Cycling in Tenerife: Cycling Monk and the Synergy Volcano Tour
It's mid-morning. It's still dark. Through the window, you see a film of damp cloak everything, the patio, the driveway, the pavements. Remnants of last week's snowfall still cling to the street gutters, dirtied and brown now and pockmarked as if violated by a shotgun.
You crane your neck to see if the low, dark cloud is followed by a lower, darker companion. The forecast, unsatisfactorily, predicts a 50% chance of rain. When you fetch your road-salt-encrusted bidon (that you inadvertently left on your bike in the garage after last weekend's brutal ride), you feel the damp immediately encroach into any areas of thermal vulnerability. It is cold.
Without analysis (for that would end everything) you proceed to don your winter baselayers. The ride is on.
This is road cycling in Scotland in winter. It is tough.
I've often wondered why we don't produce better cyclists on the back of this. Surely this level of dogged determination would breed the best in a cyclist. The sport is known for its grit, toughness and requirement for self-abuse, but Scotland is a step too far and its winter just a grade too extreme. The ease of choosing to skip a ride and instead throw a log on the wood-burner and settle in for the day, read the inrng.com or a William Fotheringham novel can be too great to resist. We, to seek our best, need to be migratory, we need to head South and recharge under the warmth of a Mediterranean winter sun.
Or do we?
Nestled in the warm winter air about 200 miles off the coast of Morocco is Tenerife. One could easily be excused for thinking an island this far south is not in Europe, but it very much is, and its winter warmth offers the reliability that Balearic winter climates cannot match. Climatic stability that offers the antithesis of January training rides in Scotland. A secret winter training ground.
And so it was, being offered a chance for a week of cycling in Tenerife with the team from Synergy Cycles seemed too compelling an offer to miss.
With a bucket-list of European climbs to scale, I realised that the mountain-climbing writings of the likes of Daniel Friebe and Simon Warren had never mentioned Tenerife. Perhaps there were no mountains to speak of? So, here is the second great secret of Tenerife - it is a hill climbers' paradise. Almost nowhere on the island is flat and with the highest road rearing above 2300m from sea-level, Tenerife offers the highest continually ascending road in Europe. I had to go.
Make no mistake, this is a full-on training island. The lack of flat ground means every day counts. There are no recovery rides to quaint little villages where you can bimble along, soft- pedalling between one Cafe con Leche and the next. You will either be at 180bpm or 55mph. It is as digital as that.
To the great surprise of all, including the locals, the island's high point, the 3718m extinct volcano, Mt Teide, had attracted a freak snowstorm in the couple of days before our trip. All high roads were closed. Jokes about being back in Scotland abounded around our group. Some wag pointed out that we share the same national flag and the same weather. Rumours circulated that Team Cannondale, who were staying in Hotel Las Cañadas del Teide, located at 2134m, were grounded and were forced into training on turbo-trainers while looking out on a winter paradise. During our first few days, we were restricted by roadblocks around 1100m, that in itself being a considerable ride from sea-level. If I am honest, I was quite glad of this momentary reprieve, but I could sense that the most enthusiastic riders of our group were itching for more, and get it they would.
Towards the end of the week, our chance arose. The road that snakes its way 43kms continually upwards from Los Cristianos, over the 2300m high crater rim, and on towards the Hotel Paradores within the crater itself, was once again open. The roads are smooth and in a little time a rhythm develops in your pedalling. A cocoon of quietness descends as the buildings drop away below, the Canary Island pines start to line the road and the air begins to thin.
On the higher flanks of the road, the sun had sublimated the snow from the road into an invisible vapour and with it any final memories of an oppressive Scottish winter. As the ascending road carved its way upwards, fleeting views of the Atlantic Ocean, so far below, engaged a heady, airy sensation. If you had any feelings of sea-sickness, they would soon have given way to the effects of altitude and exposure. A visual loftiness prevailed that few climbs in the Alps deliver.
Upon reaching the final point at the Paradores Hotel (situated within the vast volcanic crater) the fresh mountain air, pure blue skies, volcanic rock and cacti left no doubt that, despite the banks of snow at the side of the road, this had nothing in common with a Scottish training ride. This was a high-altitude cyclists' dreamscape and for once the axiom 'going downhill fast' was the only, and best, way to go.
While we plunged back down to the coast we passed Team Astana climbing in a momentary flash of light blue. Astana, like Team Cannondale, were enjoying the benefits of the 'sleep high, train low' principle and had made this volcanic crater their temporary winter home. Of course, you may instead choose the 'sleep low, party high' principle in Tenerife. You may choose to watch guys (or girls) pole dancing, drink unbranded blue shots, consume many thousands of calories of lager, inhale laughing gas from a balloon, eat Big-Macs at 4 AM, throw-up in a taxi and then stagger into the hotel foyer at 6 AM. And if you do, who am I to be the judge?
Synergy Volcano Tour 2016 was organised by Synergy Cycles in Auchterarder, Scotland, and management of the logistics on the Island was under the forever-attentive eyes of Tenerife Bike Training. We stayed in a 4-star hotel in Los Cristianos in the dry, south-west of the Island. The hotel had an unrestricted buffet and a spa centre where some of the group availed themselves of the leg-waxing option while others waxed-lyrical about that day's ride over beers at the pool-side bar.