Best sportives and gran fondos: 25 to consider

Our picks from around the globe

Mass participation cycling has never been more popular. Not a week goes by without news of a new event popping up somewhere around the globe, but there are some that stand out from the crowd.

Here's a selection of the best sportives and gran fondos around the globe for you to enter in 2017.

These events have typically been running for many years, often building themselves up slowly and growing bigger year after year.

They usually have an out-of-the-ordinary route, perhaps set in a stunning part of the world, or are simply famed for being lung-bustingly tough.

Maybe they accompany a professional race on the same weekend, giving punters the chance to take in some elite racing on the same trip, or traverse the same mythical mountains that you've seen on TV.

Whatever the reason, they are all unquestionably the rides to do before you die.

Best UK sportives

The UK has a large number of sportives to get you out into the beautiful British countryside, from small ones organised by the local cycling club to enormous ones that swamp the UK capital.

The list below is by no means an exhaustive one, but each one will take you through stunning countryside and leave you with a smile on your face at the end.

Fred Whitton Challenge

Honister Pass is just one of the many highlights of the Fred Whitton Challenge
Honister Pass is just one of the many highlights of the Fred Whitton Challenge

Though it doesn't pass over mountains the size of an Alpe d'Huez, BikeRadar can attest to the enormity of the task at hand when you take up the challenge of the Fred Whitton.

It was first held back in 1999 in memory of the secretary of the local Lake Road Club and has grown in both stature and legend ever since.

Riders have to negotiate some 4,000m of climbing over vicious climbs including Kirkstone, Honister, Wrynose and, with 160km miles already on the clock, the 30 percent Hardknott Pass. 

The early May Lake District weather is notoriously fickle and can often make or break your day.

You'll also need to act quickly to get a place — entry opens on New Year's Day each year and fills out the same day, with a ballot used to decide the 1,400 places. So bag one of the few remaining charity places or put in a calendar reminder for 2018.

Dragon Ride

The Dragon Ride has a number of distances available, including the fearsome Dragon Devil at 305km
The Dragon Ride has a number of distances available, including the fearsome Dragon Devil at 305km

  • Where: Port Talbot, South Wales
  • When: June
  • Distances: 100km / 153km / 230km / 305km
  • More info:www.humanrace.co.uk

At 305km for the longest route, this is one of the toughest events in the UK.

With climbs that include the Cimla, Rhigos and Black Mountain passes, it should be on the to-do list of all amateurs.

There are also shorter routes available, plus a multi-day event called the Dragon Tour.

RideLondon

RideLondon takes in Surrey's Box Hill and finishes on the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace
RideLondon takes in Surrey's Box Hill and finishes on the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace

The UK's largest mass participation cycling event, RideLondon is an enormous event that completely takes over the capital and its surrounding countryside.

Various other events are also part of the weekend of cycling, including the Brompton World Champs and pro race the RideLondon Classic.

The RideLondon 100 takes riders out into the Surrey hills and back, finishing in front of Buckingham Palace.

Velothon Wales

Velothon Wales has two routes: the full 140km or a slightly shorter 110km
Velothon Wales has two routes: the full 140km or a slightly shorter 110km

With up to 16,000 riders expected for the 2017 Velothon Wales, this has become a major event on the UK calendar.

There are two distances available (140km and 110km), taking riders out of Cardiff city centre and over to the Brecon Beacons and back.

Despite the modest distance compared to others on this list, the longer route still features 1,822m of climbing.

Bealach Mor

The Scottish sportive of Bealach Mor crosses the infamous road of Bealach-na-Bà
The Scottish sportive of Bealach Mor crosses the infamous road of Bealach-na-Bà

  • Where: Applecross Peninsula, northern Scotland
  • When: September
  • Distances: 145km
  • More info: www.handsonevents.co.uk

If you want to ride an organised event across what is arguably the UK's biggest road climb, check out Bealach Mor.

It takes place on the Applecross Peninsula in the north of Scotland and includes an ascent of the infamous Bealach-na-Bà mountain road.

Best European sportives and gran fondos

If you're looking for incredible mountain climbs, centuries of cycling tradition and plenty of like-minded souls, Europe is the place to go.

The selection below covers some of the biggest and most challenging sportives to be found anywhere in the world, each of which will create the memories of a lifetime.

Mallorca 312

The Mallorca 312 is stunning, but gruelling
The Mallorca 312 is stunning, but gruelling

  • Where: Mallorca, Spain
  • When: April
  • Distances: 167 km / 225 km / 312 km
  • More info:www.mallorca312.com

Mallorca's warm temperatures, great road surface and the potential of being cycle-able all year round mean it is becoming a magnet for cyclists.

If you want to get the best from one of the most trendy European cycling destinations, the Mallorca 312 sportive is definitely the must.

