We flew to the Spanish island of Tenerife to go riding on Mount Teide, the preferred training destination of many Tour de France contenders. Both Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome have used the mountain for training, and the Hotel Parador for sleeping at altitude, ahead of successful Tour campaigns.
Circling to land at the airport, photographer Andy Jones nudged me to look out the window, “look there’s Teide”.
“Where?” I had to ask him, all I could see were clouds. He pointed out that I was looking too low down, looking higher I spotted the cone of the volcano rising up above the cloud line. My first impression – that is a very long way up.
Sir Bradley Wiggins first visited Tenerife in January 2011 but he was far from the first pro cyclist to use the Parador Hotel at the summit of Mount Teide. He was however unusual in choosing to publicly share his training time there.
Lots of teams have all stayed there in the past, but the fact that Lance Armstrong and a number of dopers have used Tenerife for training, and the seclusion afforded by the high-altitude hotel, has given the cynics plenty of fuel to conclude that riders using the hotel have motives beyond finding the perfect training conditions. We are going to put that aside and look purely at the benefits Tenerife can offer, for any cyclist.
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 Mount 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 Mount 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 223 miles.
Unlike the Balearics, another popular winter cycling destination, the weather is much more stable and predictable. Even in December when we visited temperatures can reach as high as 26°C in the day and they remain a comfortable 10-15°C at night. Having had snow in Majorca in February and March, I’d much prefer to go to Tenerife to get a cyclist’s tan.
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: Mount 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. The other benefit is the location of the Hotel Parador on the plateau at the top of Mount Teide; this means that Tenerife meets the ‘sleep high, train low’ criteria.
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 ofaltitude training will help them to acclimatise 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 Critérium du Dauphiné, at that point the biggest win of his career.
Kerrison explained the benefits to William Fotheringham in an interview for the Guardian: “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 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.
Polka Dot Cycling
Polka Dot Cycling Holidays is run by owners Stu and Jen Caldicott. They are both experienced riders and former road racers who now specialise in running mountain holidays for cyclists. Based in France for the summer season, they decamp and follow the sun to Tenerife for warm weather winter training.
During February, March and April they run structured training camps that will help you get the most out of your time in Tenerife. Their mix of routes will work on your fitness, technique and bike handling. Thanks to their vast amount of experience of running and taking part in camps Jen and Stu will ensure you pace your week so you go home fitter rather than absolutely shattered, which is so often the case with unstructured camps.
All rides are fully supported so there is water, energy products and even a cup of coffee on hand whenever you need it. With the huge changes of altitude and temperature that you can experience on Tenerife its important to have plenty of spare layers to hand and a following van comes into its own here.
Most of their trips are based from La Caleta on the west coast but there is a ‘sleep at altitude’ week at the Parador running from the April 20-27 with places still available.
For further information, prices and booking visit www.polkadotcycling.com.
Bang Teide – What the riders thought…
Tenerife is a great riding location and I can understand why Team Sky has used it so much. It is around 50 kilometres up to the highest point on Teide, 50 kilometres of climbing.
When you are tired this is mentally very tough, but at five-seven per cent average gradient, it is a climb which you can get into a rhythm and work at a specific level.
We have climbed Teide on our longest days, six plus hours, which has really pushed us. With it being the winter we are concentrating on endurance, so the long climb is perfect for this. I would recommend anyone to come out here because the landscapes are so varied that they keep you motivated to carry on up the mountain.