Every year, cyclists from around the UK jet off to sunnier climates to get some well-earned fair weather riding in. Whether you’re heading out for a training camp or a holiday with some cycling thrown in for good measure, the volcanic Canary Islands are a great place to set your sights and offer year-round riding.
However, you shouldn’t just take our word for it – Team Sky have made the Canary Islands, specifically Tenerife, their home for winter and altitude training camps. Suffice to say, the leading Tour de France team of the past five years know a thing or two about picking their training ground to maximise their marginal gains.
In the latest of our one-stop destination guides - you can find the rest here - we cover not just Team Sky's island of choice, but the entire archipelago, so you can go ahead and plan your next cycling trip.
When should I go?
Despite being situated just off north western Africa, the Canary Islands enjoy a balmy yet relatively temperate climate. Average temperatures year-round rarely drop below 17 degrees - what we in the UK tend to refer to as ‘summer’ - with average highs of 24 degrees seen in August.
However, the weather can still get very hot, with days regularly peaking at over 30 degrees in the summer months. For some riders, this will be too hot, though you'll often experience a refreshing breeze by the sea.
Even in the winter months, rainfall is rare. December, on average the wettest month of the year in the Canaries, experiences an average of only 56mm rainfall, over six days. That makes the islands ideal for winter training if you’re hoping to escape bike-shredding UK winter weather.
Most of the Canary Islands have two peak seasons for tourism: through December and January, with an influx of tourists seeking winter sun, and in the summer.
One final thing to mention is that the Canary Islands can be hit by occasional dust storms, which can be like riding through a hot, dry fog. This phenomenon is known as La Calima and is caused by very fine sand blown across from the Sahara.
Polka Dot Cycling
Where should I base myself?
Featuring the intimidating Mount Teide, Tenerife is now probably the most popular destination for cyclists in the Canary Islands, thanks in part to Team Sky. Not only is the island big enough to get in plenty of miles, through surprisingly varied landscapes, it also provided the rare opportunity to get some genuine altitude training in, if you really do want to emulate Chris Froome. Being one big volcano, there's plenty of climbing to be had in Tenerife - in fact, there are very few flat roads so bring your climbing legs!
If you can base yourself in the Parador Hotel, you’ll be following in the footsteps of countless pro cyclists, including British Tour de France winners Froome and Sir Bradley Wiggins, who used the spot as an opportunity to train on Mount Teide and sleep at 2,000m altitude. Don’t count on sharing the hotel with them, though – Team Sky have a habit of booking the entire complex out for their training camps, so it must be good.
Still, if you plan on doing more than just riding your bike, there's not a great deal to do at 2,000m, and with Tenerife a popular tourist destination, there's no shortage of hotels to stay at across the island, and particularly in the south around Los Cristianos, which provides easy access to Teide's mountain roads.
Polka Dot Cycling
Gran Canaria is a good option if you want to combine cycling with a beach holiday. Don't be fooled into thinking Gran Canaria is an easy option, though. It's still a popular pro training camp destination, often frequented by the Tinkoff team in recent years, and also home to the Valley of the Tears (see the highlights section).
Like Tenerife, there's plenty of climbing to be had here, with Gran Canaria rising to nearly 2,000m, and some seriously long climbs - with equally serious gradients. As a result, Gran Canaria offers plenty of opportunities to truly test yourself on the bike, but, on the flip side, it does offer some of the whitest beaches in the volcanic Canary Islands.
Throw in a mix of off-the-bike life from busy resorts like the Playa del Inglés and Puerto Rico to the quieter Puerto de Mogán and San Agustín, and you can customise your trip to the exact vibe you’re after.
Lanzarote is a hotbed for athletes of all kinds to get their sun-drenched training blocks in. You can base yourself in a hotel sports resorts such as Club La Santa, which offers access to top-level physio and coaching services, as well as facilities for countless sports.
The landscape on Lanzarote is rather barren, with black sandy beaches and a wind-blown moonscape dotted with white villages giving its distinctive and unique look.
Interestingly, Fuerteventura is a designated UNESCO Biosphere reserve, meaning it plays a role in researching how humans can interact positively with their environments. As cyclists, we can’t argue with that aim.
Fuerteventura may not be as well known for its cycling, but therein lies the charm. Basing yourself on the island with your own (or a hired) road bike means you can explore the area, making for a more relaxed and potentially adventurous cycling holiday.
How to get there
Thanks to being a popular holiday destination, flying to the Canary Islands couldn’t be easier, and is served by all major UK airports.
Each of the four major islands best-suited to cycling have their own airport, with direct flights to each available.
The best thing about flying to the Canary Islands is that the flight can be very cheap, thanks to airlines wanting the custom of the thousands of tourists who visit each year.
Just watch out for the extra costs of transporting your bike, which can cost more than double the fee of the actual flight.
There's plenty of variety across the Canary Islands but here are three of our highlights. Needless to say, they all head uphill. If you're planning a trip (not just to the Canary Islands, but anywhere new) then Strava is your friend - use the Explore function to look for popular climbs and segments.
Mount Teide, Tenerife
Mount Teide is the largest volcano in the Canary Islands, and actually forms the highest peak not only on the islands, but in the whole of Spain at 3,718m in height. The peak dominates the view from wherever you are on the island.