The long route (312 km) will let you discover almost half of the Balearic island, with a “bonus” of 5,000 meters of vertical gain. Stunning, but gruelling.

Paris-Roubaix Challenge

The Paris-Roubaix Challenge allows amateurs to test their nerves on some of cycling's most famous cobbles
The Paris-Roubaix Challenge allows amateurs to test their nerves on some of cycling's most famous cobbles

If you are passionate about the cobblestones, then look no further; the Paris-Roubaix Challenge is your match.

Taking place twenty-four hours before the start of the pros, this event allows amateurs to test their nerve on some of the most challenging and famous cobbled sections that the cycling world can provide.

And if your arms and legs survive the battering of the forest of Arenberg and the Carrefour de l’Arbre, crossing the finish line surrounded by the crowd of the Roubaix Velodrome will be an unforgettable moment in your cycling portfolio.


Liège-Bastogne-Liège Challenge

The Liège-Bastogne-Liège Challenge involves lots of climbing in the Ardennes
The Liège-Bastogne-Liège Challenge involves lots of climbing in the Ardennes

This is a solid alternative to the Roubaix if you like the spring Classics, but you don’t want to challenge the pavé or you want to try something different — namely lots of climbing in the Ardennes.

Organised by the same association that is in charge of the Tour de France, the Vuelta and the other spring Classics of the north (ASO), the Liège-Bastogne-Liège (or the 'Old Lady') is the oldest of the five Monuments (Milan-San Remo; Tour of Flanders; Paris-Roubaix; Liège-Bastogne-Liège; Giro di Lombardia).

The first edition was run in 1892 as an amateur event and nowadays the long course features eight climbs and 4,500 metres of vertical gain.

Definitely a major trophy for 'sportive hunters'.

Tour of Flanders

The Tour of Flanders sportive lets you tackle the world-famous cobbles for yourself
The Tour of Flanders sportive lets you tackle the world-famous cobbles for yourself

  • Where: Oudenaarde, Belgium
  • When: April
  • Distances: 74km / 141km / 200km / 237km
  • More info: www.sport.be

Another of the sportives to sit alongside a professional race, the Tour of Flanders takes place the day before the pros depart Antwerp.

It's gruelling for a different reason to all the rest — the bone-shuddering cobblestones.

Over 16,000 riders take part and with a much looser organisation than events of a similar size (riders just depart as and when they arrive on the start line), the congestion when you reach a cobbled climb can be chaotic.

Quebrantahuesos

Spain's Quebrantahuesos — literally meaning 'bone crusher' in Spanish — covers great swathes of the Pyrenees
Spain's Quebrantahuesos — literally meaning 'bone crusher' in Spanish — covers great swathes of the Pyrenees

Translated literally as 'bonecrusher'' in English, Spain's Quebrantahuesos sportive starts and ends on the edge of the Pyrenees in Sabiñanigo, but spends a good chunk of its marathon 200km route in the mountain range itself, and includes a climb of the Col de Marie-Blanque.

Vätternrundan

Sweden's Vätternrundan is claimed to be the world's largest mass participation sportive
Sweden's Vätternrundan is claimed to be the world's largest mass participation sportive

With a claim as the largest recreational bike event in the world, this mammoth 300km ride starts and finishes in Motala, Sweden and traverses the coastline of the huge lake Vättern.

It has a long history and began when Sten-Otto Liljedahl, a professor and medical advisor in sports, wanted to test some ideas he had about the relationship between hard training and the need for food and water.

La Marmotte Gran Fondo Series

France's La Marmotte is one of the original sportives
France's La Marmotte is one of the original sportives

If L'Étape du Tour is the daddy (below), this can certainly claim to be the mother of cyclosportives, having been on the calendar since 1982.

In recent years it has been expanded to three events, all equally fearsome: Marmotte Alpes, Marmotte Pyrenees and Marmotte Hochkönig in the Austrian Alps.

L'Étape du Tour

L'Étape du Tour is probably the biggest and best-known sportive in the world
L'Étape du Tour is probably the biggest and best-known sportive in the world

Arguably the daddy of them all and certainly the event most often known beyond the cycling community, the Étape du Tour takes place during the Tour de France and on the same Alpine and Pyrenean climbs the pros will tackle later that week.

It's been run since 1993 and has since been taken over by the organisers of the Tour, ASO.

It's run on closed roads too, which gives rider a rare opportunity to descend their favourite mountains without the threat of oncoming traffic.

Maratona dles Dolomites

Maratona dles Dolomites is definitely a bucket-list sportive, held in the Italian Alps
Maratona dles Dolomites is definitely a bucket-list sportive, held in the Italian Alps

  • Where: Dolomites, northern Italy
  • When: July
  • Distances: 55km / 106km / 138km
  • More info:www.maratona.it

Italy's biggest Gran Fondo takes place every July on closed roads across the mountainous terrain of the Dolomites, including climbs of the Passo Pordoi and Giau.

