There are so many great cycling events across the world that choosing a 10 best of list is an almost impossible task. We put physiotherapist and endurance racer Scott Cornish up to the task of picking his favourites for 2018.
These 10 are a personal choice and every cyclist will no doubt compile a different 10. They represent a broad spectrum of events across, road, mountain bike and gravel rides, from social bikepacking to competitive ultra races. Take a peek, see if any of these get those inspirational juices flowing.
A bit biased for the first choice, as mountain biking was where I started riding and these were some of the very first marathons I took part in. Originally all based in Wales, the current series has expanded across the border into England for 3 of its 4 events in 2018. The series retains its Welsh roots with the original, 2 stage series opener in Builth Wells over the weekend of the 7th – 8th of April 2018.
Many a budding marathon rider have cut their teeth at these events over the years and it’s no different now, with the stronger riders opting to race each round the course! They are otherwise wholly inclusive family events for riders of all ages and abilities over some of the best riding each area has to offer. Challenge the racing whippets over the longer distances of approximately 70km or ride with the kids on the mini or middle distances. That’s the great aspect to these events, you get all the superb riding, but at a distance which suits you, plus there is always cake at the end.
As well as cake, there is top notch post ride catering at each venue and Torq supported feed stations en route. If you can, get to one of the full weekend events for the Exposure big night out ride (either 20 or 40km) on the Saturday night. If you haven’t got lights, you can preorder a hire set from Exposure for the night ride. Any mountain bike aficionado should ride at least 1 of these events each year, you won’t be disappointed.
The Roc d’Azur has been around since 1984 and has grown into an extensive 5 day event for fat tyres (now including gravel biking) for riders of all ages and abilities, along with one of the largest exhibitions in Europe, with bike tests and exhibitors showing all the new season’s wares. Held in October and based out of Fréjus on the South coast of France – an hour West of Nice, you’ll normally be riding on dry, dusty trails under warm sunshine and get to chill out on the beach afterwards. What’s not to like?!
There are competitive and non-competitive events for all ages across the 5 days, having expanded from the classic cross country and marathon competitive mountain bike events to now include races for gravel bikes, triathletes (off-road), e-bikes and the youngest members of the family.
There are also various ‘rando’ races, less demanding than the full off-road events and perfect for families who want to ride together. If racing a single event isn’t enough, there is the option of the Roc Trophy, 4 stages across 4 days, including the marathon and the main cross country event on the Sunday, to count towards an overall position. With numerous direct flights to Nice, it’s a great way to end the season, but book early for the cheapest fares and deals on accommodation as it does get booked up.
For those looking to really stretch their legs, Ironbike is an 8 day stage race held in the Italian Dolomites. It is an absolute brute, but a stunning brute that passes through some spectacular scenery to challenge the best of riders.
If ever there was ever a real mountain bike race, this is it, renowned for its high mountain and sometimes exposed trails. Its 700km over the 8 days isn’t huge, but it is the amount of climbing that is at the heart of this ride, all 27000m of it. What goes up, must come back down and this event is also well known for its steep, technical descending.
You’ll want to pack a dropper post for this one. With 1800m climbs, 45 minute singletrack descents and regularly riding over 3000m cols, this is not an event to be underestimated, but is as rewarding for its riding as it is a challenge. The top boys will of course be racing all the way round, us mere mortals will be aiming just to get that finishers medal!
Billed as one of the most beautiful road sportives in the world, the Maratona dles Dolomites takes participants through the lofty peaks of the Dolomites. It starts with a loop of the Selle Ronda and the number of following climbs depends on which route is opted for.
Choose between any one of the 55km, 106km or the full 138km routes with its 4230m of climbing. You can decide on the the day, as all the events start at 6.30am and you can peel off at either of the first 2 route finishes. This event isn’t just about the ride and scenery, but also the atmosphere. The roads are lined with locals playing music and cheering everyone on. Being the Dolomites, gradients can pack a real punch, so come prepared with that extra climbing gear! As a high mountain event, also being prepared for any weather eventuality is essential for a comfortable ride.
Sweden is probably not a cycling destination that would first spring to mind, but the Vätternrundan has become one of the largest mass, non competitive events in Europe. It is a 300km ride around the stunning Lake Vättern, held in mid June. Established in 1966 with 300 riders, it is now heavily oversubscribed, no doubt for its unique feature; you’ll be riding through the night.
Starting at 7.30pm on the Friday you’ll get to see sunset and sunrise before finishing in Motala. Being Sweden and mid-June, the night hours won’t be that long either. There are 9 fully serviced feed stations en route, many with hot food and coffee! It is a fairly flat, but lumpy ride with the highest point a mere 196m, so this is a ride to sit in and work with a good group. Although it isn’t a race, everyone is timed via a wearable timing chip.
Mallorca is a well known cycling mecca for its stunning mountainous and Mediterranean coastal riding for those seeking some welcome sunny riding during the depths of our winter. It also plays host to the early season cyclosportive, the Mallorca 312 on the 28th April, with a choice of 3 distances, all taking in some of the islands iconic hilly and coastal terrain.
