A road made famous as a training destination, this is a giant climb with variety on its flanks and surprise at the top.
The Route: there are three main roads up Mount Teide, let’s take the southern approach from the Costa Adeje and the tourist resorts of Los Americanos and Los Cristianos. It’s a 33km climb from sea level to 2,200m, an average gradient 6.5%.
The Feel: approach the island of Tenerife by flight or ferry and chances are you’ll see the volcanic peak from afar, at 3,715m above sea level Teide is Spain’s highest mountain. It’s not the picture-perfect shape of Mount Fuji and we’ll get to why this is better for cycling in a minute.
Start riding and if you’re still hungry or thirsty there’s a parade of English breakfasts and Irish pubs on offer in the resorts, but also plenty of shops offering road bike rentals. Pass the autopista highway and the tourist development gives way to volcanic rocks and dust with sparse vegetation, as if the lava flow only cooled recently. The road is busy with traffic to the town of Arona but surprisingly few cyclists. Even if several pro teams were training on the island at the same time you might not see them all day as the climb is so long.
Some say Teide is the longest climb in Europe. I think there might be longer climbs but something like Nice to Isola 2000 and the Col de la Lombarde can involve long valley sections with only the slightest of rises for kilometres. Flip it around as the longest descent and Teide probably wins because you can freewheel from summit to sea. Either way it’s long: start climbing and road signs say Teide is a daunting 47km away. Fortunately the climb is “only” 33km long and progress is ok as the slope is never vicious, it’s often 5-6% and quality Spanish tarmac helps things roll by.
Pass the town of Vilaflor and it feels like Mont Ventoux from Malaucène now, a mix of rocks and pine forest and some big views of the land below. The road is lined by a wooden balustrade, just like Ventoux too. It can often by windy as well, just like… Ventoux.
Where the big difference to Mont Ventoux comes is that once you reach the top there’s no small mountain pass with the road plunging back down the other side. There’s no fumbling for a jacket before a long descent, instead you reach the vast caldera of Las Cañadas and can ride in and around the vast craters, often sheltered from the wind, a plateau at 2,000m to cruise around, as well as a few places to stop for a drink or lunch. You could spend all day training here if you needed a day above 2,000m. You feel the altitude, sprint and you’ll feel it. It can be cold but the sun is strong, it’s the same latitude as Florida, and the volcanic rocks radiate back heat.
The Verdict: majestic but spartan. Teide is a giant climb with excellent tarmac and breathtaking views. Once at the top there are a long sections to ride rather than dropping straight back down. The relentless steady slope combined with the often barren terrain make it feel like a workplace, a gymnasium to hone fitness. This is a place to work on your FTP rather than to freewheel. You can still enjoy the long climb, take in the views and soak up the sunshine but Teide brings a stripped-back, hardcore feel but it’s still dramatic, scenic and photogenic.
Ride more: there are four main routes to the top but each of these can have variety with their own side roads, you could ride to the top every day for a month and still find some variety. The classic route seems to be from Arona though. The route up from Chio on the west is the quietest, a steady slog up on a wide road and an ideal training choice.
The eastern climb via Esperanza is worth trying because it’s so long and different, the scene changes along the way. This climbs up the spine of the island but you’ll have to persevere, as whether you start in Tacoronte, La Laguna or Santa Cruz, it’s steep from the start, semi-urban and frankly drab in parts. Plus it’s often wet and under the shadow of Teide’s clouds. You can start out under grey skies, ride through damp clouds and emerge into dazzling sunshine. And it goes on and on, there are Strava segments held by the likes of Thibaut Pinot and Jai Hindley that are over two hours long, but it’s irregular rather than a giant ramp test. There’s more variety here though with the Eucalyptus forest, then pines and finally a long section flanked by black volcanic rocks and ash.
The History: Teide’s not been used in pro racing. The Vuelta a España has visited the Canary Islands including Tenereife in 1988 and hasn’t been back since, there have been local pro races too. It’s a logistical challenge for the Vuelta but feasible. There are constant plans to return, but always plans rather than deals. Anyway, do the islands even need the Vuelta? They’re already on the cycling map.
Somewhere along the way Teide acquired a link to doping. Riders could cite altitude training in response to any curious changes in their blood values, while the island location meant that the Spanish authorities were unlikely to fly out anti-doping agents to collect out-of-competition samples, and if they did it was said that their approaching vehicles could be spotted from afar (although how to spot agents from anyone else is another matter). In the end the tables were turned with police surveillance, Michele Ferrari’s Opel Astra rental was tailed, his Swiss phone tapped. So Teide had a shady moment, as did the Madone but there’s nothing about these climbs that’s inherently shady.
More recently financial firepower played a part with Team Sky block-booking the hotel at the top which was great for them but excluded rivals; although at times Sky found others had booked the hotel and they couldn’t stay high up too. Today bookings are up more than ever. As Julian Alaphilippe quipped to L’Equipe recently, “half the peloton spends the season at altitude“. What was once used for training prior to major season objectives like a grand tour is now base camp throughout the year to hone fitness, even for season-opening events.
Travel and Access: the island of Tenerife has plenty of flights from Madrid and across Europe, plus a ferry ride from Huelva that takes about 36 hours.
Once on the island there’s a range of accommodation. The tautological Hotel Parador is atop the mountain and has been used by pro teams. You can book too and get the hypoxic effect of sleeping at altitude; or rather not sleeping for several days because of the altitude. It also means a colder start and a descent to begin each ride and there’s little else going on. So go for the hypoxia and you won’t get much else.
Cycling is an integral part of the Canary Islands tourist economy and there are several places offering rental bikes on Tenerife. There are not many places in the world with such a big rental market, think Bourg d’Oisans for Alpe d’Huez and Bédoin for the Ventoux.
When to visit: it’s got a year-round mild climate and it rains very little. For Europeans it works best as a winter sun destination but for the pro cyclist the summer months are when the hard work goes in here as it’s very much a mountain training camp, nearby islands like Lanzarote and Gran Canaria offer flatter roads.
More roads to ride at inrng.com/roads