Over 9,000 riders from almost 50 countries line up every year and in 2016 we chose the 'easy' option and still found it tough…

Haute Route Alpes

The Haute Route Alps has spawned editions around the world, but this is the original
The Haute Route Alps has spawned editions around the world, but this is the original

  • Where: from Nice (France) to Geneva (Switzerland)
  • When: August
  • Distances: 894km spread over seven mountain stages
  • More info:www.hauteroute.org

The Haute Route Alps is one of the biggest of all multi-day races for amateurs and the one that led to a bigger series of events around the world: Haute Route Rockies, Pyrenees, Dolomites, Alpe d’Huez and Ventoux.

The 2017 edition is expected to be the hardest of all time, with a jaw-dropping 22,200 metres of vertical gain in the whole week (3,100 a day with a double climb of the Alpe d’Huez).

In other words: make sure you don’t start with the time trial cassette and chainrings on your bike.

L’Eroica

L'Eroica is a unique celebration of Italian cycling culture
L'Eroica is a unique celebration of Italian cycling culture

  • Where: Gaiole in Chianti, Italy
  • When: October
  • Distances: 46km/ 75km / 115km / 135km / 209km
  • More info:www.eroicagaiole.com

The dramatic scenery of the Alps gives way to the gentle and undulating profile of the Tuscan hills. The original Eroica (a brand born 20 years ago and now exported all over the world) is unique in its genre. Forget the lycra and the energy bars and prepare to be submerged in the unique nuances of Italian cycling culture: Chianti wine, ribollita (a Tuscan soup made with bread and vegetables), historic bikes and vintage clothes. Watch out for the alcohol served along the road, though: this is a non-competitive ride, but it will claim your legs!

Best sportives and gran fondos in North America

Europe is not the only place where you can find striking scenery and great cycling events. The US, with its beautiful outdoors, provides an incredible background for your ultimate gran fondo.

Campagnolo’s Gran Fondo New York

Campagnolo's Gran Fondo New York begins amid the skyscrapers and massive highways of the Big Apple
Campagnolo's Gran Fondo New York begins amid the skyscrapers and massive highways of the Big Apple

  • Where: New York City
  • When: May
  • Distances: 80km / 161km
  • More info:gfny.com

There is something weird and magical about kicking off a gran fondo in a big city like New York, surrounded by skyscrapers and massive highways.

It is more similar to an urban bike movement than to a race, or — to be more hyperbolic — something that looks like a ride in a world without nature.

However, after a few kilometers in the city the route leads north along the Hudson River, crosses the New Jersey border and climbs up to Bear Mountain.

The event — one of 13 organised by Campagnolo — will then turn around and lead back to the Big Apple once again.

Mavic Haute Route Rockies

Asphalt and auto traffic are notably absent for miles and miles of the Mavic Haute Route Rockies course
Asphalt and auto traffic are notably absent for miles and miles of the Mavic Haute Route Rockies course

  • Where: Boulder to Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • When: June
  • Distances: 815km in seven stages
  • More info:www.hauteroute.org

The US version of the Haute Route is one hell of a ride.

Seven consecutive stages, 815km in total, 15,000 metres of vertical gain and mountain passes 3,000 metres above sea level to conquer.

To make it even more epic, the organisers have added sections of gravel roads — but they say that these can be tackled on a regular road bike.

The partnership with Mavic will also guarantee full mechanical assistance for the event, while feed stations and daily stage timings will make you feel like a pro for a whole week (leg pain included).

Entry limited to 600 riders.

Triple Bypass

The Triple Bypass Colorado climbs three mountain passes
The Triple Bypass Colorado climbs three mountain passes

The Triple Bypass features climbs of three mountain passes (Juniper Pass, Loveland Pass and Vail Pass) with a total of over 10,000 ft. of elevation gain in one of the most awe-inspiring outdoor areas of the US.

If the vertical gain doesn’t seem like much when compared to other events, bear in mind that the ride kicks off just outside Denver so is already thousands of metres above sea level.

What unfolds after that is a great day of suffering and sightseeing in the Rockies.

The race schedule can be even more challenging. You can ride the length from Bergen Park to Avon on Saturday, from Avon to Bergen Park on Sunday or — if you feel you can make it — you can actually double them!

Hotter'N Hell Hundred

The Hotter'N Hell Hundred takes place in Texas, USA every August
The Hotter'N Hell Hundred takes place in Texas, USA every August

  • Where: Wichita Falls, Texas
  • When: August
  • Distances: 10km / 40km / 80km / 100km / 120km / 161km
  • More info: www.hh100.org

The Hotter'N Hell Hundred is one of the oldest and largest events in the US.

