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…

Etape du Tour sportive 2017 (Pic: ASO)

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.

The cobbled Koppenberg ascent ramps up to 20 per cent (Pic: Sirotti)

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.

Tony Martin upped the ante in the peloton with a big drive into the Arenberg Forest, which shredded the front group to size (pic: Sirotti)

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.

Stelvio, hairpins, climb, training, pic - Sirotti

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.

The Gran Fondo Sportful has earned a reputation as one of the toughest sportives in the world (Pic: Sportograf)

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.

Quebrantahuesos, sportive, Spanish Pyrenees, climb, pic - Mikel Ortega, via Flickr Creative Commons

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

Website: Quebrantahuesos

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.

Goulier-Neige, pic - Ronde de l'Isard, via Flickr Creative Commons

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

Website: Cyclosport-Ariegeoise

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.

Maratona dles Dolomites, sportive, climb, pic - Will_Cyclist, via Flickr Creative Commons

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

Website: Maratona

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.

The fearsome Col du Galibier dominated the day's agenda on stage 17 (Pic: Alex Broadway/SWPix.com/ASO)

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.

Distance: 174km

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.

Etape du Tour sportive 2017 (Pic: ASO)

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.

Distance: 169km

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.

Gran Fondo Coppi, sportive

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

Website: FaustoCoppi.net

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.

Switzerland, Gotthard (Pic: Swiss Tourist Board)

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.

Haute Route Norway (Pic: Haute Route)

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.

Switzerland,  Nufenen (Pic: Grand Tours Project)

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

Website: Alpenbrevet

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.

Trail Tyrol Mountains Austria Kühtai Reservoir

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.

Distance: 238km

Entry fee: €149

Website: Oetztaler-Radmarathon

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

Website: L’Eroica