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Fifteen of the best European sportives to ride in 2017

Flandrian bergs, Alpine ascents and some of the most gruelling climbs on the continent

Riding a major European sportive is on the bucket list for many cyclists, keen to take on the iconic mountain passes made famous by some of the sport’s biggest races, with (fingers crossed) the sun on your back for good measure.

And there’s no shortage of choice when it comes to challenging events across mainland Europe, whatever type of event you’re looking for – whether that’s high Alpine cols, Flandrian bergs or the white roads of Tuscany.

Fancy taking on one of Europe’s toughest sportives? Get your teeth stuck into some of these… (pic: ASO)

While there’s no shortage of tough sportives here in Britain – we’ve already picked out ten of the best for 2017 – booking yourself onto one of the best European sportives – and making a holiday of it – is a great way to boost your motivation as you slog it out through winter.

What events should be on your hit list? We’ve picked out 15 of the best – and toughest – European sportives to ride in 2017. Are you tough enough?

Heading abroad to tick off some of these sportives this year? Yellow Jersey Cycle Insurance covers racing and worldwide travel as standard in all annual and short-term policies.

Liège-Bastogne-Liège Challenge – Saturday April 22

From the cobbled Classics to the hilly Ardennes Classics, each of the three Ardennes pro races has an attached sportive, though it is the Monument, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, which enjoys the most prestige.

Though the route is still to be officially announced – that will come when the pro race is confirmed in March – we do know there will be plenty of thigh-numbing, short, steep climbs to take on.

The short, steep climbs of the Ardennes Classics make for tough riding on their official sportives (pic – Sirotti)

Three routes are available in all, with the 75km course packing in 1,200m of climbing, the 156km route boasting more than 2,600m of climbing and the full 273km route – which mirrors that of the pro race – set to feature close to 4,500m of climbing.

Climbs will include the likes of the Cote de Stockeu (1.1km at 10.5 per cent) and Cote de la Redoute (2.1km at 8.4 per cent), so plenty of chance to follow in the wheeltracks of the likes of five-time LBL winner Eddy Merckx.

Routes: 75km, 156km, 273km
Entry fee:
€30-€55
Website: Sport.be

Majorca 312 – Saturday April 29

The Mallorca 312 sportive underwent some big changes last year, with the old round-the-island route replaced with a closed-road ride in the north-west of Mallorca.

Starting out from Playa de Muro, the route still covers an eye-watering 312km (192 miles) of riding, with more than 16,500ft of climbing to enjoy – most of which is packed into the first part of the course.

The Mallorca 312 no longer circumnavigates the island, but still packs in more than 16,500ft of climbing (pic – Mallorca 312)

Mallorca remains a hugely popular destination for training camps, and the island is the perfect retreat for British cyclists looking to enjoy some sun on their backs while the weather struggles to improve on these shores.

And if 312km sounds a little too extreme, there are also 225km and 167km routes available. Though sold out through the official website, with a long waiting list, you can still book a trip through tour operators.

Routes: 167km, 225km, 312km
Entry fee:
Tour operators only – event sold out
Website: Mallorca 312

Gran Fondo Mont Ventoux, Saturday June 3

Mont Ventoux has earned mythical status when it comes to cycling, with its barren slopes top of many riders’ bucket lists.

And the Gran Fondo Mont Ventoux, part of the prestigious Grand Trophee series, offers the chance to tackle the Giant of Provence, either as part of a much bigger ride or even just the climb itself.

Mont Ventoux enjoys mythical status in cycling (Pic: Manu Molle)

The main event, the 134km Gran Fondo, promises to combine the iconic, long, tough ascent with hot temperatures and the strong winds common on Ventoux. Remember, last year’s Tour de France stage on Ventoux was shortened, leading to huge crowds on the lower slopes and Chris Froome’s infamous run.

The climb itself features relatively early in the ride, but with its 21.8km of climbing – at an average gradient of 7.4 per cent – it’s not an ascent your legs will forget in a hurry.

Routes: 134km, 91km, 21km
Entry fee: €38
Website: Grand Trophee

Gran Fondo Stelvio Santini – Sunday June 11

The Gran Fondo Stelvio Santini is not for the weak of willed; the Mortirolo and Stelvio are two of the most brutal climbs in the world.

Rolling out of Bormio, the full Gran Fondo route features both climbs, with the Mortirolo taking you to 1,727m above sea level before the monster that is the Stelvio – 2,758m at its peak – serves as the event’s finale.

The Mortirolo and Stelvio – two of cycling’s toughest climbs – both feature on the GF Stelvio Santini (pic: ©Mike Cotty)

The Mortirolo first featured at the Giro d’Italia in 1990, and has been a regular since – Alberto Contador’s climbing masterclass on the ascent (12.4km at 10.5 per cent) setting up to win the maglia rosa in 2015.

