Words and photos by Matteo Minelli (@matminelli)
Intrigued by a bikepacking adventure with nice weather, about 50 riders registered for the first and tentative Granguanche group ride. In the weeks before the event, COVID-related restrictions increased all over Europe, most countries got locked down, flights got cancelled, and only five riders could finally make it to the Canary Islands. Luckily, the archipelago had the lowest infection rate in Spain and we have been able to wander around on our bikes all day and night, eat seafood at restaurants, and sleep at the beach. It was a real blessing that shouldn’t be taken for granted these days. That’s how we felt during the whole ride: blessed.
Every rider showed up with a different approach. Everyone rode at their own pace, so the reduced group ride split apart, turning into five solo adventures. We rejoined at some points and we constantly kept in touch for advice and feedback.
Nobody really attempted a race pace through the route. We enjoyed long days on the saddle but didn’t lose any occasion to swim, taste local food, meet people, and take pictures. Javier, the fastest and most experienced in the group, covered the 700km of the gravel route in four days. Robert spent three weeks cycling around the archipelago, including some days off in the city and many off-route explorations.
As expected in autumn, we generally had some nice sunny weather from sea level to high altitude. Only during the last days in La Palma, some strong winds in the highest peaks frustrated my sea to summit climb and forced me to safely ride back to the beach and wait for the next day. At high altitudes the weather can be tough, often freezing and possibly snowing during winter, riding downhill is always the fast and safest way to get out of trouble.
Logistics proved to be quite easy, especially when riding in the daytime, though some participants miscalculated resupplies and found themselves eating raw chestnuts or having to leave the track to find some water. I am currently working on a PDF guide to help planning stages and resupply.
At the end of the day, riders constantly described the experience as ever-changing, rewarding, and challenging. The route features some serious elevation gain and many challenging climbs. Asked about the most liked sections, riders mentioned the black gravel roads in the volcanic landscape of Lanzarote, the Moroccan-like deserts in Fuerteventura, the forest roads of Tirma in Gran Canaria, the endless climb to Mount Teide in Tenerife. My personal favourite is the sea-to-summit climb and descents in La Palma.
The route is planned in three options for different bikes and terrain: trail, gravel, and road. For each option, we considered what to ride, what’s the fastest bike and tire choice, what’s comfortable over the long distance. We didn’t jump to any conclusion, but we all agreed on wide tires and low gearing.
Considering the elevation gain and nice weather, we focused on what to pack, how to keep it light while still being able to sleep in the wild and facing some long section between resupplies. Once again, we didn’t jump to any conclusiona, but we all realized that we could have packed less.
The group ride has been a final test for a years-long route planning process made of bikepacking, hiking, and motorbike trips around the archipelago. Feedback from participants and local riders helped in making some points and refining the track. Exposed singletracks can be as awesome as dangerous, especially at night. I finally decided to keep it safe. Crossing busy cities is unavoidable and sometimes unpleasant, I tried to keep navigation easy and choose the fastest way out.
The route is well connected by fast and frequent ferries, a good chance to rest and recharge batteries. Miscalculating stages can result in losing the next connection. In a group ride, it’s not a problem, it’s just another occasion to swim at the beach and have a decent lunch at the harbour while waiting for the next ferry. Then our thought went on to the next February race: losing a connection will mean being cut off from the leading pack, a real game-changer, probably a limit, maybe a challenge. The grand depart is scheduled to fit a race-pace scenario based on a non-stop ride to the next ferry until the last island and the final volata. Like no other bikepacking race, riders will here be allowed to draft each other in a leading pelotón.
I plan to arrange a group ride and a race every year. The group ride will be open to anybody wanting to challenge the route with no entry fee, and participants can choose to be tracked by their own mobile phones. The race will be open to a limited number of experienced riders and participants’ positions will disappear from the tracking map if they fail to reach the next ferry as scheduled in the non-stop race pace.
Congrats to everyone who participated in this year’s Granguanche event. The 2021 Granguanche Race is scheduled for February 20th—learn more here.