Gran Canaria – A Winter Warmer
Everyone likes a holiday and for the enthusiastic cyclist a holiday that involves bikes is especially exciting. So when the post holiday hangover kicked in after a relaxing cruise holiday in early August i did not take much convincing to book a week cycling in Majorca for mid September.
Life though is a little like cycling. Just when you are getting used to the flat, smooth road and the tailwind making things feel easy something happens to make things difficult. At the start of September just three weeks before heading off to the sun a major curveball was delivered to us. Rox’s well documented cycling accident resulted in us having to cancel our trip to ‘cycling mecca’ due to her injuries and the risks involved with travelling.
Alas, several weeks of recovery later (also a doctors discharge) and we were looking for a destination to getaway and potentially cycle a few miles. It should be noted that Majorca in mid-November is cool and the weather can’t be guaranteed. So although we know the island very well we thought that an all new location for the #rebuildRox project was required.
As we didn’t want to travel long haul it limited our options, so for warm weather the only viable cycling destination was the Canary Islands. Twelve months previously, while on honeymoon, we cycled in Tenerife so that was one island ticked off. At the stage of our last minute planning a couple of OP’s were in Fuerteventura which looked promising but reports of strong winds did not seem conducive to getting Rox’s confidence back on the bike. Lanzarote suffered the same fate so that left us booking a week away on the south coast of Gran Canaria.
Our week away was from Saturday to Saturday and we decided that hiring bikes for 5 days (Mon-Fri) was the best option. It gave us the chance to have a relaxed day on the Sunday, although we used that to walk around the town and get our bearings. Our step counters showed 15 miles on foot that day, welcome to relaxation Martyn & Rox style!
Having pre-ordered the bikes online from Free Motion Cycling the week before, we also found the shop during our walkabout on the Sunday, we hopped in a taxi on Monday morning kitted up ready for some cycling miles. I had already seen that Free Motion offered bike tours with guides as a service and had convinced Rox that taking part in Monday’s was a good idea. So we completed the paperwork which was a simple task and paid up for a ‘hobby’ tour (difficulty level 2 of 4).
We headed down to meet our mechanic who handed us our 2018 Specialized Tarmac bikes with Ultegra 8000 groupset. I’m not usually a fan of white bikes but if there is ever a place to have a bike this colour then GC is it. With no rain since April there was no chance of the crisp paint getting dirty. After a quick spin round the car park to set the saddle height we signed in with our tour guide for the day, Ronny from Norway.
The cycling season in GC kicks off at the start of December but Free Motion offer tours from the start of October onwards. Today the entry level ‘Cappuccino’ group also rode out with the ‘hobby’ group making a grand total of eight riders with an additional guide named Betti (Hungary).
Off we headed for a casual group ride out to a valley leading to a village called Soria. Once we navigated the road system of Maspalomas we found ourselves on the coastal road heading west. The tarmac was smooth but the gradients variable leading to a feeling of being on a rollercoaster, dropping down curving declines before being thrown into kick ups that presented views of the oncoming road over every brow. This was some introduction to cycling on Gran Canaria.
At the town of Santa Agueda we turned inland and headed up the Soria Valley, nicknamed ‘The Cycling Valley’ by the locals as this is the quietest gateway to the mountains further north. A 10km (we are in Europe now!) ride up the false flat valley road brought us to the bottom of our first climb of the week. The 5km climb averaging 8% took us to the village of Soria and a cafe stop serving papaya & mango juice that was very refreshing after working hard in the 25 degree sunshine.
Pit-stop completed we headed back down the valley at a rapid rate towards Santa Agueda. Having been previously held back on the false flat the slight decline rewarded us with speeds close to 40kph. Back on the coastal road and we had a little taste of the wind that can sometimes make heading east a battle. As we were a mixed group everyone stayed together with the stronger riders sheltering the others. Everyone returned to the Free Motion shop happy with their work that morning Rox and i headed off to the nearby Playa de Melonaras for a post ride pizza adding some distance to make our total 43.7 miles (i’m fed up of conversions) for the day.
During our all inclusive buffet dinner we discussed the events of the day and planned the rest of the week. Bigger tests were scheduled over the next few days so a little carb loading was in order.
On Tuesday morning we both noticed that the air was clearer and we could see the mountains to the north much easier. The dust storm or ‘Calima’, blown over from the Sahara in Africa, had ended. This resulted in the visibility being better and the temperatures being a little lower. We have to note though that the wind had not eased and we struggled north west on the GC500 for 10 miles until we reached the town of El Doctoral. At this point we turned inland and started climbing the open plains past some farmland. A quick left turn at Era del Cardon on to the GC65 and we finished the climb by slipping through a notch in a rocky head point.
For the last 500 meters of that climb our guide for the day, Wouter (Netherlands), was getting increasingly excited about a view he describes as one of the best on the island. I have to say that as we rolled through the gap in the rock it was as though we had been teleported to the Grand Canyon. We had covered 18 miles and climbed 1300ft although it felt a great deal more due to that stubborn head wind. Wouter informed us that we only had 6 miles until lunch but we needed to descend a bit before another climb to Santa Lucia at 2250ft above sea level.
