Following the end to the 2017 road cycling season, it will soon be time for the pros and for you to start thinking about what will be your main cycling rides of 2018. We checked in with the European Sportive experts at Sportive Breaks to get a look at the best events to ride next year…
One of the highlights of the year for a lot of British cyclists is the big trip to ride one of the great sportives in Europe. From the cobbles of Roubaix to the peaks of the Dolomites, there is an event out there for everyone. More and more Brits are riding abroad each year and 2018 looks like being a record year. Want to join them but not sure which sportive to ride? Hopefully we can help…
Best First Time Sportive
Riding abroad can be daunting. How do you get your bike out? Where do I collect my entries? Why are they all wearing white bib shorts? So many questions to answer. These sportives are excellent first time events with spectacular routes to get you hooked and easy logistics. Got questions about your first sportive? You’re in luck – Sportive Breaks are on hand to help.
Tour of Flanders | March 31st | Oudenaarde, Belgium
Just over an hour from Calais, this is a really easy sportive to drive to from the UK. The race is centred around the pretty town of Oudenaarde, but people also stay in Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp or Kortrijk and ride/drive to the start where there is a lot of free parking (but heavy traffic on the way in). The best option is to stay in Oudenaarde but hotels are in short supply so book early.
You can ride the long route which starts in Antwerp, there is a race shuttle from Oudenaarde so no complications about where to park. The route takes in all the classic bergs of Flanders including the Koppenberg, Paterberg & Oude Kwaremont and the course is so packed with cobbled sectors and climbs there is never a dull moment. The towns are packed with cycling fans creating a great atmosphere and we highly recommend staying for the pro race the next day before heading back either Sunday night or on Monday.
Mallorca 312 | April 28th | Playa de Muro, Spain
Close to 60,000 Brits go to Mallorca each spring to ride and once you go, it is pretty clear why. This is cycling at its absolute best – long but gentle climbs, thrilling descents, quiet lanes surrounded by lemon groves, great coffee (and cake!) & smooth tarmac. The island is well set up for incoming cyclists so bringing your bike is easy with plenty of bike friendly airport transfers at the other end. You do need to book your bike box onto the plane when booking or use a service which does door to door bike transfers such as www.bagsolo.com. The other option is renting and there are a ton of options in Mallorca.
The 312 event is on completely closed roads with a route that hugs the coast, takes in some great climbs and then heads inland so you get a great feel for the island. There are 3 routes from 167km to 312km so you can come with a group of friends of mixed abilities. It is also a great event to bring non riders, they can enjoy the beach and lovely market towns of Mallorca while you explore on the bike. A great and easy long weekend or week of riding.
Best Sportives for Pure Climbers
Three absolutely stunning sportives taking in the French Alps, Italian Alps & Dolomites. These are all tough events with over 4,000m of climbing at each. Expect long, hard climbs, quick descents and tired legs at the end.
Stelvio Santini | June 3rd | Bormio Italy
The Stelvio is the most famous climb in Italy and voted by Top Gear the best road to drive in the world. Because of this, it can be full of cars & motorbikes so riding this classic climb on a closed road sportive is the best way to see it. The ride is tough with a nasty ascent of the Mortirolo (averaging over 10% for over 10km!) along with the smaller Teglio so your legs are softened even before you start the long climb of the Stelvio. A challenging course but very rewarding.
Maratona dles Dolomites | July 1st | Corvara, Italy
One of the most beautiful places to ride a bike in the world, the Dolomites looks like the Sound of Music mixed with a Geography teacher’s dream boasting interesting rock formations in every direction. The riding is spectacular with long climbs in every direction. This sportive has been going for over 30 years and sells out immediately. The route starts over the Sella Ronda, often called the best 55km ride in the world. After the 4 climbs on this loop, it is on to the longer, tougher climbs including the mighty Passo Giau. A must ride sportive!
