GranGuanche - The analogue view

Lessons in loose climbs, ferry timetables, sunscreen application and keeping your horse in shape at the GranGuanche, the ‘race that’s not really a race’ with Shimano Gravel Alliance rider Simon Taulelle.

A few weeks ago, I rode the GranGuanche Audax Gravel – an event of 700 kilometres with 16,000 meters of climbing across the Canary Islands. Beyond the endurance aspect, what makes this race special is that the islands are linked by ferries that run on tight, limited schedules that force you to keep on the pedals and take minimal breaks.

The GranGuanche was also the first real test for my new Distance 45, which I received a few months earlier and freshly equipped with a new Shimano GRX groupset and some beautiful custom bags from Neza at What Happened Outdoors.

1/ LANZAROTE – A matter of making the first ferry

After a 60km warm-up from Puerto del Carmen to the start in Orzola, the anticipation starts to build. The village’s two restaurants swarm with participants and the atmosphere is almost festive. With a seemingly endless two-hour wait for the start, I find Lucie Dennis and Henna Palosaari and we pass the time ordering coffees and food, hoping that they will be effective in the next hours.

It is dark by 9:50 pm when we join the start and turn on the trackers. A few minutes later, we are off! It's a really cool moment; there are lights flashing everywhere and little by little, small groups form and detach themselves. After two kilometres, we leave the road and turn right in the heart of the matter: some seriously steep gravel hairpins make the peloton stretch a little more. I try to hang onto some wheels and here we are, riding in the night for 110km with one goal in mind: catch the first ferry in Playa Blanca at 8 am.

"We are riding in the night for 110km with one goal in mind - catch the first ferry in Playa Blanca at 8 am"

I'm quickly joined by my friend Lucie Denis, who is obviously in great shape, and we decide to ride together across Lanzarote’s sharp rocky landscape. It's difficult to describe a night ride but best to say that it was varied. Small roads, gravel and singletrack, there is something for everyone!

Our Wahoo indicates 4:30 am and 15 kilometres to go. While we are confident that we shall catch the first ferry, we are already a little weary from this first long stint in the saddle. We comfort ourselves with the thought that we are going to be able to sleep for two hours. The real good news is that we realize when we arrive at the harbour that our Wahoo has been stuck on French time zone – it's only 4 am so there are 3 beautiful hours of sleep in front of us! Considering what lies ahead, this is more than welcome...

2/ FUERTEVENTURA – Solo kilometres for Simon

At 6:30 am I realise that I am literally asleep next to the door of the café that is about to open. I still have my eyes closed but there is a woman making it clear to us that we have already slept enough... I guess it's breakfast time then!

After coffees and bocadillos with Henna and Lucie, we set off to ride across Fuerteventura. On a treeless, windy and perpetually sunny island like Fuerteventura, there’s only one thing to expect: sunburn. When we left the boat, everyone was rushing, and I was still putting sunscreen on my face and forearms before leaving the boat. Fun fact: every other exposed part of my body will be burned by the end of the day.

"I realise that I am literally asleep next to the door of the café that is about to open"

Fuerteventura is a proper challenge. We have 9 hours to complete 160 km and 2,300m. I know that it is not going to be easy and the first kilometres – half gravel, half sand – do not comfort me much. In the first city, we stop with the girls to get water and food. As I watch Henna and Lucie preparing sandwiches, I feel a little nervous and decide to set off. From my limited experience, I know the sort of inertia that can arise when you’re riding with several people, so I choose to ride solo for the first big stretch to Morro Jable. The views are magnificent. They’ve clearly picked a good route for the GranGuanche: The coast offers cliffs and huge waves, while inland you’ve got beautiful roads and gravel tracks winding in the hills.

I catch up with some faster participants who are taking a break on a terrace, but I can't pretend to have the same pace as them, so I play my usual pit stop game: jump off the bike, grab two bottles of water and some snacks, "Gracias senior!" and I'm back on the road in under three minutes. The final 30 kilometres are quite intense – with a special mention for a section in the sand that forced you to push when you are already properly smoked. I arrive at the Ferry at 5:30 pm, happy but well beaten. Looking at the trackers, I see that the girls are also arriving at the ferry. Good news!