It grew from efforts to find a way for Wichita Falls to celebrate its centennial in 1982, with a bike ride (100 miles in 100 degree heat) the most popular.

Three decades on and it's grown to include USA Cycling Criterium and Road Races, plus a mountain bike race, over a weekend festival of cycling.

Levi’s Gran Fondo

Levi’s Gran Fondo offers a wide variety of routes in Santa Rosa, California
Levi’s Gran Fondo offers a wide variety of routes in Santa Rosa, California

  • Where: Santa Rosa, California
  • When: September
  • Distances: 11 routes from 13km for families up to 188km
  • More info:www.levisgranfondo.com

Created by ex-pro Levi Leipheimer, Levi’s Gran Fondo offers 11 different routes to choose from and begins with a mass-start before being thinned out as the different routes progress.

From the Family one (just 13km and virtually no vertical gain), the selection of alternatives include the Piccolo (48km and 1,500m of elevation gain), Medio (99km, 3,970m), Gran (164km, 8,943m) and Panzer (188km, 10,503m).

The race is in its ninth year and to date no one has been able to ride all of the variations.

Before picking up a route, though, be aware of the cut-off times of each one of them.

Best sportives and gran fondos in Australia and New Zealand

With the Tour Down Under becoming a regular opening for the World Tour season, Australia has also evolved into an important destination for the cycling community.

With Cadel Evans’ win in the 2011 Tour de France and the rise of other Australian riders, the cycling movement in the New Continent has kept pace with the rest of the scene, and the list of gran fondos — however limited this list might be — is growing exponentially, attracting interest from all over the globe.

Wiggle Amy’s Gran Fondo

Amy's Gran Fondo sends you along the Great Ocean Road, then inland through the forest — what more could you want?
Amy's Gran Fondo sends you along the Great Ocean Road, then inland through the forest — what more could you want?

  • Where: Lorne, Victoria, Australia
  • When: September
  • Distances: 7 km / 45 km / 120 km
  • More info:amysgranfondo.org.au

A few words of description from a person who took part last year made me add Amy’s Gran Fondo to my personal bucket list: "Great roads along the Great Ocean Road, and then inland through the forest”.

Is there anything more you need from a bike ride? I don't.

Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge

The Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge involves a single 160km loop on New Zealand's North Island
The Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge involves a single 160km loop on New Zealand's North Island

  • Where: Lake Taupo, North Island, New Zealand
  • When: November
  • Distances: various
  • More info: www.cyclechallenge.com

Since the first event with 26 participants in 1977, the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge has steadily grown into one of New Zealand's most popular sporting events.

The main event involves a single 160km loop of Lake Taupo, but more ambitious types can attempt varying degrees of enduro madness (the Extreme Enduro involves a staggering eight laps of the lake).

L’Étape Australia

L'Etape Australia takes riders across the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales
L'Etape Australia takes riders across the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales

  • Where: Snowy Mountains, New South Wales
  • When: December
  • Distances: 126 km / 157 km
  • More info:letapeaustralia.com

L’Étape Australia (born in 2016) gives amateurs riding conditions as close as possible to the Tour de France: closed roads, sprint sections along the road and two 'King of the Mountains' passes where you can earn points for the special classifications. The routes are set in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales, a region that provides great scenery and challenging climbs. Not the Alpe d’Huez, but still very memorable…

Best sportives and gran fondos in Africa

Cape Town Cycle Tour

The Cape Town Cycle Tour is one of the oldest in the world
The Cape Town Cycle Tour is one of the oldest in the world

While nowhere near as painful as the Etape du Tour, Cape Town's 109km Cape Argus sportive can certainly lay claim to being one of the oldest and perhaps largest amateur cycling events in the world. Over 35,000 line up for the traffic-free gallop around the Cape Peninsula, including cycling luminaries such as Miguel Indurain, Stephen Roche and Eddy Merckx. While it doesn't have the climbing of similar events, its coastal roads certainly provide an unmatched beauty. With international entries hard to come by, it might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many outside South Africa.

Jamie Beach

Deputy Editor, UK
Jamie's been addicted to bikes from the moment his stabilisers came off. Earliest cycling memory is the chipboard-ramp-on-bricks, but happiest one is bombing down a Mallorcan mountain pass that seemed it might never end. Always on the hunt for the perfect rain jacket, a keen collector of hats.
  • Discipline: Road, gravel
  • Preferred Terrain: Big mountains with long climbs, equally long and fast descents, the chance to get above the treeline.
  • Current Bikes: Genesis Croix de Fer, Kona Cindercone
  • Dream Bike: BMC TeamMachine SLR01
  • Beer of Choice: Augustiner
  • Location: Bath, Somerset, UK

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