The paved climbs don’t actually go that high (there are five routes up), reaching 2,356 m above sea-level before you then have to take a cable car to get close to the summit, but that is more than enough to prepare you for any Alpine or Pyrenean challenge you might be aiming for. With the climb starting at sea level, you will be riding uphill for more than 35 kilometres and around 2,100m before you reach the plateau – the longest ascent in Europe.
We think the rise from El Medano over 36.7km is the pick of the climbs, and here are the stats. In fact, why not watch Mike Cotty tackle Mount Teide from El Medano for the Col Collective to find out exactly what it's like.
Average gradient: Six per cent
Elevation gain: 2,184m
Mirador del Rio, Lanzarote
Lanzarote lacks the leviathan climb of a Mount Teide, but there are still some serious challenges to be had. The pick of those is arguably the Mirador del Rio, which has three ascents.
Each offer different challenges, which means you can tailor your ascent depending on your ability, building up in difficulty during the course of your visit to the island. The reward? Magnificent views of the whole island from the top.
Markus J Schoch, via Flickr Creative Commons
Average gradient: Five per cent
Elevation gain: 410m
Average gradient: Four per cent
Elevation gain: 430m
Average gradient: Three per cent
Elevation gain: 170m
Valley of the Tears, Gran Canaria
Such a dramatic name deserves an equally challenging parcours, and the Valley of the Tears delivers. While we’re not sure the name is actually derived from the tears of cyclists attempting to climb this brute, which features short spurts of 25 per cent gradient, we’d not blame you if you did shed a tear while climbing.
The climb itself features a mini descent before rising again to the summit – so the average climbing gradient is actually a touch more than our overall statistics would suggest.
Like Tenerife, there's plenty of climbing in Gran Canaria to satisfy even the most demanding of mountain riders, and the Valley of the Tears is typical of what you can expect on the island.
Average gradient: 7.9 per cent
Elevation gain: 1,040m
Package or DIY?
You have two main options if you want to visit the Canary Islands: you can either use a cycling-specific tour operator to organise it for you, or you can plan your own trip - and there are pros and cons to both option.
Using a tour operator will take the legwork out of planning a trip, and normally they'll take care of everything once you've arrived, including airport transfers, hotel booking, routes and bike hire, if you need it. You'll find options to suit a range of budgets but using a tour operator can (sometimes) be more expensive and you'll normally be bound to the itinerary of the trip.
On the other hand, you can arrange your own visit, which gives you the opportunity to piece together each element of the trip just as you'd want it. You also won't be tied to an itinerary, so if you want to wake up in the morning, see how you feel and then tailor your ride to suit, you can do just that. However, you won't necessarily have the local knowledge of a tour operator.
The great thing about the Canary Islands is that it’s a tourist hotspot. That's not always a good thing - particularly during the peak season(s), but throughout the year you'll find plenty of hotels at cheaper rates – ideal if you want to take a week off work to get some much-needed training in.
Riding in the Canary Islands for some is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, while for others it forms a regular part of their training schedule, so getting your preparation right is key to making the most of your time spent putting hard miles in.
Firstly, you need to consider the terrain, and the kind of riding you intend to do. If riding in the Canary Islands for you is a main goal of your season, then make sure you’re geared appropriately for your ability.
The Canaries may be islands, but the climbs on offer are comparable to the climbs found in mainland Europe, which means you need to think carefully about your gearing. What's more, being volcanic islands, rising directly out of the sea, it can be difficult to find a flat road, particularly on Tenerife.
While the strongest climbers may prefer a standard double 53-39t chainset, we'd recommend a semi-compact 52-36t chainset as a minimum, and most riders will appreciate a compact 50-34t chainset paired to an 11-28t cassette. If you know you're going to be doing a lot of climbing, then opting for a cassette with a 32-tooth sprocket (if your bike will accept it) will give you an extra get-out-of-jail gear. You may be thankful when you've been riding uphill for 30km on Mount Teide!
For some, the Canaries offer a great opportunity to get some winter training in, so again it’s important to measure your goals with the context of your current ability – don’t expect to be able to set competitive Strava times or PRs if you’re just getting out again after a winter break. That may also mean having that extra sprocket fitted, just in case you overestimate how fit you actually are.
The Canary Islands, thanks to being in the middle of the sea, are prone to windy weather. As well as making life a bit more difficult on the bike, it can also mean that the strength of the sun can be underestimated. Ensure you pack plenty of high-factor sun cream, including travel-style minis that you can easily carry in a jersey pocket.
Just as you would at home, you should carry all the essentials you may need during a ride, including a multi-tool, inner tubes, tyre levers, and a pump or CO2 canisters (subject to airline restrictions). It's also worth taking a puncture repair kit so you can patch up old tubes if necessary, as well as chain lube, and any additional tools you may need for more significant repairs back at base. If you have an electronic groupset, don't forget the charger.
Did you know?
The Canary Islands have joint capital cities. Santa Cruz de Tenerife on the largest of the islands, Tenerife, is one, while Las Palmas in Gran Canaria is the other.
Events you might want to try
Unlike the Alps and Pyrenees, which have countless sportives to ride, the Canary Islands are geared more towards training, and so there are very few events to enter.