While the range of sportives to enter on British shores is vast, most cyclists will look to the continent for a must-ride event to add to their bucket list.
European sportives can offer significantly more climbing, an improved chance or good weather and, in some cases, heritage that British events simply can’t match (yet...), so it’s little surprise to see so many Brits sign up to big overseas rides each year.
Targetting a big European sportive can also serve as a huge source of motivation when you’re struggling to find the willpower to train, in the same manner any trip abroad with your bike can.
But which events should you sign up to? We’ve picked out 15 of the best and toughest European sportives to ride in 2018…
March 31 – Tour of Flanders sportive
Koppenberg, Paterberg, Oude Kwaremont, the Muur… the cobbled climbs of the Tour of Flanders have taken on legendary status in cycling, and the official RVV sportive gives you the chance to tackle the bergs the day before the pros.
Four routes are available – 74km, 141km, 200km and 237km, with the latter rolling out from Antwerp and largely mirroring the route to be followed by the pros. However, we'd advise picking one of the middle routes, skipping the fairly mundane opening kilometres and focusing on the cobbled climbs.
Distance: 74km, 141km, 200km, 237km
Entry fee: €36, €47, €53, €59
Website: We Ride Flanders
April 7 – Paris-Roubaix Challenge
Hot on the heels of the Tour of Flanders sportive comes Paris-Roubaix’s alternative, again to be ridden the day before the pros go blasting over the famous pavé of the Hell of the North.
The full routes are still to be confirmed, but the three distances - 70km, 145km or 172km - cover as many of the famous cobblestones as possible, before a grandstand finish in the Roubaix velodrome.
And if you don’t fancy doing it in April, there’s also the Paris-Roubaix CycloTourisme in June, which covers 210km and largely mirrors the course used in the race - complete with 50km of bone-rattling cobbles. Oh, and if you still haven’t had enough of the Classics, there’s always the Liege-Bastogne-Liege Challenge to consider, too.
Distance: 70km, 145km, 172km
Entry fee: €27, €45, €55
Website: Paris-Roubaix Challenge
June 3 – Gran Fondo Stelvio Santini
Fancy taking on two of Italy’s toughest and most iconic climbs? Then the Gran Fondo Stelvio Santini should be top of your list, with the Stelvio and Mortirolo topping the bill.
As per the name, all three routes available - Corto, Medio and Lungo - finish atop the Stelvio, while the latter throws in the added challenge of the Mortirolo. Switchbacks galore, and one of the biggest tests of your climbing strength and stamina that you could possibly ask for - the full route packs in more than 4,000m of ascent.
Distance: 60km, 138km, 151km
Entry fee: €60
Website: Gran Fondo Stelvio Santini
June 17 – Gran Fondo Sportful
The Gran Fondo Sportful – formerly the Gran Fondo Campagnolo – tackles the best of the Dolomites on two climb-heavy routes : the 204km Gran Fondo and the 134km Medio Fondo.
Both routes pack in the climbs: the Cima Campo, Passo Manghen, Passo Rolle and Croce d’Aune on the longer route, and the Cima Campo, Passo del Brocon, Passo di Gobbera and Croce d’Aune on the shorter course. RCUK's George Scott rode the event in 2014 - read how he got on.
Distance: 134km, 204km
Entry fee: €60
Website: GF Sportful
June 23 – Quebrantahuesos
There are two routes available for the hugely popular Quebrantahuesos sportive in the Spanish Pyrenees, but it is the 200km one you want for the real deal. There's a reason why this event is known as the Bonebreaker.
Starting in Sabinanigo, the Col du Somport, Col du Marie Blanque (in France) and Col du Portalet all feature on the route - 3,500m of climbing in 200km, all on closed roads.
Distance: 85km, 200km
Entry fee: €60, €75
June 30 – L’Ariegeoise
Another sportive in the Pyrenees, the Ariegeoise has several routes on offer, with the Ariegeoise XXL packing 4,500m of climbing into 172km.
A tour of some of the lesser known Pyrenean climbs, the full route tackles the Port, Latrape, Agnes, Port de Lers, La Core and Goulier-Neige, making for a huge day out in the mountains.
Distance: 74km, 109km, 125km, 156km, 172km
Entry fee: €45-€64
July 1 – La Maratona dles Dolomites
Perhaps one of the most famous of the European sportives, Il Maratona is packed full of climbing in the Dolomites, with the full 138km boasting 4,230m of ascent.