Similarly, the Stelvio needs no introduction – snaking up the mountainside, the highest paved mountain pass in the Eastern Alps has an average gradient of 7.4 per cent over 24.3km.

Routes: 60km, 138km, 151.3km (the Mortirolo only features on the long route).
Entry fee: €60
Website: Gran Fondo Stelvio Santini

Quebrantahuesos – Saturday June 17

Spain’s biggest sportive sells out within hours every year, but you can still book your place through tour operators.

While there is an 85km route available, the 200km route is the real deal, including the ascents of the Col du Somport, Col du Marie Blanque and Col du Portalet.

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

Stunning scenery – the route passes through protected areas of outstanding natural beauty, hence the small field – is plentiful.

But don’t let the backdrop fool you – this sportive isn’t known as The Bone Breaker for no reason.

Routes: 85km, 200km
Entry fee: Tour operators only – event sold out
Website: Quebrantahuesos

Gran Fondo Sportful – Sunday June 18

Sportful took over the sponsorship of what was once the Gran Fondo Campagnolo several years ago, but the event remains one of the toughest sportives in the world.

Situated in the Dolomites, the 204km Gran Fondo route packs in four major climbs – the Cima Campo, Passo Manghen, Passo Rolle and Croce d’Aune.

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

And the Medio Fondo doesn’t offer much respite either – also featuring four climbs, in this case swapping the Manghen and Rolle for the Brocon and Gobbera Passes – but over 133.8km. Whatever route you choose, you’re in for a tough ride.

We rode the Medio Fondo back in 2014 (check out our ride report here). Chapeau to anybody who takes on the full Gran Fondo.

Routes: 133km, 204km
Entry fee: €60
Website: GF Sportful

L’Ariegeoise – Saturday June 24

The Ariegeoise celebrates the best of Pyrenean cycling, offering a wide range of route options with plenty of climbing to be done.

L’Ariegeoise XXL concludes atop Goulier-Neige (pic – Ronde de l’Isard, via Flickr Creative Commons)

At 107km, the La Mountagnole features four climbs in all – the Col de Port, Col de Latrape, Col d’Agnes and Port de Lers – while the 158km L’Ariegeoise route adds the Col de la Core.

There’s also the L’Aregeoise XXL – 170km of riding, featuring all of the aforementioned climbs plus a summit finish atop Goulier-Neige.

Routes: 107km, 158km, 170km
Entry fee: €53
Website:
Cyclosport-Ariegeoise

 

Brought to you by Yellow Jersey Cycle Insurance: Racing and worldwide travel covered as standard in all annual and short term policies. Read on for more of the toughest European sportives to ride in 2017.

La Marmotte, Sunday July 2

Organisers of La Marmotte proclaim the sportive to be second only to the Tour de France when it comes to the most important tourist events (not just cycling) in summer in the French Alps.

La Marmotte is one of the oldest and toughest European sportives on the calendar (pic: La Marmotte)

So why should you take it on? It’s undoubtedly an iconic route, packed with Tour de France favourites – the Col du Glandon, Col du Telegraphe, Col du Galibier and finally a summit finish on Alpe d’Huez. Need we say any more?

The 174km climbs more than 5,000m of climbing on four of the Alps most easily recognisable climbs – expect hairpins and gruelling gradients aplenty.

Routes: 174km
Entry fee: €90
Website: Marmotte Gran Fondo Series

Maratona dles Dolomites – Sunday July 2

Taking place on the same day as La Marmotte, Il Maratona vies with the Alpine challenge as one of the most iconic and toughest European sportives on the calendar.

There are seven major Dolomites climbs on the route in all, all varying in nature and difficulty, from the 9.9km Passo Giau (average gradient 9.3 per cent) to the 300m Mur di Giat (13.1 per cent average).

Il Maratona packs in seven Dolomites climbs (pic – Will_Cyclist, via Flickr Creative Commons)

In total, there’s 4,320m of vertical climbing to negotiate on the full 138km route (there are also 106km and 55km routes available).

The fastest riders usually take just shy of five hours to complete, but don’t be surprised to see many more riders take more than double that.

Routes: 55km, 106km, 138km
Entry fee: €102
Website: Il Maratona

La Fausto Coppi Le Alpi del Mare – Sunday July 9

The Gran Fondo la Fausto Coppi in north west Italy will turn 30 in 2017, longevity which proves its popularity.

As with 2016, there are two routes – Medio Fondo, covering 111km (2,550m vertical climbing) and the Grand Fondo (177km, 4,125m climbing).

The Colle Fauniera is among the highlights of the GF Fausto Coppi (pic – klaus nahr, via Creative Commons)

Highlights of the route include the 9.5km La Piatta ascent, with an average gradient of seven per cent and maximum pitches double that.

The Colle Fauniera is a key part of both routes, meanwhile, featuring an eight per cent average gradient over 22.3km.

Fausto Coppi, who won seven Grand Tours and countless Classics, was one of cycling’s greatest ever, and the sportive bearing his name does justice to that status.

