Right now in northern Europe, the teeth are chattering and the mud is splattering. Hard-core cyclists are of course riding through it all, but secretly we dream of a winter training break in a place that already feels like spring.
Here are five mouth-watering destinations to the south, where not only is the weather great, but the landscape and roads are particularly suited to cycling all day, every day. There are many cycling training camps available in these regions, but we leave that choice up to you.
Gran Canaria is the biggest of the Canary Islands, which are located off the Atlantic coast of Africa, but belong to Spain. Gran Canaria has a population of about a million people, and it’s a wonderful location for winter training on a bike. The average temperature there during northern Europe’s winter months is between 15–22°C. Also, Gran Canaria has a lot of hills, having spent rather a lot of its life as a volcano. While the periphery of the island is at sea level (obviously), the inland landscape goes up as high as 1,956m above sea level. This makes for some challenging terrain — and perfect, compact conditions for some serious training.
This is a relatively unknown region for cyclists. Located in southern-central Portugal, the region is just north of the more famous and more populated Algarve. Known as the Andalusia of Portugal, you can ride coastal roads in the western Alentejo to your heart’s content. But you can also head east to get that hill-climbing done too. After you’ve finished your ride, try some local wine — it’s also underrated and can be of truly excellent quality.
The Azores are an autonomous region of Portugal in the mid-Atlantic, more than 1,600km off the western coast of the Iberian Peninsula. São Miguel is the biggest island in the Azores and includes the 2,351m high former-volcano Mount Pico, which is flanked by vineyards. These are dramatic landscapes, which mean tough and exciting cycling through fishing villages, green pastures and up rugged hills. The temperatures here are milder than, say, Gran Canaria (average temperature January to March is around 12°C), but the landscape is stunning.
As the largest of the Balearic Islands, Mallorca has a perfect (average) temperature for cycling in the winter — not below 10°C, with highs around 17°C between January and March. The island is quite well-known for its winter cycling training camps. There are sport-oriented hotels, and most of the local road users are accustomed to bike riders. The Serra de Tramuntana mountains are the go-to climbing location on the island. If you head there early in the season you may well come across a professional or two racking up the kilometres before the professional racing season begins.
Tenerife has grown into the go-to cycling training camp location for all the major professional cyclists of today — from Chris Froome and Team Sky to Vincenzo Nibali. But in the past, Lance Armstrong, Alberto Contador and Bradley Wiggins have all put in the hours in this rugged landscape. The climate is more stable here than in more northerly destinations, such as Mallorca. Tenerife is also one of the Canary Islands, but this one rises from the ocean to 2,100m above sea level, and is often used for altitude training, testing riders on the well-known Mount Teide climb.