Having completed a healthy amount of climbing it was not going to be difficult to eat but it was made even easier due to our mouths being wide open due to the views from the cafe. It’s safe to say that this must be right up there in the top 10 cafe views in cycling.
Light lunch consumed it was time to ride out. After a short descent it was time to tackle some more climbing, this time to the highest point of the day, Fataga viewpoint at just over 3000ft. Wouter rode straight past the viewpoint as he wanted us to see the awesome views of the road while on the descent. I’m not quite sure who designed the road in to the valley but it has to be described as a masterpiece. Tight hairpins flow in to open turns punctuated with a few high speed straights all laid out on formula one quality tarmac. I had already decided that the Specialized Tarmac was a great climbing machine and during the 6 mile descent to the valley floor it showed off its poise through the corners too.
Through all the excitement i either missed or forgot that our bike guide advised that we had a little more climbing to do before getting back to Maspalomas and the Free Motion shop. However the adrenaline was flowing so the shallow bump out of the valley was quickly dealt with leaving a further 5 miles of descending in to the city and another well deserved post ride pizza.
Wednesday morning and breakfast was a quiet affair. Rox was a little pensive as today we had signed up to ride to the highest point on Gran Canaria, Pico de las Nieves. The peak had been pointed out to us the day before whilst riding so we had a good mental picture of the challenge ahead. At Free Motion we discovered that we only had three riding buddies today. Another couple and our guide Erik (Norway) who admitted he was looking forward to an easy day out. The first third of the ride retraced our route to the Fataga viewpoint from Tuesday’s ride. This time though we stopped in the car park and took some photographs to document our successful climbing.
At this point Erik declared that we still had more than half the days climbing to complete which threw some metaphorical cold shower on our mood. We could have used a cold shower too as the heat was taking its toll on all four of us, Erik looked like he had barely passed a sweat. Onwards we rolled for another 8 miles and 1000ft of climbing to our lunch stop at Bar la Candelilla.
After lunch we started climbing through the pine forest which had been ravaged by wild fires September this year. Erik described how the damage was limited by mother nature as winds changed direction and blew the flames back on to already burnt land. 2700 hectares of forest was destroyed by the fire and sadly one person lost their life. At several points on the road to the top we could see the scars on the landscape.
We were starting to think that Erik only knew a single number in English. After every junction he cheerily announced that we had a further 3 kilometres of climbing. After the fourth such declaration we ignored him and just kept pedalling. Eventually military style security fencing appeared on the road side, there is communications and radar equipment on the peak, heralding that the top was close. At this point Erik came flying past us at full gas apparently setting a personal record on the last Strava segment to the top.
The cooling breeze at the top was nice for a few minutes while we took photos and shook the hands of our fellow cyclists at the top. We confirmed with Erik that the city in the distance is Maspalomas which gave us an appreciation of the route through the mountains we had all completed. It was an out and back route with the outward leg being predominately uphill to 6327ft above sea level. While going up took us 5 ½ hours to complete we returned to the bike shop in less than 2 hours. 65 miles complete and over ten thousand feet of elevation gained we both agreed that pudding was certainly on the menu tonight.
The team at Free Motion have clearly thought out their weekly ride schedule. Thursday’s have a easier ride planned with a single small climb included. An ideal recovery if you tackled the big climbing on Wednesday and an equally good warm up ride for those that arrived on the island midweek. Ronny was back on guide duty and today he was accompanied by Bart (Belgium) who looked like a climbing machine. Bart declared that he was making it harder for himself today as he was riding the heavy bike.
We cycled through the city again and departed north-west towards the tourist attraction called Aqualand. We had no time for flumes and water slides though as we progressed as a small eight man, plus Rox, peloton up the valley. Yet again we were surrounded by towering rocky out crops which acted as a funnel for the coastal breeze. As we entered the village of Ayagaures we ascended a short punchy climb up a narrow road. Coming down the hill was a peloton of a different kind, a half dozen off road buggies. Their roaring engines echoing within the valley and drowning out the heavy breathing of us cyclists during the climb.
After a few hundred yards we stopped in a small car park where Ronny advised that we now had a 2.3 mile climb to the viewpoint overlooking the valley through which we just travelled. Smooth tarmac resulted in all of our pedalling output being transferred to forwards and upwards progress. I climbed with Bart who happily stood out of the saddle turning the big ring with ease for the majority of the climb. I spun away in the small chain ring with only a couple of gears to spare clearly showing I am a guest within Bart’s playground.
With the short climb completed we headed down a cliff edge descent that overlooked Palmitos Park towards Monte Leon. The wind had picked up again making some of the corners tricky and we really felt how light the bikes were while riding over an exposed ridge. After dropping back down to the valley road and navigating round the edge of Maspalomas it was back on to the coastal road cycling west with a stiff tail wind. We headed back up the Soria valley as we did on the first day but this time we stopped just short of the climb in a little cafe located up a short rise at Cercados deEspinos.
