Glorious Struggle

Photo: Lutz Goldbecker/Cycling Adventures

Glorious Struggle

Gran Canaria – Endless Spring on Cycling’s Island

Gorgeous weather, beautiful mountains, palm trees, sun and sea: Gran Canaria seduces those who are gluttons for punishment. Cycling is no picnic in this training paradise and the reason why MTB World Champion Alban Lakata keeps coming back – and why Ergon editor Volker Laabs does as well.

I was fed up. The uncomfortable Rhenish winter months just took too long. My only desire: At some point, somewhere, to spend two beautiful weeks of sunbathing, riding for hours without freezing, as mountainous as possible, coffee breaks under the palm trees, and after the tour into the sea or at least in the pool.

Mallorca and everything else around the Mediterranean was too chilly for me and weather-wise not a safe bet. I did some research and came across Gran Canaria. I had never really heard of it being a major road bike destination, but who cares. It was January – like every other amateur I was not in the best shape – and I had ambitious goals to put in a good showing at one of the amateur events in the Alps this coming season.

To make it short: I came, saw, trained and still come back every year to this day. More than 20 degrees Celsius and 7 daily hours of sunshine in January, beautiful climbs through subtropical vegetation (not far from Africa), fantastic descents - whoever loves mountains like I do, will love Gran Canaria. Although let it be said that my legs did not survive those climbs without serious complaint.

Gran Canaria is an almost circular volcanic cone in the Atlantic Ocean with the 1,949 meter high Pico de las Nieves in the middle. Which means: Who turns off the coastal road, tends to go uphill. And eventually down again. But never really flat. Whoever is out of shape should stay at home.

Because for easy flat kilometers Gran Canaria is definitely the wrong address. But for those who are reasonably fit and enjoy altitude at the same latitude as Hawaii: Book it! And more importantly: Do not forget to pack a good dose of toughness for the cycling.

My absolute highlight every year: the formidable ride to the highest peak of the island. From the sea to the Pico de la Nieves adds up to 45 kilometers and more than 2,000 meters of altitude and at the top the reward for the torture is the magnificent view as far as Tenerife. The Pico is the apex of the mountain chain, which protects the cycling Eldorado in the south of the island from rain clouds. They rarely make it out of the green island north over this rock barrier – that's the way it should be.

After my completed final stage of Maspalomas over the Pico, the computer shows 100 kilometers and 2,500 vertical meters – for me in winter actually more than enough. The pain is worth it though, it’s too gorgeous to miss out on. If that's not enough, for example, a masochist tour can be arranged through the – name appropriate – "Valley of Tears". There are stages steeper than steep, sometimes more than 20 percent incline. Result at the end of the day: at least 3,500 vertical meters.

But Gran Canaria can also be tamer. However, three hours of cycling always results in at least 1,000 vertical meters, anything less is not possible. But that’s exactly how it should be. Because Gran Canaria provides the best reasons to push yourself in the blazing sun and to attack the spectacular climbs. Wild gorges – the so-called Barrancos – descend radiantly down to the sea. On fertile volcanic soil grow cacti, date palms, agaves, bananas and in the mountains it smells of sage, garlic, thyme, St. John's wort, anise and lavender. In addition, the island-interior contains little traffic with very well paved roads and the hospitality of the locals. They let it be known: we cyclists are welcome.

Going up together: If you turn off the coastal road, there is only one direction one can go Photo: Lutz Goldbecker/Cycling Adventures

The long climbs are ideal for us marathon racers. It is consistently warm, hardly any rain, many beautiful routes, and little traffic – a unique training area.

– Alban Lakata, triple MTB world champion

Alban Lakata has been raving about Gran Canaria for much longer than I have. Since 2003, the three-time MTB World Marathon Champion and Ergon Factory Rider has been preparing for the season here year after year. "The long climbs are ideal for us marathon racers. It is consistently warm, hardly any rain, many beautiful routes, and little traffic – a unique training area." His tips for amateur athletes: A bike with the smallest possible ratio and good brakes. If you don’t know the route start with guided tours (see infobox) , and in the mountains stop in the cult café of the cyclists, the "Casa Melo" in the village of Ayacata.