Routes: 111km, 177km
Entry fee: €35-€100
Website: FaustoCoppi.net

Etape du Tour – Sunday July 16

Fancy riding a stage of the Tour de France? The Etape du Tour needs no introduction, having first been run back in 1993 and now attracting 15,000 to ride exactly that.

This year’s route mirrors stage 18 of the 2017 Tour de France, and will see a first-ever summit finish on the Col d’Izoard.

The Etape du Tour attracts tens of thousands of riders every year (pic: ASO)

The barren slopes of the Izoard – the upper part of the climb is known as the Casse Deserte thanks to the dramatic, foreboding and barren scree slope awaiting riders – have hosted plenty of famous Tour de France moments in the past.

– Video: Etape du Tour 2017 route preview –

And though it’s far from the only climb on the route, the 31.5km ascent – with an average gradient of 4.8 per cent but long pitches much steeper – is undoubtedly the highlight.

Routes: 178km
Entry fee: €100
Website: Etape du Tour

Haute Route Pyrenees – Sunday August 13 to Saturday August 19

The Haute Route Series has become revered as offering some of the toughest sportives around, with events centering on the Pyrenees, Alps, Dolomites, Rockies, Alpe d’Huez and Ventoux.

We’ve selected the Pyrenees here, however, thanks to the blend of iconic ascents and narrow, lesser-know but equally-tough climbs packed into the seven days.

The Haute Route Pyrenees blends iconic climbs with some stunning, lesser-known ascents (pic – Obrenovitch/Mouv-Up.com)

From the Tourmalet, Aubisque and Peyresourde to the Col du Portillon and Bagneres-de-Luchon, there’s plenty to test your legs over the course of the week; it adds up to a total 910km of riding, with 19,300m worth of climbing.

Also boasting an individual time trial and an organisational effort to make this year’s event the most logistically simplistic yet, it’s a must-ride event.

Still not convinced? Read our ride report from last year’s Haute Route Pyrenees.

Routes: 910km over seven days
Entry fee: €1,650
Website: Haute Route

Alpenbrevet – Saturday August 26

The Swiss Alps are a hidden gem of European cycling, with the French and Italian Alps – and their Grand Tour connections – stealing the limelight.

But Switzerland boasts some stunning Alpine ascents on its side of the borders, and the Alpenbrevet sportive is your chance to sample the best the region has to offer.

The Alpenbrevet sportive takes place on Saturday August 27, offering five routes from the 38km ‘Furka’ to the monstrous 276km ‘PlatinTour’

There are four routes in all, from the 38km Furka to the frankly mad 276km PlatinTour, with the latter tackling a total of 7,000m worth of climbing.

– Is Switzerland the best kept secret in Europe? –

In all, the Grimsel, Nufenen, Lukmanier, Oberalp and Susten passes all feature, with the Nufenen a particularly devilish ascent; climbing 1,108m in less than eight miles , the average gradient is 8.5 per cent and it’s comfortably into double figures for long stretches.

Routes: 38km, 68km, 172km, 276km
Entry fee: CHF 85-CHF 100
Website: Alpenbrevet

Oetztaler Radmarathon – Sunday August 27

James Bond fans will recognise Solden – the start and end point of the Oetztaler Radmarathon – from the most recent 007 film, Spectre.

Cycling fans, meanwhile, will know it as host to one of Europe’s toughest sportives, the Oetztaler Radmarathon – 238km of riding, with more than 5,000m of climbing in the Tyrolean Alps to contend with.

Timmelsjoch climbs to more than 2,500m up (pic – Martin Gustav, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Key climbs include the Kuhtai and Jaufenpass, while the Timmelsjoch takes you to more than 2,500m.

As with the Swiss Alps, the climbs of the Austrian Alps are often overlooked when it comes to public attention, but that doesn’t make them any less of a challenge.

Routes: 238km
Entry fee: €149
Website: Oetztaler-Radmarathon

L’Eroica – Sunday October 1

L’Eroica is a sportive like no other, blending the white gravel roads of Tuscany with vintage bikes and vintage outfits. We rode the event in 2013 and loved it.

Though the event has expanded into a worldwide series – including the increasingly popular Eroica Britannia – the Tuscany event is the original and the best.

Vintage bikes, vintage outfits and Tuscany’s white gravel roads are a staple of L’Eroica (pic: Eroica)

Now in its 21st year, the event is a throwback to a cycling era which inspired Italian culture and literature, in the wine regions of Chianti.

There’s a huge range of routes available, from 46km up to 209km, and if you can’t make it on Sunday October 1, you can ride the route any time of year with a road book and collect validation stamps to prove your ride.

Routes: 46km, 75km, 115km, 135km, 209km
Entry fee: €68
Website: L’Eroica

Brought to you by Yellow Jersey Cycle Insurance: Racing and worldwide travel covered as standard in all annual and short term policies

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