Last year I earned a couple of bits of Canarian Tarmac one fine December day, during the festival of activities called the Gran Canaria Bike Week: La Ciclotourista, on its highlight event 'Cronoescalada Pico de las Nieves'.
The race is beautiful in its simplicity: start with your tyres practically touching the sea, and climb 'til there´s only sky left above you. The route takes in a shade under 2000m of climbing in 29km, somewhat shorter than the most well-known southern ascent to Pico de las Nieves, which ambles to the same lofty goal over 46km.
The 2018 edition started in scorching conditions- a far cry from Irish December mornings, and I was dubious of my decision to bring just one bottle. Eventually we got going, generating our own cooling breeze in the neutralised zone. It wasn't long until the legs started to feel the heat again as we approached the start. One more roundabout and the flag dropped, and immediately the pace shot up, the large group halving in size almost instantly. The direct nature of this ascent means the respite points are few and far between, and pacing is thus absolutely crucial. Nevertheless, despite being together with all those I considered to be the challengers, a couple of riders had already gained a small gap as we were leaving Ingenio, and I decided to roll the dice and gauge the reaction.
Clipping up to the two riders in front to precious little response behind, and seeing that my two new companions were well able and prepared to ride, it was all in. We forced the pace to grow the gap, and had about 40 seconds advantage by the start of the brutal La Pasadilla section. Six kilometres in length, with many ramps in the 20% range, here our trio became 3 solo riders with gaps fluctuating like the myriad expressions of pain etched on our faces.
The first to emerge from this agonising stretch was the real climber in our group- 49kg of lean miniature muscle. I was next, and the third was a resilient bull dog of a fighter. I clawed my way back up to the climber, before the latter caught us both again on a slightly flatter section. There were a few attempts to get away from the other two in the next few kilometers, but I was under enough pressure to just save my effort and mark them.
So it went all the way until the final kilometer, when I put in as big a dig as my legs would allow, now 2000m of climbing older and wearier. I got a gap, but the 'fighter' clawed me back with about 500m to go. Bear in mind all of these distances take much longer on an uphill finish. He immediately came around me, probably hoping I couldn't respond, but after all that hardship he was going to have to really try to get rid of me. He thereby lead out the sprint and handed me the best possible run at the finish. Twisting the bike from left to right every inch of the way to the finish line, I realised he had been distanced, and the road had run out. Pico. Reached. Phew.
The trophies they award are small discs of tarmac- fitting mementos on an island that looks after its roads so well. While I love climbs, I wouldn´t call myself a climber, so my personal goal for this race had been only to better my time over the shorter sector we had raced in 2017. Despite having ridden it in a race situation the whole way, I rode exactly the time and power I had predicted.. When the stars align, they align?