While sat out on the raised deck of the cafe sipping cool drinks and eating mango cake we could see many cyclists heading up the valley on their way to the climb we tackled on the first day. It was another warm day and i was glad to be sat under a parasol and not about to drag myself up 10% gradients.
Cafe stop over it was back in to the Soria valley for a blast back to the GC500 coastal road. Ronny & Bart rotated on the front of the group in order to keep the pace relatively high. The group needed to stay tight as if you dropped more than a couple of metres off the back wheel it was going to be a lonely ride to the muster point at the next junction. Having warmed the legs up in the valley Ronny now declared a ‘free for all’ back to Maspalomas on the coastal road in to the headwind. It was five miles of rolling exposed road where ideally working with someone was the best tactic.
Ronny kicked off first breaking away from the group on the first climb and a few others upped the pace as a group to stay in contact with him. Rox kept it easy on the climb and held my wheel while i brought her back to the group who had settled for letting Ronny go up the road on his own. As we both joined the group i decided to push on and see if anyone would jump to try and reel Ronny back. Obviously i was the only one stupid enough to try as i found myself working solo to catch the bike guide. I did not know it but Ronny had seen me coming and eased off the pace in order to keep me interested. Once i caught him i pushed on up the final sharp rise with him on my wheel only for him to release a Wattage Bazooka at the crest and sprint through the final few curves to the bus stop which was the designated finish line. Local knowledge and a little cunning won the day!
On the last morning we rode to the shop with some casual clothes in a back pack. The shop has lockers to store your belongings while out cycling and we needed to change after our last ride and handing the bikes back. Erik joined us again for the last day of cycling riding the reverse of Tuesdays route.
So off we went to Fataga again as a team of six. Rox appeared to be growing in to her climbing legs as i kept her company on the main climb of the day up to the viewpoint. She got stronger as the climb neared its peak and got to the top first beating the other four riders to a refreshing drink in the viewpoint car park. That was pretty much the climbing done for the day as we dropped down to Santa Lucia to the cafe with the fantastic view.
It was great sitting there on the road side in the November sunshine just watching the small town residents going about their relaxed lives. It certainly made you think about the hectic lifestyle most of us lead in our ‘normal’ day to day schedules. We commented that Erik was a lucky guy having a job that involved riding a bike all day in the sunshine, he seemed to agree. The conversation stopped there as we all reflected for a moment.
Lunch break over it was time to descend again and this time for twelve miles to Casa Pastores. Erik kept the speed sensible as the road was very twisty with blind bends and crash barriers the only protection from sheer drops. I stopped a few times in order to capture some photos of the spectacular scenery which gave me the added bonus of having some space to ride in to and enjoy the road to its maximum.
Once the descent was completed we turned on to the GC500 and headed west for home. With the assistance of the famous wind, this time at our tail, we zipped along the main road at over 30mph. The occasional roundabout slowed our progress but we made short work of the 10 mile coastal road and was soon back at the Free Motion shop. Ride over we thanked Erik for his guidance again and topped up our water bottles. In the last couple of miles of the ride Rox and I had agreed to do some extra mileage and headed out again.
Filled with a little confidence from our few days being guided we headed back to the valley just North West of Maspalomas. Rolling past Aqualand again we got chatting to a Canarian resident who was on a short afternoon ride. She and Rox were sharing cycling stories for the full length of the valley road. Yet again we arrived at the village of Ayagaures and its short climb. This time i decided to push on and leave my legs on the road as it was the last day. The girls just kept chatting as I sweated up the climb.
At the top I turned round and headed back down the road to meet Rox and our new friend. We had agreed to take a couple of pictures on the last hairpin of us riding as we rarely get pictures of us actually on the bike, most are of a cafe stop and us eating cake. Our Spanish acquaintance agreed to capture us both riding up the turn which turned out really good. Facebook profile picture updated!
Atop the climb we descended back through Monte Leon to the outskirts of Maspalomas. It was now late afternoon and the bikes had to be returned so we headed back to the shop. After handing the bikes back it seemed appropriate to buy a jersey as a souvenir of our week of cycling. The walk back to the hotel was 2.5 miles but it seemed like only a few yards. We could not stop talking about how great the cycling is on the island and also how Rox found her cycling mojo again after the difficult times recently. We affectionately gave the holiday the moniker #rebuildRox and although there is still some work to do we laid some great foundations on this awesome island cycling paradise.
Do it yourself:
We travelled with Jet2 Holidays on an all inclusive package.
Hotel: Koala Garden Suites – although rated as 3 star there is a huge amount of development work going on which would see the rating increase to 4.
Bike Rental: Pre order from Free Motion Cycling bearing in mind that December is start of peak season. Their bike range is huge for all abilities of cyclist.