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Gran Guanche: bikepacking between islands

Ready for a new format of an ultracycling racing event for 2021? If that is the case you can already write down the Gran Guanche on the calendar, an ultradistance race in the Canary Islands (Spain). In the event, named after the indigenous of Tenerife, one will have to participate in an individual and self-supported manner, having to choose between three different categories: trail, gravel, or road. The route goes through the whole archipelago, from island to island, which will give an extra motivation boost for the participants to catch the first ferry. In any case, a good excuse to visit a region full of culture, history, and incredible and changing landscapes that range from beaches and cliffs to volcanoes, deserts, and forests.

Prelude

Last November, the first Gran Guanche group ride was organized. The route crossed from east to west, following the same track of the race but in a friendly and familiar bikepacking context. Of the 50 registered participants, only 5 of them managed to reach the archipelago due to flight cancellations and pandemic restrictions. In this way, every participant was able to face the challenge at his own pace, the idea was to inspect the track and escape from the ‘sun-and-beach’ tourism to explore every hidden corner of the islands. They could enjoy the nice weather, the landscapes, the seafood, locally kept secrets, and everything that surrounds volcanoes, as they were riding the designed route.

The race

That social group ride was just an introduction to what the ultracycling race through the same route will be, which will be happening on April 10th, 2021. The event is planned as three different races that will take place during the same days with slightly different tracks, depending on the chosen type of bicycle: trail (minimum tire width of 2.2”), gravel (min. 40 mm), or road (min. 25 mm).

Each one of the courses is planned specifically for the bike to use. Thus, we will find single tracks, gravel roads, and hike-a-bike sections in the trail category, whereas it will be all tarmac for the road one. The shortest course will be that of road, with 600 km and 14.000 m of elevation gain. The distance in the gravel category will be 700 km and 16.000 m of total climbing, and the trail will be the hardest one, with 800 km and 20.000 m. So, without wanting it, having to cross each one of the islands, many times through the highest point of these, we will end up climbing a lot and accumulating much elevation gain, since we will have to go from sea level to the summit.

All the routes start in nearby locations (north of Lanzarote or La Graciosa), but each one of them finishes on a different island. The trail category in La Palma, the gravel in El Hierro, and the road in La Gomera. So, if you finish the race feeling strong, you can take some extra days and finish visiting the other islands.

The ferries

We are talking about an archipelago so, in order to skip from island to island, we will have to jump in boats to complete the whole route. This will be the key point that, depending on how the race goes, might decide the final result. In the trail and gravel categories, we will have to use 5 ferries, whereas it will be 4 for the road category. These depart frequently and the total time onboard of the several ferries is around 8 hours. Missing one might give an advantage to the other participants or represent some resting time, from which we could benefit.

Gravel route

For instance, if we focus on the gravel route, this will start from the ferry terminal in La Graciosa, where we will do a circular loop. Then, we will skip to Lanzarote and cross it from north to south through the dark volcanic landscapes. Next, it will be the deserts of Fuerteventura, with dunes that will take us to the Sahara. Once in Gran Canaria, we will have to climb through forests up to Pico de las Nieves at 1.949 m above sea level to later descend to the ocean and hop on a ferry to Tenerife, where we will start climbing till seeing Mount Teide. Finally, we will take the last ferry to El Hierro and its rocky and steep landscape. The route is 70% off-road through compact and fast terrain, without considering the elevation gain.

Organization

The Canary Islands are known for the warm weather throughout the year, with temperatures ranging from 15 and 25 ºC. The participants will have to plan how to face the route, where to sleep, or what to carry, as long as they are self-supported and do not rely on any support team. Unlike other bikepacking events of this style, participants will be allowed to ride together, which will motivate them to arrive at certain ferry terminals at certain times (mutual help will not be allowed). From the organization, they only ask the participants to be aware of the adventure they are starting, to be respectful with other participants, and to fulfill the motto ‘leave no trace’.

 

Photos: Gran Guanche