perfect. You can cover as much as 4,000m a day in a relatively short distance.
Altitude training as a way of increasing your red blood cell count and improving your capacity to process oxygen is well documented. Cyclists and other endurance athletes have been going to altitude for performance benefits since the early 1990s.
Some riders struggle to make high-intensity efforts at altitude, an obvious problem if you are riding the cols of Europe in events such as the Etape, the Marmotte or indeed the Tour de France, so a period of altitude training will help them to acclimatize as well as offering training benefits.
In the 2010 Tour Wiggins struggled with the longer, higher passes so on the suggestion of coach Tim Kerrison the key players earmarked for the 2011 Tour headed to Tenerife. There they would be able to cover any metres of ascent and spend time climbing at altitude. After his first two-week Tenerife camp he won the CritÃ©rium du DauphinÃ©, at that point the biggest win of his career.
“Unlike some high-altitude venues, it’s possible to train at sea level, which is less damaging at high intensity; unlike Alpine locations the weather is relatively stable in April and May.”
On that particular camp Wiggins was climbing up to 4,000m a day. He was also working on very specific intervals between 1,500m and 2,200m, the point at which the oxygen reduction in the air due to altitude starts to have an effect.
With nearly all roads leading to the top of El Teide it is easy to do your training rides on either the lower slopes or the upper slopes. At the lower altitudes you are able to train more intensely because of the oxygen available, with the added benefit that you are doing your body less damage so will be able to recover more quickly. Even without going over 1,500m you could still easily accumulate 2,000-3,000m simply by ascending repeatedly to the mid-point of the climb.
Tenerife is a fantastic winter destination. The weather is warm and stable and the roads away from the coast are quiet and well made. However, the climbing could be a problem for some. Before training on Tenerife you need to have developed a reasonable level of base fitness to get the most benefit from the long climbs and riding at altitude.
If you hate climbing and have a low level of fitness you may find the day after day relentless climbing too much for your body or your psyche. However, the gradients are easier than many mainland European climbs and certainly less steep than a lot of UK hills, so while the climbing is more continuous it is a question of endurance as much, if not more so, than strength.