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Latex Gloves, Hairy Legs and Valley of the Tears

Gran Canaria training camp January 2020

Words and photos by Lee Cuthbertson

First up, would just like to apologise to the 2 or maybe 3 people who will read this. My highest academic qualification is a scraped pass in sports at Ashington College so this will be neither as eloquent nor funny as Big Joe Stringers ride reports. Secondly, as some know I’ve been known to write long and over dramatic Strava reports…whilst this may be long all facts are true and accurate!

After a great trip away to GC last year with Greenwood, and the two Shaun’s we’d decided pretty early on we fancied getting away again. I’d secretly been hoping to persuade them to try Calpe this year so I could fan-boy all the pros out there, but we settled on GC but a different location to last year. With hindsight a great decision, as poor Joe Curran who was out there had to contend with some freak weather on the mainland in Calpe as rain and even snow hit… A post had gone up on Facebook in late 2019 looking to get as many muckles on camp as possible but alas it was to be just us 4 again, with a late addition of Ben ‘The Glove’ Wilkinson, who was to live up to his name in the coming days…lets not mention I’m joint holder of said glove, still sore with me that!

After a very late panic and tantrum with my seized seat post (that CJ Cycles removed in 10 seconds) the bikes were packed the routes were planned and we were leaving a freezing cold Newcastle for 5 days training in the winter sun. A seamless flight and transport to the digs (cheers for sorting Adam). Me and accommodation organiser Shaun Brannan managed to claim the best rooms despite me contributing in no way shape or form to the organisation of the trip, and poor Ben was stuck on the sofa where he belongs. As a student this was no doubt a treat for him still. We quickly put the bikes together, well Shaun B and Adam did, me Ben and Wilko just looked at ours and wished Dave Cooksey aka The Bike Butler were with us to help. Eventually we headed out to catch the last couple of hours of sunlight. Remembering last years overly hard ’shakeout’ first ride vividly, I watched the lads disappear ahead as we hit the first climb. My inner competitor fighting my small sensible side telling me there were harder days to come. Couple of hours later and with Wilko not ending up on the motorway like 2019, we were back at the digs full of morale after riding on smooth as silk roads with the most patient of drivers, the sun on our freshly shaved legs, apart from Wilko whose legs continue to resemble a Chewbacca stunt double.

First day was a planned 75 mile ride with some steady climbing to ease us into things. We set off with a nice 15/16 degree temp but with some strong winds that did make it feel slightly chilly so Brannan went back to the house to get his arm warmers. We cracked on slowly and he would catch us up at our first stop. Pulling up at the side of the road just after Maspalomas for a quick wee to wait for Branners, I heard a girl not far behind screech with delight - strange I thought as I had gone far into the bush to be discreet. Alas it was not a girl but Adam shouting at Chris Froome and the Team Ineos train. I turned chopper in one hand and Aldi snack bar in the other, photo opportunity missed as a 4 time grand tour winner and the strongest cycling team in the world sped by. Oh well, we’d catch them on the climb I thought. All regrouped we set off and hit the first climb. I’ve started to get some coaching this winter and my plan did not say go full gas chasing a flying female Swiss rider for 30 minutes at threshold, but that’s exactly what I did. All those efforts up the Gube paying off as I managed to drop my Swiss competitor after I’d sat on for the vast majority of the climb. Colin Atkinson will know how she felt after Matt Smith did this repeatedly in France last year…The rest of the ride passed without incident, everyone was climbing well and we enjoyed a hearty meal of snide spar pizza and pasta that evening back at the house, ready for a big day on Tuesday.

100 miles was the aim today, with an opening 2 hour climb within 5 miles of starting. What a treat! My plan today was 8x30 seconds with steady away rest of the time, so I did 2 hours as hard as I could instead, almost the same. This climb was savagely steep at the start and with it being so long the group split apart quickly. A local rider flew past us the other way wearing many layers and I think trying to tell us it was cold at the top. We are Muckle riders though…surely it couldn’t be that cold??? We pressed on but the higher we got the clouds started to roll in and I noticed despite going hard uphill I wasn’t that warm. I was going well and on the switchbacks I couldn’t spot the other lads behind so onward I ploughed. By this point a thick mist had rolled in with drizzle. I was genuinely cold and my hands were numb. I didn’t even think of the descent or turning back I was so in the zone aiming for a good time. A couple of the lads had done this climb in 2 hours last year and looking at my Garmin after 1 and a half hours I realised i was near the top so there was no stopping now. I reached the top of Pico and my Garmin was reading zero degrees. I’m not sure this was too accurate but it was properly cold!! I waited a few minutes whilst putting on my arm warmers and very thin gilet to see if anyone else would arrive. Thankfully Shaun B did, looking very cold also and I knew he didn’t have a gilet with him…I was shaking uncontrollably at this point and we hadn’t even started to go down. I quickly checked my phone to see a message from Adam saying he was so cold he’d flagged down a random car and got in despite the occupants protests he wouldn't fit. Wilko had, as standard got lost, despite doing the top part of this climb last year and it being a dead end out and back climb to an extent. Maybe the fog blurred his vision or something. Although in his fairness his Garmin screen had froze so he had no idea where to go. No word from Ben at this point. Things were looking pretty grim and now the drizzle had turned to rain. I’ve only had one similar experience to this in the Alps in 2018, which reduced me to tears and that was just because I had to descend in the wet, never mind being freezing! We had no option but to get down so on me and Brannan went. I was shaking so much I couldn’t keep my bike in a straight line and my hands were so cold I couldn’t grip the brakes - when descending into fog on wet roads is tricky. After a few minutes I couldn’t take anymore and stopped at a small shop. The woman owner spoke no English at all, but she didn’t need to to see the state we were in. She turned on a small heater which frankly was utterly useless but I really appreciated her efforts. A cup of Nesquik chocolate and a pair of latex gloves were also offered up, British/EU relations were still strong! Through my shaking hands I was able to see a text from Adam saying those 3 had met up and were waiting in a cafe to get a taxi back to the digs. No matter how much shit they’ve got since, it was justifiable.

