After enjoying riding from home through the Indian summer of early September, I searched for a week's warm weather break abroad to round off 2023.
Bypassing southern Spain and the Balearics, I opted for the mid-20 degree temperatures almost guaranteed in the Canaries. My only previous visit was a bike-free break on Tenerife, and since then the volcanic islands off the coast of Morocco have become a go-to destination for teams including Jumbo-Visma, INEOS and Bora-Hansgrohe.
I booked my flight and accommodation separately, staying five nights in San Fernando (Maspalomas) and then two nights in Telde. I chose Telde because, fortuitously, I came across a sportive to tackle at the end of my week's break - the Gran Fondo Pico de las Nieves.
Taking place on 3 December, the gran fondo is part of Gran Canaria's Bike Week cycling festival. Three distances are on offer, packing in a varying amount of climbing depending on your appetite and fitness levels at this late point in the year.
Among the Canary Islands, Tenerife and Lanzarote have been probably the most well-known to cyclists but Gran Canaria is also popular with those looking for challenging mountain climbs and rolling coastal roads.
There are plenty of cyclists about, and on most of my rides I found riders to try to pass or faster riders to attempt to latch on to. With a relatively limited road network on the island, there will pretty much always be riders on your route especially when you hit the climbs.
I also saw Simon Yates on the coastal road, and the pro spotting highlight was seeing what I'm convinced was Tadej Pogacar twice, the first time he was descending towards us and gave a cheery wave.
Early in the week I'd done four rides which included Serenity, one of the highlights of the island climbing 565 metres over 8.6km at an average gradient of 6.6%. Simon Warren raves about Serenity in his recent '100 Greatest Cycling Climbs of Spain' book - "I immediately wanted to ride it again. Yes, it is THAT GOOD: it is quite simply climbing utopia."
After travelling north to the sportive start town of Telde, I signed on, at a nearby branch of Intersport, the day before the event, and collected a number board with timing chip and a goody bag containing some energy products and a small sachet of instant oats!
If things got desperate during the ride I might need the oats I wondered, but actually I mixed them with some yoghurt on the morning of the event.
Slightly unfamiliar format
As it turned out the full 139km GF Pico de las Nieves was effectively a 'timed-section' race - masquerading as a sportive - with a 300 euro first prize. As the 'racers' completed a 25km opening loop we waited patiently in the pretty town square, in the shadow of the San Juan church and palm trees, and then were waved off amongst them over some cobbles and west out of town.
The initial pace was pretty stop start and we were surrounded by motorcycle outriders who were constantly moving up the 200-strong bunch piping at any riders straying over the white line. It was a treat to be in a 'race' convoy but the sedate neutralised section was claustrophobic at times, and it seemed to go on and on - 20km to be precise, before we were let loose onto the longest timed climb.
At 28km long this was the main climb of the middle distance option and after holding position in the 20km of neutralised roll out I found myself drifting backwards before finding others going at my speed. There were sections where I felt fine, I was climbing well, and then 50 metres later I would be feeling rubbish and hoping that the summit would miraculously appear round the next corner.
To break the climb I stopped briefly for some energy chews and to take a couple of snaps and as we climbed higher a large eagle-like bird of prey circled below us in the deep valley. I was glad to get the first climb behind me as we descended to the feed in Agüimes.
This second climb was much shorter - 9km at 4.5% average - and sooner than I anticipated I was at La Pasadilla where the long riders carried on and we stopped before feeding and returning to Telde under motorbike escort. I was happy that just before I reached my 'finish line' the first group of maybe 50 medium route finishers were just setting off back down the mountain in an escorted group.
As for my bike, I was very impressed with the Cannondale SuperSix Evo I hired from Free Motion with a DT Swiss R470db wheelset and a compact 105 Di2 groupset.
Free Motion is a very professional set-up and will provide hire bikes with the pedal system you use and your choice of rear cassette. Once into the mountains, I was glad of a 34 tooth largest sprocket giving me a 1:1 lowest gear for when the going got really tough.
The weather all week had been in the low 20s and some cloud cover on the day of the sportive was welcome - we did not fry on the climbs and it was a pleasant 21 degrees at the finish. As luck would have it, my trip coincided with a particularly cold snap back in the UK and perhaps my only mistake in booking this trip was that the sportive was just the opening event of the Gran Canaria Bike Week could I have stayed longer.
As Simon Warren puts it, "Gran Canaria is Mallorca on steroids" and I thoroughly recommend it.
Gran Canaria Bike Week can be found here: grancanariabikeweek.es
Katie Kookaburra's film of the event can be viewed here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOLI7-1Tj4g