Fitness test: For World Champion Alban Lakata, part of the preparation for the season on Gran Canaria is a performance diagnostics with Mathias Nothegger (NOM training).

In terms of performance, Alban and I are naturally in separate worlds. Apart from the preference for the bar "Casa Melo" we only have a coach together: Mathias Nothegger. Living in Gran Canaria, he was the mastermind who led Lakata to a third world title in 2017 with performance diagnostics, training control and nutritional advice. Mathias has at least managed to help me out with some solid middle of the field results at local Mountainbike Marathons – if things go well on race day. NOM training is a recommendable address for hobby cyclists who would like to combine the cycling holiday with world champion advice and then want to make the most of their short training time at home.

My personal, time and again proven recipe for the start of the cycling year: In winter at home, somehow preserve basic fitness. In January / February for 10 to 14 days head to Gran Canaria to train at my own pace, don’t overdo it and in between do not forget rest days. If the budget is there then pay a visit to the professional coach – perfect.

Gran Canaria is always worthwhile. All year round, especially in winter, especially for cyclists and not unimportant to many – great for the family. After all, beach holidays under the palm trees, camel rides through the world-famous dunes of Maspalomas, jeep safaris or mountain hikes can be attractive arguments for getting the whole family into a training camp.

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Info Gran Canaria

Location & climate

Gran Canaria is just 250 km west of the African mainland at the same latitude as Hawaii. The mild subtropical climate makes the volcanic island the perfect year-round training ground.

Ideal travel time

The months from November thru March are ideal for getting away from winter. During these months, the south of Gran Canaria is a constant 19 to 25 degrees Celsius and at night it is not colder than 14 degrees Celsius. The sun shines on average 7 hours a day, while in the south of the island it rains only very rarely.

Getting there

Gran Canaria is accessible year-round from many international airports. The direct flight from Frankfurt to Las Palmas takes about 4.5 hours and the transfer travel time from the airport to Maspalomas 25 minutes. Taking your own bike on a plane costs 100 to 150 euros per airline, the packaging of the wheels in cardboard box, bag or suitcase is mandatory.

Tours characteristics

Demanding with long climbs, many vertical meters are guaranteed. Leaving the coastal roads, one is already on the way up. Highlight is the ride from the sea up to the 1949 meter high Pico de las Nieves. For pure basic training, the island is not suitable.

Rental bikes & guided tours

DThe best wheels on the island are at Free Motion: www.free-motion.com/en/gran-canaria You can choose from racing bikes, MTB, fitness and e-bikes from 15 euros per day. Free Motion also offers daily guided tours in different strength abilities. Tour examples: www.free-motion.com/en/gran-canaria/touren/tour-list/tours/roadbike

Performance diagnostics & training advice

The renowned coach, diagnostician and nutrition expert Mathias Nothegger – who has lived on Gran Canaria for many years – led Alban Lakata from the Topeak Ergon Racing Team to a third world title in the MTB Marathon in 2017. Mathias looks after cyclists in all areas of performance, from hobby riders to professionals. Information: www.nom-training.com

Accommodation

Best location for cycling holidays is the region around Maspalomas and Playa del Ingles. The choice of accommodation in each price range is great. Hotel tip: very cycling friendly 4 * Dunas Suites & Villas Resort in Maspalomas. Spacious bungalow suites with private terrace from 70 euros per day with half board, the bike is allowed in the room. Info: www.hotelesdunas.com/en/hotel-dunas-suites-villas-resort A cheaper alternative is the bungalow complex Canary Garden Club, from 55 euros per day / half board. Information: http://www.canarygardenclub.com/index.php?idioma=en

Contact the author

Fancy Gran Canaria? Questions for the Ergon editor? Volker Laabs can be contacted at: volker.laabs@rtisports.de

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