The UK's toughest sportives

Which cycling events are serving up a whole lot of challenge this summer?

Sportives – there are lots of them out there claiming to be the toughest. Here is BikeRadar’s selection of 2014 events so tough they'll even make Chuck Norris cry for mercy  

Wiggle Dragon Ride

  • 8 June
  • Region: South Wales
  • Distance: Take your pick - Dragon Devil, 186 miles (300km); Gran Fondo 136 miles (222km); Medio Fondo, 94miles (152km); Corto, 27 miles (45km); Women-only Cycletta, 27miles (45km)
  • Total ascent: 3,437m (for the Dragon Devil)
  • Still taking entries? For standard entries, no but you can enter the Gran Fondo and Medio Fondo with a minimum £250 sponsor pledge for Macmillan Cancer Support
  • Cost: £32.50 to £87.50 / £250 

This Welsh beast – sold out, which is a good sign – turns 11 this year, and if you’ve got a place you’ll be celebrating. Maybe. This is the new daddy thanks to the fiendish 300km Dragon Devil. With almost 3km of vertical ascent over the mammoth distance it's bound to introduce you to another world of pain. It's a brute of a day that will probably be made harder if you get the best of the worst Welsh weather.

Rat Race Road Trip

  • 8-11 August
  • Region: South England to Scotland
  • Distance: 440 miles (708km)
  • Total ascent: More than 6,000m (19,900ft)
  • Still taking entries? Yes
  • Cost: Challenger pair £390; Challenger solo* £400; Expert pair £215; Expert solo* £225 (per person before 31 March) *Save an extra 15 percent with BikeRadar's exclusive voucher code BRRT15.

Two-hundred miles on two consecutive days – aren’t there international laws against that sort of thing? London to Edinburgh in 48 hours will make any self-respecting masochist’s heart beat a little faster, and with a route that becomes progressively hillier as riders become more fatigued and sleep-deprived, it has to be the toughest weekend in UK cycling.

The event – still on standard rates until the end of March, before moving up to a latecomers fee – uses direct back lanes and will take in iconic urban and rural beauty spots, including Burghley House, Lincolnshire, as well as York, the Scottish Borders and the volcanic beacon of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. 

The pain will get turned up to 11 as the bleary-eyed cut through hilly County Durham, beautiful Northumberland and the Scottish Borders. That’s where the hallucinations should start. There’s also the Challenger category for people who’d prefer to do the same course and distance with three overnights.

Saddleback Fred Whitton Challenge 

  • 11 May
  • Region: Lake District
  • Distance: 112 miles (180km)
  • Total ascent: More than 3,000m (9,842ft)
  • Still taking entries? No (standard), but you can contact the organisers in April to see if there have been any cancellations
  • Cost: £50

Few dare argue with the credentials of this monster 112-mile (180km) loop starting in Grasmere, with the Lake District National Park providing the very best in beautiful but agonising terrain. 

A challenge like no other. The volunteer-organised event donates everything to Macmillan Cancer Support, Duddon and Furness Mountain Rescue Team, the North West Air Ambulance and the Dave Rayner Fund and it doesn’t mess about with fiddly smaller distances. Hill-wise it takes in Kirkstone for a starter and Honister and Newlands for mains. Dessert is something special – Hardknott Pass, which has gradients above 25 percent, and its evil little sister, Wrynose, in quick succession. Entries are rare and so will participants legs come the evening of the 11th.

Bealach Mor

  • 30 August
  • Region: Scottish Highlands
  • Distance: 90 miles (144km)
  • Total ascent: 2,926m (9,599ft)
  • Still taking entries? Yes
  • Cost: £39

Everything about this event screams epic. It’s in the Highlands and has a pleasing route profile, with a gigantic spike right in the middle. To get to the start you’ll have to drive north, then north some more to Fort William. Once you get there it’s still another 104 miles north to Kinlochewe. 

It’ll be worth it, though, for the grand views of the wild Applecross Peninsula. The gigantic spike is Bealach na Ba, which cycling writer Simon Warren described as the toughest and wildest climb in Britain. Now who wouldn’t want to go and bag that beast?

There's a red and yellow jerseys up for grabs too for the fastest rider from the bottom to the top of Bealach Mor.  

Tour of Wessex

  • 24-26 May
  • Region: South West
  • Distance: 335 miles (536km); 213 miles (342km)        
  • Total ascent: up to 7,772m (25,168ft)
  • Still taking entries? Yes
  • Cost: £105

One day not enough for you? Two treks in two days still leaving you cold? Well, the Tour of Wessex serves up three days of 100-mile or more rides, with a feast of climbing thrown in to boot. 

Day one is a 107-mile (168km) loop through Somerset and Wiltshire. Day two’s 116 miles (185km) raises the stakes in Somerset and Dorset. And day three? Well, that’s 112 miles (180km) with more than 3,000m of ascent. On their own these routes would be brutal. Together they form a special circle of hell.  

Why not mix it up though? The Tour of Wessex allows you to pick and choose your own combination of brutal days and even mix them up with some of the shorter but no less picturesque distances.

The Exmoor Beast

  • 19 October
  • Region: South West
  • Distance: 100 miles (160km)
  • Total ascent: 1,600m
  • Still taking entries? Yes
  • Cost: £29

There’s nothing fictional about the hurt caused by this long-standing and popular sportive (as opposed to the wild cat that's said to stalk the moor). The event falls at the tail end of the sportive season, meaning bad weather usually adds to the relentless purgatory offered by the 20 percent climbs.

Etape du Dales

  • 18 May
  • Region: Yorkshire
  • Distance: 112 miles (180km)
  • Total ascent: 3,500m (11,482ft)
  • Still taking entries? No
  • Cost: £40

Here’s a no-nonsense pain fest in the Yorkshire Dales that contains as much climbing as a regular Tour de France mountain stage. Organisers helpfully recommend a minimum bottom gear of 39x25-28. That’s minimum – we’d take a dinner plate for the 112-mile route, which takes in “all the major climbs in the Yorkshire Dales”. All of them

That means Fleet Moss, for starters, and everybody hates that climb. Riders should find solace in the fact that their entry fee goes to the Dave Rayner Fund, which supports young British hopefuls trying to go pro in Europe.

Etape Cymru

  • 8 September
  • Region: North Wales
  • Distance: 88 miles (141km)
  • Total ascent: 1,976m (6,482ft)
  • Still taking entries? Yes
  • Cost: £59

It’s up hill and down dale all day long on this, the most challenging closed road sportive in the land. At 88 miles it’s not the longest day in the saddle, but it does have a series of tough climbs to get the legs fizzing, and the famed Horseshoe Pass now incorporates a times King of the Mountains challenge

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