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Meet Andrea Pérez: The first rider from Tenerife to race the Vuelta a España

The 19-year-old became the first rider from Tenerife to ride the Vuelta Femenina and is hoping to become the first pro from the Canary Islands.

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Spain’s Canary Islands — particularly Tenerife — are a haven for professional cyclists searching out tough terrain and altitude for training, but they’ve not proved as fruitful in developing their own talent.

Nineteen-year-old Andrea Pérez is aiming to become Tenerife’s first pro rider and this week became the first from the island, male or female, to ride the women’s Vuelta a España.

The Vuelta is Pérez’s first major stage race so her ambitions are pretty modest — she wants to finish — but the race is an opportunity to show herself off to pro teams and gain a wealth of racing experience.

“It’s a dream come true and it feels like a gift for all the hard work that I have put in, to be able to be in a race with the best female cyclists in the world,” Pérez told VeloNews. “Even though I still feel it’s going to be really hard to make it as a professional, it feels like it’s possible.

“My big ambition is to be able to finish. It’s my first stage race and seven consecutive days racing is going to be a challenge but that’s my big aim. Hopefully, I can do something like get into a breakaway on one of the days, but for me, it’s going to be a big learning experience.”

Pérez has survived the Vuelta so far and made it through one of the toughest racing days of the year on stage 3 with crosswinds pummelling the bunch and splitting the race to pieces. She finished in the penultimate group over the line, which largely consisted of her Cantabria Deporte-Rio Miera team, at 17:47 behind Marianne Vos.

Like her ambitions at the Vuelta Femenina, Pérez’s dreams for a cycling career are also fairly modest.

She has races she’d like to compete at, such as the Belgian classics and Paris-Roubaix because of their history and importance to the sport. However, she wants to build herself as a strong mountain domestique that can go all-in for a leader.

“I’ve got a really high capacity to suffer and will suffer for the team. If I’m given a role to work for a leader, I will do everything I can for my leader,” she said. “The thing I like to do most is climbing but the speed at which the best in the world climb is a problem at the moment because there are not that many people who can climb at the same speed.

“I would love to race the Belgian classics because they have so much significance in cycling. I have watched them on television and would love to experience that as a racer.”

The Cantabria Deporte-Rio Miera finishes the Vuelta Femenina TTT
The Cantabria Deporte-Rio Miera finishes the Vuelta Femenina TTT (Photo: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

Pérez’s coach Carolyn Gaskell, who is originally from the UK but has lived in Tenerife for almost a decade, thinks there’s more to the 19-year-old than she may think.

“She’s the sort of rider who she will do everything she can for the leader. She’ll maybe fall off the back and then turn up again on the front doing some more work because she’s recovered and got back. She’s got a really good capacity to recover, and I personally think she’s got a lot more of a sprint than she thinks she has,” Gaskell told VeloNews.

On top of her coaching, Gaskell also helps to organize training camps on Mount Teide and, through that, she was able to get Pérez on a training ride with the Jumbo-Visma women’s squad when they were on the climb earlier in the spring.

“It was a great experience and I didn’t expect them to be so kind and friendly. They took the time to talk to me and sort of inspire me. It was like if you say to a child, you can go and play football with [Lionel] Messi,” Pérez said.

Tough terrain

Andrea Pérez joins Jumbo-Visma on a training ride
Andrea Pérez joins Jumbo-Visma on a training ride (Photo: Carolyn Gaskell)

Pérez picked up cycling when she started to ride her bike to school and fell in love with it from there. Despite the large number of riders that come over to Tenerife to train on its roads, there is little in the way of a cycling scene among the locals with the tough, rugged terrain often putting people off getting into the sport.

“I love living in Tenerife, I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world but there isn’t very much sort of cycling culture in Tenerife. Even though the professionals come and there’s a lot of cycling fans, but in terms of culture of training and racing there isn’t that much.”

There are a small number of races in Tenerife, but Pérez had little support in training and developing herself as a rider. It’s a far cry from some of her fellow Spanish riders on the mainland, who can look to a growing number of clubs and teams to find their feet in the sport.

From seeing Pérez at races and out on training rides, Gaskell knew that she had plenty of talent, but she also noticed that she was training too much. After speaking with her parents, Gaskell started coaching Pérez and working on finding a more balanced approach compared to what she saw as a more “old-school” way of training.

The pair have been working together for close to two years now.

“In the old days, there was this idea that you just ride as hard as you can for as long as you can and that that makes you strong. Obviously, now we know more about the body and the importance of recovery and the importance of the adaptations at low intensity,” Gaskell said.

“I sort of started bumping into her while I was at training, and she was always training on her own. And she was always trying really hard and so one day I got talking to her and said ‘you need to do some kind of new training to improve.’ She was overtraining because she was doing so much intensity, and in the end, it got to a point where she just sort of had really dug herself into a big hole. It was probably a year of getting to know her and seeing her out and about, and then when I saw this was happening, I spoke to her parents and said, I little bit concerned, that she’s got loads of talent, but she needs some guidance.”

Pérez, who lists Movistar rider Sheyla Gutiérrez as her cycling hero, graduated out of the junior ranks last year and is gradually growing as a rider.

Joining the Continental team Cantabria Deporte-Rio Miera in 2022 has been a big help for her. The team keeps a bike for her on the mainland, which means that she no longer has to cart a bike around airports — something she had to do previously.

Finishing the Vuelta Femenina this week would be a major stepping stone in her development as a rider, which she hopes will help to advertise herself to teams. She hopes that being the first Tenerife native to ride the Vuelta and to earn a full-time contract will help to build the sport on her home island.

“To get a professional contract would mean that I could inspire other people from the island, girls and boys, so that they could make it in cycling as well. It’s also particularly satisfying that the first person to go to the Vuelta a España from the Canary Islands is female.”

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