3/ GRAN CANARIA – The descent of your dreams and keeping your horse in good shape

The exhaustion of the last 24 hours is well present and I decide to take a hotel in Las Palmas with Henna and Lucie. We eat up the entire stock of a pizzeria between the three of us and enjoy five beautiful hours of sleep. By 5 am we are on the bikes and geared up for 140km with 3,500m of climbing. We leave Las Palmas on a gravel track through a small canyon before a few kilometres along a beautiful road to Telde – it’s a nice, gentle wake-up. Next comes the classic bocadillos-and-coffee combo before starting the interminable climb to the Pico de las Nieves. A mix of road, gravel tracks and other very crazy hike-a-bike sections which will take us the entire morning to complete (and a lot of our energy) but it all plays out in an insanely beautiful landscape. This is the real beauty of the GranGuanche: even when you’re spent, the landscapes continue to amaze you.

In Cruz de Tejeda, we find a small terrace in the sun. Time for a proper meal. This time we have a choice of ferries: 4 pm or 6 pm. We choose to the later ferry so that we can take it easy. What follows is one of the longest and most beautiful descents that I could ever imagine. It’s so long that we stop from time to time to shake out our hands and regain the sensation in our fingers. And so beautiful that we simply have to stop to take photos, of course.

"What follows is one of the longest and most beautiful descents that I could ever imagine"

Below us, we can see the ferry in the distance. To say that we are ahead of schedule would be optimistic – or a blatant lie. According to my estimations we should reach the harbour at 5:40 pm but this does not account for the roadworks, which hold us up for ten (very long) minutes. Once given the green light by the road workers, we shoot off like rockets towards the ferry, arriving with eight minutes to spare. What a ride!

With a 3-hour crossing to Tenerife, we take the opportunity to eat and rest. The girls fall asleep immediately. I take advantage of the time to visit the bathroom. Those want to go far must keep their horse in good shape as my grandfather used to say – and clearly, these races are not won by pedalling alone as even just nominal hygiene can save you from some proper injuries!

5/ TENERIFE – Ups and down, tight on time

This is the big one. The real deal in GranGuanche. It is 7:30 pm when I set off from the harbour.  We have 170 km and 4,500m of elevation to complete before the next day at 5:30 pm. The major problem is that there is only one ferry per day to El Hierro – so even if you’re only five minutes late, you’ll still have 24 hours to wait for the next one off the island. We understand that the night is going to be short and to top it all, there won't be many supplies along the route.

In Santa Cruz de Tenerife, we fill up with water and food. I can carry 3 litres in the bladder in my framebag but to be safe, I decide to take additional water and a bunch of sandwiches, fruit and other salty mixes that I stuff in a musette.

We start on a cycling lane along the coast but very quickly start gaining altitude over the next 15 kilometres up a road pass. Given the day we have just had, I can tell you that our legs are feeling it! We follow some gravel tracks in the glow of bike lights and headlamps and after 45 km and 1,200m, we decide to sleep for two hours on the outskirts of La Laguna. We will learn later that it is one of the creepiest corners of the city but – well, when you arrive at 2 am to leave at 4 am, you can’t really be picky.


"The clock is ticking and the one-and-only ferry will not wait for us"

In the morning we realise how little two hours of sleep really is. We put back our sleeping gear on the bikes in silence and get back on the saddle. The menu of the day is a beautiful but very nasty ascent in the Parque Nacional del Teide. But before that, some steep sections and mud baths will start to get the better of our motivation. The day rises and our bodies kindly ask us to "stop", repeatedly. We eat snacks and meet the very cool Italian team from Enough Cycling who take the opportunity to tell us some jokes and we are back on the saddle.

Unfortunately, Henna is really smashed by the fatigue and suffering with saddle sores. These are not easy moments; I really want to stay to motivate her to move on but at the same time the clock is ticking, and the one-and-only ferry will not wait for us. I decide to set off alone up the massive climb of Mount Teide. Lucie catches me just before the descent. The final kilometres of gravel are a beast, but we insist on a snack break in Vilaflor de Chasna, officially our first ravito since the day before in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. I am exhausted but the coffee and two sandwiches (swallowed in one go) have the desired effect and we arrive at Los Cristianos with one hour to spare before the ferry. The best news is that Henna also made it to the harbour! She is exhausted but she has just accomplished an enormous performance. We eat a plate of French fries and embark on our final ferry for GranGuanche. Direction El Hierro. A three-hour crossing, I take advantage of the time to collapse on the carpet between two armchairs. Suffice to say, this crossing passed quickly.

