We have a look forward to some of the best international rides to do next year

With the clocks set back and winter beginning to tighten its grip, this time of year is when many of us take a break from cycling and don’t give much thought to the year ahead.

However, it won’t be long until we tire of sitting at home with our feet up and are itching to get out on the bike once again. As soon as the riding starts, thoughts may turn to what exactly we’re doing all this winter mileage for.

>>> Winter cycling survival guide: 10 tips to keep you riding

Sportives are now particularly popular events in the UK and the amateur race scene has probably never been so well populated.

But for an increasing number of riders the appeal of riding their own Spring Classic or getting some sun on an exotic sportive is just too much to resist.

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Here we run through our top picks of the best international sportives from a huge range of possibilities.

Cape Town Cycle Tour

Photo: Flickr/South African Tourism

Photo: Flickr/South African Tourism

When: Sunday March 12
Where: South Africa
More information: capetowncycletour.com

The Cape Town Cycle Tour gives 35,000 riders the chance to cover 109km through some of South Africa’s best scenery.

The event is also charitably run, benefiting Pedal Power Association (PPA) and Rotary Club of Claremont.

Ronde van Vlaaderen Cyclo (Tour of Flanders sportive)

Peter Sagan escapes to win the 2016 Tour of Flanders. Photo: Graham Watson

Peter Sagan escapes to win the 2016 Tour of Flanders. Photo: Graham Watson

When: Saturday April 1
Where: Flanders, Belgium
More information: sport.be/rondevanvlaanderen

The Tour of Flanders event runs the day before the professional Monument race and forms part of a three ride series with Paris-Roubaix and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

The route of the pro race will change for 2017, so the start town of the sportive’s longest route will also be new. There is now a choice of four routes: the full 230km parcours starting in Antwerp, the newly added option of 180km, or the shorter loop options of 130km and 75km that both start and finish in Oudenaarde.

The Muur van Geraardsbergen makes its return for 2017, so riders should be prepared for that extra testing climb.

>>> The defining cobbles, bergs and climbs of the Belgian Classics

Participants can make a weekend of it by visiting the Tour of Flanders museum and by sticking around to watch the pros do battle on the cobbles and bergs of the Flemish region.

Paris-Roubaix Challenge

The peleton on the cobbles of Arenberg in the 2014 Paris-Roubaix (Watson)

The professional peloton on the cobbles of Arenberg at Paris-Roubaix. Photo: Graham Watson

When: Saturday April 8
Where: Northern France
More information: sport.be/parisroubaix

Similar to RVV this mass participation event takes place the day before the pro race, on the same course as the professional teams.

Again there is a choice of three routes, and all end in the iconic Roubaix Velodrome, arguably the best finish to any sportive on this list.

>>> Blog: Why would anyone ride Paris-Roubaix?

The longest route is 170km and covers every secteur pavé on the way to the finish. The shorter routes of 70km and 140km start and finish in Roubaix, from where they loop out and take in the best known secteurs.

Liège-Bastogne-Liège Challenge

The peloton in the 2014 Liege - Bastogne - Liege. Photo: Graham Watson

The scenery of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Photo: Graham Watson

When: Saturday April 22
Where: Wallonia, Belgium
More information: sport.be/lblcyclo

The third and final event offered by the Skoda Classic Challenge series is also the longest. At 271km the epic route of the Liège-Bastogne-Liège sportive gives riders the chance to cover nine significant climbs on their way from Liège to Bastogne and back again.

The longest route actually covers a greater distance than the men’s professional race the following day.

>>> The climbs of Liège-Bastogne-Liège

The shorter routes still start and finish in Liège, they just don’t quite make it to Bastogne.

Amstel Gold Race Tour

The peloton in the 2014 Amstel Gold Race

Classic Dutch backdrop to the Amstel Gold Race. Photo: Graham Watson

When: Saturday April 15
Where: Maastricht, the Netherlands
More information: amstel.nl/amstelgoldrace/agr-toer

The Amstel Gold Race sportive offers a massive six different distance options: 60, 100, 125, 150, 200 and 240km.

As with the professional race, the sportive ends with an ascent of the Cauberg.

