The UK sportive scene has exploded in recent years and each weekend, typically from March to October, thousands of riders take in numerous events across the country. But is it time to spread your wings?
Overseas events offer riders the opportunity to venture into uncharted territory, riding with unfamiliar faces on some of the most iconic roads in cycling.
Foreign sportives present a far greater logistical challenge, of course, from packing up your bike, to securing entry and booking travel and accommodation, but it’s an adventure unlike any UK event, while a number of tour operators, including Sports Tours International, La Fuga and RPM90 offer hassle-free packages to some of the biggest rides on the calendar.
Last week we ran the rule over the UK’s top six sportives but now it’s time to look beyond these shores. The choice is vast so here are six overseas sportives, each with a different flavour, to set the ball rolling. Got a suggestion of your own? Let us know in the comments box below.
The Belgian sportive
Ronde van Vlaanderen Cyclo, Saturday March 30
Belgium becomes the centre of the cycling universe in March and April each year – for amateur and professional riders alike.
The Tour of Flanders sportive takes place on the day before the race of the same name. Tour of Flanders race day is one of the biggest dates on the Belgian sporting calendar, when heroes are made and dreams shattered.
The sportive itself is run over three courses: the full 259km route, a medium 133km route, which still includes all the key climbs and cobbled sections, and a shorter 83km parcours.
The climbs of Flanders are short but steep and the cobbled roads provide a unique challenge of their own. The sportive is capped at 16,000 riders and entry (which closes on March 21 or when the maximum number of entries has been reached) costs €25, €30 or €35 depending on what route you ride.
And once you’re done? Return to the course 24 hours later with a Belgian beer in one hand and frites in the other and see how Tom Boonen et al tackle the same challenge.
More information: Ronde van Vlaanderen Cyclo
Alternative ride: The Paris-Roubaix Challenge (Saturday April 4) offers 170km, 140km and 70km routes taking in the bon-juddering pavé sections of the Hell of the North on the day before the pro race.
The Italian Gran Fondo
Gran Fondo Sportful, Sunday June 16
Italian sportives, or Gran Fondos, are similar to their UK equivalents in that they’re timed, mass participation events. Where they differ, however, is that they’re traditionally held on closed roads and, in vast contrast to UK sportives, Gran Fondos are treated as races by top amateur riders, with significant prize pots and podium presentations.
Rest easy, though, as while the front end of a Gran Fondo might be ridden at breakneck speed, there’s room for the rest of us behind.
The Gran Fondo Sportful, formerly known as the Gran Fondo Campagnolo, has been held on the third Sunday of June since 1995. The event starts in the small town of Feltre and is not for the faint hearted, with the full route measuring 215km, and including more than 5,000m of climbing through the spectacular Dolomites mountain range.
It’s one of the hardest rides in Europe, taking in six major climbs and rising to a maximum altitude of 2,032m, but there’s also a shorter 110km Medio Fondo route available. Only entry costs €50 for non-Italy residents.
More information: Gran Fondo Sportful
Alternative ride: Like the Gran Fondo Sportful, the Maratona dles Dolomites (Sunday June 30) is one of the toughest sportives going – and some say the toughest. There are three courses (138km, 106km, 55km), with the full route going over the Passo Pordoi (2,239m), Passo Sella (2, 239m), Passo Gardena (2,121m), Passo Giau (2,236m) and Passo Valparola (2,200m) for a combined total of 4,190m of climbing.
The must-do sportive
Etape du Tour, Sunday July 7
The Etape du Tour features at the top of many cyclists’ bucket lists. Each year the Etape gives amateur riders the chance to ride a mountain stage from the Tour de France.
As a result, it’s one of the most heavily subscribed events on the calendar. That resulted in ASO (the organiser of the Etape and the Tour de France) expanding the Etape to two events in 2011 and 2012, but there’s just one ride in 2013.
This year’s Etape takes in stage 20 of the Tour de France, ending with a summit finish on the steep climb of Le Semnoz above Lake Annecy. It’s not a classic route by Etape standards, at 130km in length and missing the fabled climbs of the Alps, but don’t be fooled by the relatively short distance – the finishing climb has an average gradient of 8.3 per cent over 11km. That’s preceded by five climbs to numb the legs before the final sting in the tail.
Individual Etape du Tour entries are sold out but places are still available if you book via a tour operator (I’ll be riding the Etape with Sports Tour International, who have limited availability left on their 2013 packages).
More information: Etape du Tour
Alternative ride: Want a sportive which takes in a host of classic Alpine climbs? Check out La Marmotte (Saturday July 6), which starts in Bourg d’Oisans and takes in Col du Glandon, Col du Telegraphe and Col du Galibier before finishing with the 21 hairpins of Alpe d’Huez. A super-tough event with some of cycling’s most mythical climbs, which amounts to 5,180m of ascent over the 174km course.
The Austrian Oompah
Arlberg Giro, Sunday August 4
The Arlberg Giro sees the Austrian ski resort of St. Anton transformed into a cycling mecca every summer. The sportive takes place over a circular 148km route, starting and finishing in St. Anton, via 2,400m of climbing in the Austrian Alps. The main climb, the Silvretta, is 13.3km long at an average of 6.9 per cent and a punishing maximum gradient of 12 per cent.
Online entry costs €55, or you can upgrade to a week-long package which includes guided rides, mentoring, massage and accommodation.
More information: Arlberg Giro
Alternative ride: Over in France, the Time-Megeve-Mont Blanc Sportive has three routes in the shadow of Blanc: 80km with 2,100m of climbing, 107km with 2,850m of ascent and 148km with a huge 3,980m of ascent.
The end-of-season excursion
Top of Mallorca Cycling Challenge, Sunday October 6
Fancy one last blast of sunshine before winter sets in? The Top of Mallorca Cycling Challenge returns in 2013 after a short absence, providing the unique opportunity to ride to highest point on the island.
Mallorca itself is a cycling hotspot and the Puig Major one of its most famous climbs, with the road rising to just shy of 900m over 14km. The climb extends beyond that, with a little known military road which heads skywards for an additional 7km of climbing – at an average of 15 per cent.
Organisers of the Top of Mallorca Cycling Challenge, Wheels in Wheels, have gained permission to use the road for one day only as part of a sportive which starts and finishes in Port de Pollensa. Entry is limited to 350 riders and costs £35. Combine with a week of riding on Mallorca’s superb roads for the full effect.
More information: Wheels in Wheels
Alternative ride: Over in mainland Spain, the Quebrantahuesos sportive scales the cols of the Pyrenees. Quebrantahuesos translates to ‘bone crusher’ which gives you an indication of what to expect. Need more of an idea? A 205km route with 3,500m of climbing on Saturday June 22.
The Francophile sportive
French Revolution, Saturday June 16 (SOLD OUT)
The French Revolution Sportive was held for the first time in 2012 and returns for 2013. It’s a unique concept, with riders meeting in Calais, taking the ferry over to France with their bikes and riding a 75 or 59-mile course before setting sail back to this fair isle that afternoon.
It’s proved a hit with UK riders wanting to ride on foreign roads without the hassle of a full-on trip and, while the 2013 event is sold out already, the French Revolution’s organisers, UK Cycling Events, have broken the mould for what we’ve come to expect from a UK sportive. Keep your eyes peeled for news of the 2014 event later this year.
More information: UK Cycling Events
Alternative ride: La Ronde Picarde is a sportive which takes place in Abbeville, northern France, on Saturday September 14. While not an organised day trip like the French Revolution, the start/finish is only an hour from Calais so can easily be worked into an overnight trip. The sportive itself is run over three routes: 187km, 135km and 54km.