The Passo Pordoi, Passo Giau and Passo Valparola all feature, on a route which has practically no flat – if you’re not climbing, you’re descending rapidly, ready to start heading skywards again.
Distance: 55km, 106km, 138km
Entry fee: €119
July 8 – La Marmotte Alps
Another of Europe’s most famous sportives – organisers claim it to be the second biggest tourist event in France behind the Tour – La Marmotte checks off four of the most iconic climbs in the French Alps.
Packed into the 174km route is more than 5,000m of ascent, clocked on the Col du Glandon, Col du Telegraphe, Col du Galibier and, finally, the 21 hairpins of the Alpe d’Huez.
July 8 is a busy day on the European sportive calendar this year, so if you can’t commit to La Marmotte in the Alps, you can always tackle the Pyrenees alternative (Tourmalet, Horquette d’Anzican, Aspin, Ardiden) instead on August 26.
Entry fee: €105
Website: Marmotte Gran Fondo Series
July 8 – Etape du Tour
While the Etape du Tour should need slittle introduction, for those who don’t know it is the official sportive of the Tour de France and your chance to ride a stage of cycling’s most famous race before the pros.
This year’s route follows stage ten of the Tour, from Annecy to Le Grand-Bornand, meaning four major climbs: the Col de la Croix Fry, Montee du Plateau de Glieres, Col de Romme and Col de la Colombiere, as well as a stretch of dirt road on the second of those ascents. While direct entries have now sold out, you can get a place through a tour operator like Sports Tours International.
Entry fee: €109
Website: L’Etape du Tour
July 8 – Gran Fondo La Fausto Coppi
There are two routes available for the Gran Fondo La Fausto Coppi, and the 177km option – which we rode last year – is a real beast, worthy of Il Campionissimo himself.
More than 4,125m of ascent is packed in, with the climbing highlights including the Valmala, La Piatta and the 22.3km Colle Fauniera (with an average gradient of eight per cent). Then you've still got the Madonna del Colletto to tackle before reaching the finish.
Distance: 111km, 177km
Entry fee: €45-€100
July 22 – Gran Fondo San Gottardo
The Gran Fondo San Gottardo takes on three of Switzerland’s most epic climbs: the Col du St. Gothard, Col de la Furka and Col de la Nufenen. Three hidden gems in the Alps worthy of any must-ride list.
While the Gran Fondo is only 110km – relatively short by GF standards – there is no shortage of climbing (and descending) to be found, with cobbles and one-in-five gradients among the challenges to be negotiated.
Distance: 57km, 110km
Entry fee: CHF 52
Website: Gran Fondo San Gottardo
August 3-5 - Maserati Haute Route Norway
The latest addition to the Haute Route series could be one of the most eye-catching yet, with the new three-day Maserati Haute Route Norway tackling the stunning riding on offer in the Stavanger region.
We headed along to the test event and were blown away by a route twisting and turning through the Norwegian fjords. Expect rivers, lakes and waterfalls, rolling countryside and wild mountains, taking in the best of Norway's jaw-dropping scenery.
Distance: TBC (three-day ride)
Entry fee: NOK 6,950-NOK 7,950
Website: Haute Route
August 25 – Alpenbrevet
As with the San Gottardo, the Alpenbrevet is your chance to explore the hidden cycling gems of Switzerland, with between two and five Swiss Alpine passes to negotiate on the four routes available.
A total of 7,000m of climbing is packed into the 276km route, including the devilishly difficult Nufanen with its energy-sapping gradients, making the Alpenbrevet a contender for the title of 'toughest sportive in Europe'.
Distance: 68km, 132km, 172km, 276km
Entry fee: CHF85-CHF100
September 2 – Oeztaler Radmarathon
Another often overlooked cycling haven in the Alps is Austria, and the Oeztaler-Radmarathon covers some of the region’s most iconic giants. Like the Alpenbrevet, this is one of the toughest rides on the European sportive calendar.
Solden, of James Bond fame, hosts the start and finish, and the 238km course packs in more than 5,000m of Tyrolean Alpine climbing. The ascents of Kuhtai, Jaufenpass and Timmelsjoch await if you dare to enter.
Entry fee: €149
October 7 – L’Eroica
Finally, something completely different – L’Eroica is a sportive like no other, with vintage bikes, vintage outfits and Tuscany’s white gravel roads at its heart.
It is now a global series – Eroica Britannia is Britain’s answer, in the heart of the Peak District – but the Tuscany event is where it all began: the original, and the best.
Distance: 46km, 75km, 115km, 135km, 209km
Entry fee: €68