Get your preparation right to ensure a successful day’s riding 

Mallorca312, Mallorca 225, Mallorca167

Mallorca312 Strava map

The Mallorca312 in its former glory…

When: April
Where: Mallorca, Spain
More information: mallorca312.com

For this sportive, the name tells the distance: either 312km, 225km or 167km. The longest of the three used to a full lap of the Balearic island (see above), but now all routes are concentrated to the north of the island.

The 312km option is front loaded with climbs and riders will need to be well trained before taking on this challenge if they are to get comfortably inside the 14 hour time limit.

Paris-Roubaix Cyclo-Sportive

The cobbles of Paris-Roubaix. Photo: Jack Elton-Walters

The cobbles of Paris-Roubaix. Photo: Jack Elton-Walters

When: Sunday June 4
Where: Northern France
More information: vc-roubaix-cyclo.fr

Run by the Velo Club de Roubaix, this event was held every second year, but the club’s website now indicates that the sportive is due to run in 2017 too.

The route covers the full 260km route that the pros will have conquered earlier in the season.

>>> Sean Kelly on riding the cobbles: ‘You have to be crazy to win here’ (video)

Every finisher gets their own mini-cobble-on-plinth trophy.


Tour of Spain - Stage 12

Spanish scenery during the Vuelta a España. Photo: Graham Watson

When: Saturday June 17
Where: Sabiñánigo, Spain
More information: quebrantahuesos.com

This Spanish sportive gives riders the choice between two very different distances. The full Quebrantahuesos Gran Fondo follows a 200km route, whilst the Treparriscos Medio Fondo is less than half the distance at 85km.

Entries are done by a lottery ballot due to demand outstripping supply, so if this event is of interest then it’s best to enter early and cross your fingers.

>>> Looking for your next cycling challenge? Quebrantahuesos is an absolute monster

The route crosses the Pyrenees into France before looping back in Spain to finish where it started.

L’Ariegeoise cyclosportive

The peloton climbs the Tourmalet in the 2012 Tour de France. Photo: Graham Watson

The Tour de France peloton in the Pyrenees. Photo: Graham Watson

When: Sunday June 25
Where: The French Pyrenees
More information: cyclosport-ariegeoise.com

Another Pyrenean adventure, this one stays firmly on French soil. This sportive offers four routes: 69, 127, 153 and 169km.

Over 1000 riders took part in the long route this year and more are expected as the event continues to grow.

Maratona dles Dolomites

Giro d'Italia - Stage 20

The Giro d’Italia riding through the Dolomites. Photo: Graham Watson

When: Sunday July 2
Where: Northern Italy
More information: maratona.it

Three route options of 138, 106 and 55km for this hilly ride through the mountains of Northern Italy, not too far from the Austrian border.

All three courses are almost entirely up or down with little in the way of flat road.

La Marmotte

The Tour de France at Alpe d'Huez on stage eighteen of the 2013 Tour de France

The Tour de France at Alpe d’Huez during the Tour de France. Photo: Graham Watson

When: Sunday July 2
Where: French Alps
More informtaion: marmotte.sportcommunication.info

Unlike the Étape, the Marmotte’s route does not change from year to year.

The route covers over 174km from Bourg d’Oisans to Alpe d’Huez and the amount of climbing puts amateurs through their paces on a Tour de France style high mountain day.

The sportive is usually a sell out despite there being 7000 places available.

Étape du Tour

Alpine roads of the Photo: Antton Miettinen

Alpine roads of the Étape du Tour. Photo: Antton Miettinen

When: Sunday July 16
Where: Briançon to Izoard
More information: letapedutour.com

Arguably the biggest and best known sportive in the world, thanks to its association with the Tour de France, the route for the 2017 Étape du Tour has already been released.

The parcours follows the same route as stage 18 of the Grande Boucle, a day that could decide who wears yellow into Paris later that week.

Granfondo Gottardo

The cobbled climb of the Gotthard

The cobbled climb of the Gotthard

When: Sunday July 23
Where: Ambri, Switzerland
More information: granfondosangottardo.com

The Granfondo San Gottardo is set in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland and takes you over three classic cols: the Saint Gotthard, Furka and Nufenen.

