Europe steals the spotlight when it comes to racing, but if you want to train or just ride where the Euro pros go, you’ll likely need to brush up on your geography (and pull up a map) to find the sweet cycling oasis of Tenerife, the current training spot of choice for the biggest names in the sport.
Belonging to Europe, but closer to Africa, this volcanic island you’ve likely never heard of is where Chris Froome trains for all those mountain stages you have heard of. That’s because Tenerife, the largest of Spain’s seven Canary Islands, is dominated by the third highest volcano in the world, and the tallest point in Spain, Mount Teide (elevation, 12,198 feet) and offers longer climbs than you’ll find most anywhere else in the world.
Bring your climbing legs. Tenerife has endless miles of elevation.
For cyclists fleeing winter’s cold, damp freeze, the Atlantic island refuge offers a blissfully boring daily weather report with 365 days of sun per year and temperatures averaging 68F in the winter and 80F in the summer—something Tim Kerrison, Team Sky’s head of athletic performance, appreciates. “By going there earlier in the season (May), we get exposure to the heat earlier than if we’d stayed in continental Europe,” he says.
Less “boring” is the dazzling array of terrain cyclists can find on this “two-faced” island. The trade-wind-exposed north side is lush and tropical, with more rainfall inland and on the peaks. Spin over to the south side and you leave the crosswinds and clouds behind for dry, barren, wind-protected terrain. “If you don’t like the weather where you’re at in Tenerife, [just] head to the other side of the volcano,” says Kerrison.
Oh, and there’s just the right amount of altitude. “The hotel we stay at is at 2,150 meters [7,053 feet],” says Kerrison, whose team stays and trains in Teide National Park—the most visited national park in Europe. “It’s perfect for the riders to acclimatize to the altitudes they’ll have to race in the Tour.” It’s also ideal because riders can “sleep high” but “train low” for optimum training adaptations. “We climb from sea level to 2,300 meters [7,545 feet] continuously,” says Kerrison, noting that you can’t find that same uphill duration anywhere else in Europe.
This idyllic blend of sea level, attitude, and abundant sunshine makes Telerife what The Telegraph calls Team Sky’s “explosive secret.” In the past 10 years, Team Sky has won five Tour de Frances. Astana, who also trains in Tenerife, has won two. Recent retiree and two-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador trained there this past spring with Trek-Segafredo.
Whether you like lush, green tropics or arid, stark terrain, the island has it all. Photograph courtesy of Turismo de Tenerife
“I like Tenerife, not only for the nice weather and the altitude, but also because a good training camp location gives me the possibility to be completely focused on the work on the bike,” Contador said last May. Although the Spaniard’s home country governs Tenerife, which is about twice the size of Dallas, locals call themselves Canarians. With one million residents, it’s the most populated of the Canary Islands.
Besides being home away from home for the pros, it’s increasingly popular among amateur riders seeking a slice of cycling paradise. According to Karen Blanchard at Turismo de Tenerife, nearly 22 percent of Tenerife’s 5 million annual visitors in 2015 rode a bike. “Traffic is very understanding of cyclists because it’s becoming a big industry on the island,” notes Kerrison. Former UCI racer Ted King Ted recalls “safe roads and a friendly, welcoming community.”
Anyone on the island has every reason to be good-natured. In addition to boasting idyllic weather, your money goes a long way here. At Club Activo Café & Bar, just one establishment guiding and feeding the pelotons, $7 USD gets you a hearty recovery meal of soup, bread, an entree, potatoes, and coffee or dessert. Tenerife’s bike rentals are as affordable as they are best in class. At Bike Point Tenerife, a Carbon Ultegra BMC rents for $23 to $37/day. (At most U.S. bike shops, it rents for $50 to $100/day.)
One-bedroom apartments on AirBnB and cheap hotels start around $30 a night. To crash where the pros do—at Parador de Las Cañadas del Teide—you’ll have to pay more premium prices, about $100 to $200 a night, for pampering amenities. “Between our gym, heated pool, and bike workshop, we’re totally adapted for cyclists,” notes Miguel Castro, Parador’s director. Castro says the pro teams typically stay between January and May.
You can also bring the kids without being worried about them being bored. Leah Vande Velde recalls when her husband, Christian Vande Velde, trained in Tenerife. “I’ll never forget the water park and the zoo. Our girls, ages three and five, had the best time.” Siam Water Park is Europe’s largest and was named the number one water park in the world by TripAdvisor in 2017. Loro Parque boasts TripAdvisor’s 2017 title for world’s best zoo.
And there are the beaches. Encircling Tenerife’s Andes-like topography are miles of sun-soaked, sandy beaches where you can chill after a day on the bike. Of course, there are plenty of non-bike-related activities like whale watching, shopping, and golf for rest days or friends and family who aren’t all about the bike.
If TripAdvisor had a yellow jersey for cycling, Tenerife deserves it. “I’ve been fortunate to ride all over the world and experience many amazing places,” says Levi Leipheimer. “But Tenerife is one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever ridden my bike.”