La Marmotte | July 8th | Alpe d’Huez, France
The original mountain sportive and still the toughest mass participation one day cycling event in Europe. The route takes in 4 of the most famous climbs of the Tour de France across some beautiful scenery. The first climb close to the start is the Col du Glandon, a long, uneven beast which would be the highlight of any other sportive. From there, riders head along the valley to the Telegraph which acts as the traditional warm up for the Col du Galibier, one of the world’s great climbs. If that isn’t enough, off the top of the Galibier is a thrilling descent all the way from the 2,645m summit to Le Bourg d’Oisans almost 2,000m & 50km downhill. Just for fun, the finish is the 21 hairpins of Alpe d’Huez. Tough when fresh, after 160km of Alpine riding and in the middle of the French summer, very painful.
Best Pro Cycling Race / Sportive Weekend
A packed cycling weekend of riding a top sportive on the Saturday followed by watching the pros on a one day classic on the Sunday. What’s better than that? In the past few years, most of the One Day Classics have launched their own sportives which give us lucky riders the opportunity to ride the course the day before the pros – with all the barriers and finish lines set up. It’s like playing at Wembley the day before the cup final. The majority of these races are in spring but don’t forget Lombardia at the end of the season, a perfect way to finish your year of riding.
Gent Wevelgem | March 24th | Wevelgem, Belgium
The start of Flanders classics week, Gent Wevelgem is the sportive riders sportive and a chance to ride a smaller event with a largely local peloton. There are a few climbs along the route but the main feature is fighting the headwinds over the plains of Western Flanders. The key is to get into groups and keep out of the winds, dropping off the back is a slow painful experience and fighting the winds on your own is not a fun experience. Most riders and pro teams stay in nearby Kortrijk so your chance of seeing Sagan, Van Avermaet and the other one day classic riders is high.
The sportive and pro race goes through a lot of WW1 battlefields and Ypres is a great place to watch the pro race. Catch the last post at the Menin Gate on your way home to complete a great weekend.
Paris Roubaix | April 7th | Roubaix, France
The big beast of the spring sportives. It’s an event that some love and go back for more every year and others hate and vow never to return. The most severe cobbled sections (signified by their 5* rating) are an assault on your bike. Make sure you bring your bike in for a service before you go and tell the mechanic to make it Roubaix ready – wide tyres and double handlebar tape is the norm.
There are three routes, a short and medium loop starting and ending in Roubaix and a long route starting in Busigny with a shuttle from Roubaix. All of these routes hit enough cobbled sections to give you a full appreciation of what the pro riders go through and all end with a lap of the famous velodrome in Roubaix. Definitely hang around for the Sunday to watch the race. You can get very close to the action on any of the cobbled sectors or get into the velodrome at the end for free to see live the final laps.
Amstel Gold | April 14th | Valkenburg, Holland
A race largely ignored by the Brits but absolutely loved by the Dutch. Entries sell out immediately for this sportive in Eastern Holland with a route that goes into Belgium and close to Germany. While the rest of Holland is flat, this part is lumpy with a few nasty climbs. There is a very fun atmosphere on the course and the pace of the local riders is strong. The key climb in the sportive is the Cauberg close to the end and through the town of Valkenburg. Crowds line the climb and music is pumping to help you get up its steep slopes. Once over the top, there is a flat sprint to the line before getting to the massive beer tent to celebrate.
The pro race is huge in Holland and the atmosphere is barmy. Expect lots of very drunk locals, some questionable music and one of the most fun days watching a bike race you will ever have!
Tour of Lombardy | October 14th | Como, Italy
The final race of the year on the shores of Lake Como. This weekend is backwards compared to other pro race / sportives. The sportive comes on the Sunday after the pros and takes in the highlights of the route including the stunning Passo del Ghisallo which summits at the famous Cyclist’s Church and then heads to the hardest climb in any major European Sportive – the Muro di Sormano. So tough is the Sormano with it’s 25%+ gradients that it is more common to see riders walking than riding up the steepest parts.
The rest of the route allows for stunning lakeside views and some glorious, life affirming sections which is the perfect way to draw the curtain on your year of cycling. Being in Italy, you can easily find some incredible pasta and a drop of house white to enjoy while sharing stories of your year with friends.