Choose from 167km, 225km or the full 312km with 5000m of climbing, hence the name. The full route is no longer a lap of the island, but on a closed road circuit based largely in the Serra de Tramuntana mountains and takes in a large section of the stunning coastal route from Andratx to Port de Pollenca. Don’t worry if you have committed to the 312km route and the legs really aren’t up to it on the day though, as this is another of the few sportives that offers the chance to decide en route which distance you want to ride. Unlike the Alps, there are no hugely steep gradients which require super low gearing, so your usual compact gearing will suffice.
Eroica Britannia is not only a unique ride celebrating the values of cycling past, but also a festival of cycling over the weekend of 15th-17th June with music, food, drink, camping and entertainment. Held in the stunning surroundings of the Peak District, choose from 3 distances of 30, 55 and 100 miles across the Peak district’s finest roads and gravel tracks.
The Eroica events are unique in that only pre 1987 bikes are allowed, geared or single speed. Any bike vaguely resembling a modern carbon machine is strictly forbidden! Don’t own a pre 1987 bike? No problem, bikes can be hired for the event. One of the other rules (of which there are a few to keep in with the values of the event) is to wear vintage or cycle clothing from the era to properly get you into the feel for the event. Check out the website if you are not sure what to wear!
L’Eroica is a global community of inclusive events, having started in Tuscany, with riders of all ages and abilities welcome. The events are about celebrating a lifestyle and is completely non competitive, but there are still various awards to be had for best bike: from best preserved bike pre 1949 and 1955-1987, to best restored bike, so no effort is wasted!
The Dorset Gravel Dash is on Sunday 27th May 2018 and is a largely off road, non competitive reliability trial, on an out and back route to and from Swanage, taking in a mix of terrain along the Dorset coast.
Choose from the all-in-one-go 100 miler or the more social 50/50 bikepacking option where food (really, really good food) and beer are supplied at the overnight camping spot, for which you’ll have to carry your own sleeping bag and shelter.
The route is supplied via a GPX file which will have to be followed as there are minimal course markers en route. Although there are no food stops along the way, the route passes by numerous villages, towns and pubs for refueling. The essence of this ride is all about having an enjoyable day riding with friends, although there will be a few whippets dueling it out for the fastest time!
The ride is designed around gravel/adventure bike use, but any bike can be used so long as it is suitable for riding across off road terrain. The first half of the ride is very hilly, going west along the Jurassic coastline to Corfe Castle, leveling out a little for the 2nd half back to Swanage and a hearty pub meal. Lights are advised depending on personal pace for the 100 miler.
The Distance is a unique 2 day, non competitive, self supported bikepacking event in Galloway Forest Park, Scotland, on a mix of on and off road routes, where you will need to carry sleeping gear, shelter and clothing for an overnight camp. Held around the 2nd weekend of June (2018 dates tbc) it is unique in its format, allowing riders to fully enjoy the social challenge, but at their own pace.
From a single start point each rider will visit a series of checkpoints throughout the day, but how you get between the checkpoints will be dependent on your ride pace and you won’t know the routes until you get to each checkpoint or even the ultimate destination until you get there! There are up to 3 route options from every checkpoint and your arrival time will determine which route option you are given in printed map format and where facilities allow, a gpx file.
A brevet card is also completed along the way as a record of the ride. The faster you ride, the more distance you ride. The faster riders will end up pedalling 100+ miles, for others it will be closer to 60 miles on the 1st day, but all will end up at the same day’s end overnight spot with hot food, a comfortable camp and even a gin bar! Everyone rides the same 50 mile route on day 2, past beaches, cafes and a midday ice cream stop. This is a completely relaxed event, with the adventure of being self supported and an overnight camp thrown in.
For the adventurous seeking a challenge in a remote part of the world, The Silk Road Mountain Race is a single route, unsupported bikepacking race through the Tian Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan starting on the 18th August 2018, solo or ridden as a pair.
It is 1700km with 28000m of climbing with 3 manned checkpoints at which the supplied brevet card must be stamped. It follows, gravel, single and double track, old soviet mountain roads, many of which have fallen into disrepair and minimal tarmac, so a suitable bike will be required. It is suggested that there may be occasional hike a bike and there are occasional long distances between some resupply points, so good planning and the capacity to carry sufficient supplies and water will be essential.
There is a neutralised start from Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan and the event finishes in Chong Kemin, where transport back to Bishkek will be provided. The route has been thoroughly checked by the organisers, but due to the remoteness of this race, all riders are required to carry a spot tracker with an SOS function. This is a tough route and will require thorough preparation, but embodies the real essence of adventure on 2 wheels. There is no real time limit, but reach the finish by the end of August and you get to join in the after party in Bishkek September 1st.
>> Check out our interview with Adventure Syndicate’s Jenny Graham, who took on LEJOG in just 4 days <<