The weather really was horrendous and if Shaun B, the tightest man on earth, hadn’t persuaded me to ride on and not get a taxi I think I’d of done the same, bearing in mind we were about 30 mile into the 100 planned….The next 30 mins or so were up there with the worst I’ve ever had, but, we did eventually descend low enough to feel slight warmth and mercifully the road did turn back upwards so our bodies got going again and it was just wet feet and cold hands that were the issue. We stopped at a cafe to drain our socks and dry off a little before getting going again. The rest of the route was a real belter and I am glad we pressed on in the end. Some stunning views and mega descents, watching Brannan descend makes me feel a bit queasy such is his speed and bike lean into the corners, man can get downhill quickly. A joy to watch and made for some good Go Pro footage I think. Returned back to the house to find the other 3 alive and well and watching Grease. A pissed off local couple with a brand new wet car and a confused taxi driver with 3 wet shivering riders was the only cost of the day that could of gone much worse! Many sweets were consumed that evening.

You might want to have a snooze or grab another coffee at this point, it drags on a bit longer. Sorry! Greg should never have asked me to write something up..

The following day was to be another pretty big day out taking in the infamous Valley of the Tears. We did this last year and doing it again genuinely made me nervous. I died a painful death last time and barely made it up. My feelings were shared and there were murmurings of a mutiny against the route for a shorter, easier alternative after the previous days horror show. Inside though I was desperate to do it again to banish the demons and I secretly hoped the lads would change their minds once we got going. As wet set off though morale was not the highest and the forecast wasn’t great for the high points of the island, and we would be going high again today. Very high. Again, an obscene amount of climbing was to be done before we reached the VOT, some 4 hours or so. Knowing this I sat right off as the roads started going up early doors and the lads blasted off ahead. In doing so I assumed that their minds were made up, they weren’t going up the big one and I’d be going solo so I just cruised up, stopping to take photos and get some go pro footage. I was absolutely miles behind so when I hit the cafe stop I was surprised to see them waiting. Cheers lads! They were cold though and 2 had decided that was enough and they were heading back. To my delight whopper Wilko and Ben wanted to redeem themselves and they were to be my comrades for the afternoon - this did fill me with dread a bit as Wilko had no Garmin again and is notoriously useless at directions, my Garmin battery was reading low and Ben is Ben.

All 3 of us are potentially the least mechanically minded riders out there as well so it filled me with fear to think they’d be relying on me for directions for the rest of the afternoon. Thankfully bar one attempt at taking them down a gravel goat track through some woods, we seemed to be on route. More climbing was to follow and a pre VOT cafe stop where 2 of us had a nervous number 2 to shed as much weight as possible before our assault up the big one. Hitting the foot of the climb I was reminded of the hell of last year. Christ it is steep. Think hardknott pass, but worse road surface, steeper hotter and longer, much longer. Thankfully though, despite about 20,000 feet of climbing before starting this one I was feeling good. I did 1 hour 14 last year and was hoping to be near an hour this time round. Up up and up this one goes, 7 miles at 7% average but loads of steep ramps and a couple of small downhills for brief respite, its not even a good looking climb to be honest, its pretty pointless but there’s beauty in the struggle I guess. I managed to hit the summit in 54 minutes so well ahead of target and chuffed to bits. Wilko agonizingly 13 seconds outside the hour but a class effort considering how much his hairy legs and several layers of clothing must slow him down. Closely followed by Ben, another class effort and assuming he rode hard so nobody could stop him to question his abysmal attire for the day. Thankfully and rightfully he was pulled to task for this on Facebook. The weather was starting to turn by now, not again surely…so we just pressed on and descended back to the digs and managed to avoid the worst of it only encountering a bit drizzle and cooler temps. A mega day out to round off the camp with some top lads. I smashed in a Maccy D’s and the boys had their 7th pizza of the week.

A short recovery spin was to end the camp properly the day after and just like that the bikes were packed away and we were heading to the airport. All in a trip over here, flights, accommodation and food had probably cost less than £250 for 5 rides. Can’t beat it.

If anyone got this far, thanks for having a read of my ramblings and get yourself on a trip next year.

See what Lee and the lads got up here

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Dean Madden
Dean Madden
24 ene 2020

Splendid account of the climb to zero degrees. Very relatable.

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