GranGuanche Audax Gravel 2022: A Race to Remember
Former pro cyclists Henning Bommel and Paul Voss decided to race this year’s GranGuanche Audax Gravel event on a whim and ended up as the first pair across the finish line. They were joined by our friend and photographer Stefan Haehnel, who captured an incredible set of images while pedaling 700 kilometers alongside them. Find Henning’s reflective race report from the Canary Islands here…
When I told my friends at Bike Point Tenerife that I’d be coming back to the island in March to explore some of the nice paths north of Mount Teide with my gravel bike, they told me I couldn’t miss the 2022 GranGuanche Audax Gravel route and event. And, if I was on the Canaries and there was a gravel race happening at the same time, I figured I might as well sign up. Some weeks later, I was out for a ride with my friend (and former pro cyclist) Paul Voss in Berlin and the idea to ride as a pair quickly changed from a loose idea to a plan before we were done pedaling.
Ultra-cycling veteran and photographer Stefan Haehnel was interested in joining us from the beginning, and as Paul and I are kind of new to events like this, we knew we could use any help we could get to avoid making dumb mistakes in the event. Plus, we were naturally excited about the idea of Stefan documenting our experience, if only for the sake of being able to look back and remember it. When riding some 700 kilometers on gravel roads across five islands in just 62 hours, everything becomes a bit of a blur. Our time on the GranGuanche would also be marked by lots of time spent moving in the dark, many technical sections, sleep deprivation, temperatures ranging from 25°C (77°F) down to 2°C (35°F), and, of course, riding like hell to catch ferries.
Saturday, March 19th: Lanzarote
The briefing and final registration were between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. in Puerto del Carmen, near the airport of Lanzarote. We just had to roll down three kilometers the promenade, get the GPS tracker, and drop off our luggage for the finish line. We ask Matteo, the organizer, for the best way to get to the start point in Órzola for the grand depart later that night and he suggested a track he’d made on komoot, which he insisted was “really nice and only 45 kilometers.” That was the moment when we realized that we’re definitely not real ultra-cyclists yet. As we see it, 45 kilometers on gravel is still a proper ride, and we had no plans to pedal all those bonus kilometers just to be at the starting line kilometer zero.
So, we took a cab to Órzola and cheekily hopped out just around the corner from the start so nobody would see us and rolled into the center of the village feeling only a little bit ashamed. Some of the riders were lying in their sleeping bags and trying to stock up on the precious rest they’d surely be missing in the coming days. The race started at 10:10 p.m. local time and we were off with good winds at our back, but we made the mistake of going way too fast out of the gate. The port in Lanzarote was the only chance to get a proper sleep before the ferry—the faster you go, the longer you can rest. After a quick night ride, we found some benches near the harbor and napped for a few hours.
Key figures: 110 kilometers, 4 hours and 45 minutes, 1,944 meters of climbing.
Sunday, March 20th: Fuerteventura
Lanzarote to Fuerteventura was a short trip by boat, and at 8:42 in the morning, we started the recording in Corralejo and went directly to the supermarket. We knew there wouldn’t be many resupply opportunities until our planned break at kilometer 88, and even without much experience, one thing was clear: drinking and eating enough would be key parts of making it through this experience.
Fuerteventura really surprised us with its beauty. Maybe Lanzarote was nice too, but that’s the biggest disadvantage of riding through the night: you don’t see much beyond the 15 meters in front of your wheel. The northwest part of the island was stunning with its steep coasts and cliffs, as was the middle part with its scenic mountain climbs and views over the Caribbean and Costa Calma. We took a shower on the white sand beach of Morro Jable, hopped on the ferry, and had a serious meal in the boat’s canteen. Our plan to sleep was sadly disturbed by an extremely loud movie that ran on all screens of the boat.
Key figures: 158 kilometres, 6 hours and 37 minutes, 2,396 meters of climbing.
Sunday, March 20th: Gran Canaria
It felt a bit strange to start another ride on the same day as we pressed the buttons at 9:18 pm. Las Palmas was big and warm, and started with two highlights: the steady path in the “Barranco de Guiniquada” was a five-star section in the middle of the urban environment, followed by a small road rollercoaster with flowy ups and downs.
The six hours that followed were anything but nice and flowy. An endless climb in the dark, with near-freezing temperatures and strong winds at 1,900 meters up. We were properly cold and hoped that it was going to be warmer once we’d descended a bit. However, most of the downhills were on quite technical gravel roads, so it took an eternity to come down. It was our second night without sleep, and it took all the energy we had to stay focused. The number total number of pictures we shot during that eight-hour stretch was just three. There was nothing we wanted to save for later. When we reached Puerto de las Nieves, we were lucky to be able to board the ferry straight away, and I fell asleep the moment I sat down.
Key figures: 140 kilometers, 7 hours and 23 minutes, 3,549 meters of climbing.
Monday, March 21st: Tenerife
I woke up very dizzy after sleeping no more than an hour and a half. The first thing that came to my mind was: there’s absolutely no way I’m getting on a bike now, and the finish feels impossibly far away. But there was no choice but to get off the ferry and begin moving. We stopped at the first gas station we saw. It was 10 minutes to 8 a.m. and Paul organized two very strong coffees from the overcrowded cafeteria, where lots of harbor workers were preparing to start their week. I bought donuts, and we both agreed that they had the perfect mix of fat and sugar, so we bought another package.
Next, something unexpected happened: we started to ride. The Anaga Mountains were looking friendly, which is quite rare, and we began the 14-kilometer climb up to Bailadero from San Andrés. We pedaled swiftly on mostly nice gravel roads, but the hours were slipping away from us. We descended from Vilaflor to Los Christianos in what turned out to be a new personal best time on the 25-kilometer downhill and caught the next ferry at the very last minute.
Key figures: 168 kilometers, 8 hours and 35 minutes, 4,259 meters of climbing.
Tuesday, March 22nd: El Hierro
All of the remaining riders aboard the ferry agreed to a half-night of sleep, so the five leading single riders and the two of us rolled out together at 5:00 a.m., leaving the harbor in El Hierro for the final stage. After joining the hard-pushing group for some kilometers, Paul and I decided to take it easy and go back into our comfort zone. We wanted to take pictures, stop for a coffee, and enjoy the last of our time riding. After all, we were the only pair of racers who’d made the ferry onto the island, so we knew we’d be the first across the finish line even if we didn’t rush.
After our freezing night, we had a wonderful day in the saddle, including some awesome flowy gravel sections through truly breathtaking landscapes. When we arrived at the Bahia restaurant—the official finishing point—we were thrilled to have completed the challenge. Stefan, who rode a shortcut, was already there waiting for us and took some great shots to capture the special moment.
Key figures: 118 kilometers, 6 hours and 25 minutes, 3,843 meters of climbing.
Finish Line Reflections
I loved the sense of adventure and extreme challenge of GranGuanche, which isn’t to say my body didn’t really suffer from the high stress and impact, especially my feet and hands, which were hurting a lot afterward. Reflecting back on our experience, Paul and I agreed that we’d have benefited by taking our time and doing it in 5-7 days, riding during the day, and sleeping at night. It would still have been a challenging 700-kilometer journey with lots of climbing, but we’d have had more time to appreciate and enjoy these uniquely beautiful islands instead of just rushing through. Lessons for next time.
Big congratulations to Stefan, our wingman with all the camera stuff, who rode nearly the same track as we did, racing around to shoot these photos along the way. It’s truly an accomplishment of its own, and we’re really happy that he captured so many moments and memories from our time on the GranGuanche Gravel route.
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