After 4 days of cycling over Christmas in Gran Canaria, I thought I’d share my reasons for coming here and why it’s such a good base for warm weather winter training, whether you’re a runner, cyclist or triathlete. I’ve written about Christmas Cycling in Gran Canaria before, in 2014, 2012 and 2011 so trying to share a new angle this year. The Tinkoff Saxo cycling team spent 2 weeks training here recently, so it’s the perfect base for pro teams too.
Gran Canaria is 4.5 hours’ flight from Dublin, with both Ryanair and Aer Lingus flying 2-3 times per week. There’s tons of accommodation – from apartments to hotels, in all price brackets. Playa del Ingles is the biggest resort and probably the easiest option for first timers. You won’t need a car – the bus from the airport is only 45 mins (or taxi €40 if it’s late).
Gran Canaria is warm, dry and sunny all year round. In December, days are low 20Cs, with nice mild evenings of 15-18C, so you can pack a light suitcase. You could easily bring bike & run gear, plus casual clothes/shoes in your 10kg hand luggage plus 1 small bag allowance.
I’ve always used Free Motion Bike Center in Maspalomas (the beach resort near Playa del Ingles). You can also try Cyclo Canaria or Cycle Gran Canaria. Free Motion are the biggest rental centre with over 600 new 2015 season Cannondale bikes in excellent condition. Mountain bikes, road bikes or blasphemy – e-bikes. 2016 season bikes are just arriving now. You can rent for a day, days or a week – prices from €19 per day.
I took a SuperSix Evo Ultegra for €26 per day (it’s the same bike I have at home – I bought it from Free Motion for half price back in 2014). Four days’ cost €108 – I could have bought my own bike over, but with increasing baggage fees, it would probably cost €150 (€60×2 flights plus €30 for checked luggage), so it’s only worth it if you’re cycling for the full week.
The island isn’t flat – even if you stay by the coast. There are excellent climbs up into the mountains. The climbing is epic with lots of routes to test your legs, heart and mental resolve. Starting from Playa del Ingles, you have option to go east or west along the coast. West is relatively flat for 30km to Puerto de Mogan, passing some popular resorts like Puerto Rico.
After Puerto de Mogan, you head inland, through Mogan and then have a lovely switchback climb Presa las Ninas, my favourite climb. You climb 450m over 5km, then gradually rise over the next 15km to 1,350m at Ayacata. The landscape changes so much when you climb inland – from touristy resorts, you pass through sleepy villages, pine tree forests, orange & banana plantations, fincas (farmhouses), reservoirs, cafes. The air gets fresher by a few degrees too.
The highest point is Pico Las Nieves, at 1,950m, so you can climb all the way. It’s 50km of grinding in over 3hrs from Playa del Ingles. The pro’s race up a steeper 28km route in 1h13m – crazy stuff in the Escalada al Pico las Nieves! They call it the Stelvio of GC – it’s longer and steeper than the Tourmalet and many other climbs in the Alps.
The descents are great – such an adrenaline buzz, flying down those switchbacks on nice clean, slick tarmac that you can trust. Just watch out for buses or motorbikes on the way up.
If you head east towards the airport, you have flatter roads. I like to come back on these roads, as you have a tailwind usually and can fly along at 40-50kmph on the flat. Routes can be adapted, so you can make anything from 2-6 hour spins. Over a 5 hr spin you’ll cover over 120km and climb over 1700m, without realising it.
The mountain bike routes are also great – a tough workout if you do a 4-5 hour trail with close to 1000m of climbing in the Free Motion tours.
It’s important to say hydrated as the air is dry, so bring 2 x 750ml water, or refuel at a café in the mountains (of which there are several). Bring snacks to fuel on – I always go natural rather than sports bars, munching on dried fruit (figs, dates, prunes, nuts) plus a banana. You can stop for a sandwich, or coffee or a tasty fresh fruit juice at the cafes up the mountains – always worth it.
It’s warm and dry – so cycling kit is light. But do bring arm warmers and fingerless gloves, as it gets cold on the fast descents. At the top (1950m) it can be vert windy and 10C colder than at the beach, so expect a fresh 10C. On the descents, I got numb fingers & feet from the wind chill, but it passes once you heat up back down below 1000m.
Playa del Ingles or Maspalomas are situated along a beautiful flat/wide beach which connects the two resorts about 6km apart. You can mix it up with hills in the dunes, or run along the promenade in both towns. There’s a running track in San Fernando, but also a marked track around Maspalomas which is good for interval. For longer runs, you can do loops or head for the hills – some great long trails with plenty of climbing. Andrew Walker is an Irish guy living in GC who offers all sorts of training camps, so worth checking out.
I want to do the ultra TransGranCanaria race sometime – running non-stop across the hilly island. Over 125km with 8,000m of climbing.
The pool or sea are options. Your hotel or resort will have a pool – try choose somewhere with a 20-25m pool or if you’re lucky the big hotels have 100m lagoons! There’s also a public pool in San Fernando, but I’ve never used it. Otherwise the sea is lovely and warm year round (20C+ so no wetsuits!). Maspalomas is nice but often it’s red flagged due to wind direction and strong currents. Some of the other resorts have better sheltered beaches with breakwaters. Although my absolute favourite is Playa Las Canteras in Las Palmas.
Most places will do half-board so you can get dinner and breakfast. If not, tons of options to eat out. Very touristy, so as likely to find an English or German menu as a Spanish one. My tip would be to find a smaller Spanish bar – it might look dirty and have football or soap operas on TV, but the quality of a restaurant can be inversely proportional to the number of languages the menu is in. Likewise the theory applies to the number of pictures of food on the menu.
- Pico Las Nieves – 111km – 5:20hrs – 3,200m ascent
- La Aldea de San Nicolas – 127km – 5:35hrs – 3,400m ascent
- Soria, Ayacata – 119km – 5:10hrs – 3,250m ascent
- Presa Las Ninas, Ayacata – 5:05hrs – 3,400m ascent