6/ El Hierro – Mission accomplished

I am so happy to set my tyres down on this last island. It's a small victory in itself to have managed to catch all the ferries in time! I had set myself the goal of finishing this event within the 4-day pace and this goal is starting to look more and more achievable. However, given the fatigue and the thought of crossing this final island at night, we decide to take a hotel. We’ve also got another issue in our midst: While getting off the boat, Henna – who’s already suffering with intense Achilles pain – slipped on a metal rail and hurt her leg, which made it impossible to bend. This is where her hopes of finishing the GranGuanche come to an end. After so many kilometres together, we are inevitably very disappointed not to finish as a trio, but we are reassured by Henna’s philosophical outlook: She prefers to finish early rather than worsen her injuries with another big day on the bike.

In the morning, I get back on the saddle with Lucie and we pass the finish line that we will cross at the end of the day after 120 km and 4,000m. To warm-up there’s a small road pass of 10km to Valverde, followed by water and coffee before carrying on to "Montana la Gotera". The gradients are terrible – so much so that even on some road sections, we find ourselves pushing the bikes. The scenery changes a lot as we gain altitude. It is very green and at times it feels more like Ireland than the Canaries. Or maybe it's just the fatigue? We ride through a thick fog before going down again towards Frontera via a quite technical descent, which tests Lucie’s bike handling.

Matteo Minelli - the race organiser – catches up with us on his motorcycle. Having slept a bit more this morning, it turns out that we are the last two riders to ride within the 4-day pace. We decide to eat together, and he will accompany us to document the end of our adventure. At the restaurant, he warns us that we will have to spend half an hour in hell at the top. It’s hard to believe because at that very moment, we are in t-shirts in front of the sea under the sun, but I am not fooled and I know well that Mother Nature has her moods, especially on the islands! 

We start the ascent on some cool tarmacked hairpins before being engulfed by the fog. Up high, it's lunar and it looks like a storm on the moon! The fog hangs heavy in a very violent wind and light rain so that we have difficulty holding onto our bikes. The climb take a few hours and we can say that we are finished by the top. We hurry down to the next village because night is beginning to fall. We grab one final coffee and ride the final 15 kilometres of the GranGuanche. A vertiginous descent brings us to the finish line where Henna and some participants are waiting. It is 9.30 pm and we have just completed the GranGuanche in 3 days, 23 hours and 30 minutes. We are so happy!

"It turns out that we are the last two riders to ride within the 4-day pace"


The next day, we join other riders for a gigantic breakfast. Everyone has their own adventure story, but the overall consensus is just how great the event is. All the islands are beautiful and yet so different. Lanzarote has its volcanic rocks, Fuerteventura its deserts, Gran Canaria its canyons, Tenerife has the national park of Teide, while El Hierro delights you with its rainforests. 

Matteo has created an incredible event. A race that is not really a race. Both physical and spectacular but also incredibly sociable because on the GranGuanche you race more against yourself and the ferries, than against other competitors. The crossings are an opportunity to meet or make friends. I have to make a special mention to Lucie and Henna, who were the best partners for the race! We cycled, suffered and laughed, banking the best memories as we rode together.

I am very happy to say that my Distance 45 got on very well with the challenge. Not a single mechanical to report. The only maintenance to mention is that it pays to add a little oil to the chain as you get off each boat to lubricate the GRX components. And vamos! It's so comfortable when a race goes without a problem, and even more so when you feel like you have the right tool for the job. 

Thanks again to Shimano and Distance for making this cool event so enjoyable and trouble-free!

Top tip: 

Download the route on the GranGuanche website. Book a week’s holiday with friends or even sign up for the next edition!


Simon lives in Marseille, in the south of France, where he spends a lot of his time getting lost on the gravel tracks close to his home. He’s fortunate enough to be able to claim “the long-sleeved season here is known to be rather short!” When he’s not on his bike he works as art director and motion designer for museums and all kinds of exhibitions. Simon has been part of the Shimano Gravel Alliance for three years now, promoting and documenting the leisure side of gravel riding with all kinds of cameras, especially the heavier analogue ones.


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