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Larry Warbasse, Conor Dunne explore Canary Islands in off-road, island-hopping romp

Conor Dunne joined the Ag2r pro in a stunning route in a mix of road and gravel connecting five of Spain's Canary Islands.

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Larry Warbasse kick-started his 2022 season with a twist earlier this month.

The U.S. racer linked up with former teammate Conor Dunne, and spent five days riding across Spain’s Canary Islands in a mix of paved and gravel roads that turned out to be quite the adventure for the Ag2r-Citroën pro.

“It was fun, and at the same time, I got in some good training,” Warbasse told VeloNews. “It was way harder than I expected, so I got a good base in during the week. We’d thought we’d have more time for surfing and some other stuff, but we didn’t have a whole lot of time because we were riding so much!”

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The pair packed in about 700km in five days and traced routes across five of the eight islands in the Canary Islands archipelago.

The idea was to fly into Lanzarote, and then hit Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Tenerife and La Gomera all on a five-day trip by riding from one side of the islands to the other, and then jumping ferries to the next destination.

As Warbasse was about to find out, it turned out to be an adventure in more ways than one.

Getting close to the ground

The trip was a reunion of sorts between Warbasse and Dunne.

The pair were teammates on Aqua Blue in 2018, and when the team folded abruptly that summer, the two were left wondering what to do. Instead of racing the Tour of Britain as planned, the two in-form riders wanted to use their good condition for something, and spent a week riding across the French Alps in what they dubbed the “NoGoTour.”

They had such a blast they wanted to repeat their 2018 adventure, but “life” kept getting in the way.

Warbasse landed at Ag2r-Citroën, where he enters his fourth season with the team in 2022. Dunne raced with Israel Cycling Academy in 2019 and retired at the end of the season. Dunne soon became a father, and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Finally this fall, the friends found a window to ride together again.

The question was where to go.

They wanted a bit of adventure, and originally they were considering some gravel roads in the mountains of northern Greece or perhaps something far-flung like Sri Lanka. With COVID continuing to throw up hurdles, however, they decided to stay within easy reach of Europe.

“We threw around some ideas and we decided we needed to do something simple, warm, and close,” Warbasse said. “Conor heard about this route that connects all the Canary Islands, and I thought that sounds great.”

Dunne read about a route that links all the major islands called “El Gran Guanche,” a mix of routes that include road, gravel, and mountain bike sectors designed by avid cyclist Matteo Minelli, an Italian who lives on Lanzarote.

They packed up their gear, and they were off.

Each island is a continent

Larry Warbasse, left, and ex-pro Conor Dunne traced a route across five of Spain’s Canary Islands. (Photo: Larry Warbasse)

Somewhat surprisingly for a pro, Warbassse had never been to Tenerife, the high-altitude volcano where WorldTour pros spend weeks camped out near the top of the Teide crater.

“It was my first time in the Canary Islands,” he said. “I’ve been to just about every altitude training area in Europe, but I had never been to Teide. The islands are amazing.”

The Canary Islands are a string of eight islands under Spanish control since the 15th century off the western coast of Africa. The islands are part of Macaronesia, four archipelagos of volcanic islands that also include the Azores, Madeira, and Cabo Verde.

The islands are famous for their beaches and eternal springlike weather that draws millions of tourists a year, but as Warbasse and Dunne soon discovered, their incredible mix of geology, topography, and scenery also makes for spectacular riding.

Also read: Spanish story on ‘El Gran Guanche’ route

Elite pros have long discovered the heights of Teide, Spain’s highest point at more than 12,000 feet where some of the biggest names book time in the “parador” at the crater for weeks on end. Several teams host training camps on Tenerife and Gran Canaria.

The pair landed on Lanzarote, the stark, arid island pocked with volcanoes and black-sand beaches. They rode from one end of the island to another, hitting about 15km of gravel along the way.

“We rode close to 700km in five days,” Warbasse said. “The longer days were 140-150km, the shortest was about 100km. Every day was quite a bit of climbing. Normally we’d take the ferry in the morning, so that made logistics a bit complicated. Some days we didn’t start until 2 p.m. because the ferry was late, so we used our lights every night.”

On day two they B-lined for the ferry to Fuerteventura. Renowned for its world-class kite-surfing, the pair soon discovered the blasting winds that whip across the island.

“At Fuerteventura, we tried to take a shortcut and hit some more gravel, but it really wasn’t a trail, so we had to ride back in the opposite direction,” he said. “On the way there we had a really strong tailwind, but once we got lost, we had to ride back on a false-flat against a 50kph headwind. Oh man, that was the windiest place I’ve ever been!”

They were joined by two producers from GCN, and their adventures will be packaged for a documentary to go on the network in the future for their latest adventure they’ve called the “SlowProTour.”

Their bikes were fully loaded with 10kg of gear, and they camped out nightly mostly on the beaches. They’d eat in local restaurants, but the entire trip was very close to the ground.

With the ferries and long hours in the saddle, they’d often arrive at the camping spots well after dark.

“I suffered so much. I didn’t realize how hard it would be,” Warbasse said. “I had just started training after a few weeks off, and Conor isn’t training like he used to. A 36km climb when you’re in good shape is already hard, so that made it really hard. We both really suffered.”

The pair are already mulling options for their next adventure. For now, Warbasse heads back to his day job at Ag2r-Citroën, where the team recently wrapped up a training camp in the French Alps.

Warbasse didn’t know what bivouacking was until this trip. He soon found out.  (Photo: Larry Warbasse)