The relatively easy five per cent average gradient of the Saint Gotthard is made more challenging by the uneven, cobbled surface adding character to the ascent, setting it apart from the usual upwards grind.

Haute Route Alps

Galibier by Gould 3

The Galibier often features on the Haute Route Alps. Photo: Daniel Gould

When: August 21-27
Where: Nice, France to Geneva, Switzerland
More information: hauteroute.org/alps

One of three Haute events, along with the Pyrenees and Dolomites, this multi-day ride is at the tougher end of the international sportive scale.

Seven consecutive stages take riders over 800km through the Alps to a finish in Geneva’s Jardins Anglais.


The white roads of Tuscany. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The white roads of Tuscany. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

When: Sunday October 1
Where: Gaiole, Italy
More information: eroicagaiole.com

Taking in the white roads of Tuscany, this sportive runs a ballot system due to its growing popularity.

Bikes must have been built no more recently than 1987 and riders are expected to dress in period cycling clothing – riders can be disqualified for inappropriate clothing. The only exception to the rules is the choice (but not obligation) to wear a modern helmet.

The event has also spawned several spin-offs: Eroica Britannia, California, South Africa, Primavera (Italy), Japan, Spain, the Netherlands and Uruguay.

Get your event nutrition right 

For something a bit more challenging…

Race Across America

RAAM 2014 Strava

Image: Mark Pattinson/Strava

When: June
Where: West to East across the USA
More information: raceacrossamerica.org

This 3000 mile epic ride from the West coast of the USA to the East has been running since 1982.

The RAAM is run as a continuous time trial: the clock starts when the riders roll out and stops when they cross the finish line. The time includes all stoppages for sleep, food and mechanicals.

Perhaps one for a ‘bucket list’ rather than a mid-season target, to complete this event would be quite an achievement.

Trans Continental

Image: Alain Rumpf/Strava

Image: Alain Rumpf/Strava

When: July
Where: Flanders, Belgium to Istanbul, Turkey
More information: transcontinental.cc

As with the RAAM, the clock doesn’t stop until the rider crosses the finish line, and some challengers are reported to do the whole thing on very little sleep.

This race has no set route, just compulsory checkpoints along the way. Months of careful planning go into each rider’s chosen route to ensure they get to each marker as efficiently as possible.

The race has just 10 simple rules, including ‘riders must ride from the start point to the finish point and visit all mandatory controls en-route’ and ‘riders must act in the spirit of self-sufficiency and equal opportunity for all racers’.

  • Trevor Phillips

    Oetztaler simply the best day out on a bike I ever had. Way better than anything else I’ve ridden.

  • Ian Guy

    What a fairly Euro-centric collection!

    How about The Taupo Challenge, 160km round the biggest lake in NZ with 10000 others, or if you are really cool you can do the two lap, four lap or eight lap versions! http://www.cyclechallenge.com

    Or the K1, K2 or K4, around the Coromandel Peninsula, starts from a different location every year; the K1 is 100km, the K2 is 192km with over 2300m of climbing, and every two years you can do the K4, which is two laps http://www.arcevents.co.nz/k2home/

  • Morten Reippuert Knudsen

    No Ötztaler Radmarathon ?? – http://www.oetztaler-radmarathon.com.

    I know that la Mamotte is very popular – but the last climb ends on just about the most borring and awfull place in cycling and the race is not as tough or well organized as the Radmarathon.

    Lovet o see Marathona di Dolimiti on the list those roads are spectacular and tough. Quebrantahuesos might pass over some of the most beautiful roads in the entire Pyranes – Someport without traffic must be like a dream, Col Marie Blanc is steep as hell and Poutalet + Huz is the most senic pass i’ve ever climbed.

    l’Eroica might be the toughest of them all – cold autum weather, roads as rough as Paris-Roubaix except their the incline is often in the 15-20% range. Do that on a heavy old bike in 42/28 and without clipsless pedals is an achievement in itself. I’ve never seen so few ride up the hole way up a mountain as on the road to Montalchino.