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Ten of the best UK sportives to ride in 2017

Stunning scenery, gruelling climbs and even cobbles to get you motivated for the new year

The new year often brings with it a renewed determination to better yourself, and nothing helps motivate you for training better than a big event to look forward to.

And while there are many great European sportives to ride, the UK sportive scene is packed with must-ride events. In fact, we think the UK is home to some of the best riding in Europe, so why not make the most of it?

Stunning scenery, gruelling climbs, cobbles, some of the UK’s highest roads all feature in our round-up of the top ten toughest UK sportives. Fancy a big challenge in 2017? Then look no further. Pick your event, mark the date in the calendar and get training.

Are you tough enough to take on one of the UK’s toughest sportives in 2017? (Pic: Human Race)

Ronde van Calderdale, Yorkshire – Sunday April 2

The cobbled Classics are a staple of the cycling season and the Ronde van Calderdale is Yorkshire’s answer to the Tour of Flanders.

Now in its sixth year, the sportive offers well-signed routes and a blend of cobbled climbs and tarmac road sections.

Shibden Wall is the stand-out cobbled climb on the Ronde van Calderdale – Yorkshire’s answer to the Tour of Flanders (Pic: Tejvan Pettinger, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Where Flanders has the Koppenberg and the Muur, Calderdale has Shibden Wall – 800m of cobbles with an average gradient of 15.3 per cent.

It’s one of 13 cobbled climbs in all on the 74-mile route, while a shorter 50-mile route – which misses out Jowler Bank – has also been introduced.

Routes: 72 miles, 50 miles
Entry fee: £25
Website:
Kirklees Cycling Academy (entry via British Cycling)

Fred Whitton Challenge – Sunday May 7

The Fred Whitton Challenge to needs little introduction to sportive aficionados. With its relentless, thigh-numbing Lake District climbs, ‘The Fred’ has earned a reputation of one of the toughest sportives around.

– Ten of the UK’s steepest climbs to ride –

And we don’t just mean in the UK… riders come from near and far to take on the gruelling 112-mile sportive, with entry via a lottery which is open to enter until January 22.

The Fred Whitton Challenge is widely regarded as the UK’s toughest sportive (Pic: Andrew Griffiths/Saddleback)

Packing in Kirkstone Pass, Honister Pass, Newlands, Whinlatter Pass, Hardknott Pass and Wrynose Pass, the Fred Whitton is as tough as they come. If you remember our Best of British ride from the Lake District, you’ll know just how tough some of those climbs are.

– RCUK’s Best of British: Lake District –

The total climbing is just of 4,000m, with gradients approaching one in three on Hardknott – one of the steepest climbs in the country – and some hairy descents to also contend with. With the early-season date also throwing unpredictable Lake District weather in the mix, this is not for the faint-hearted.

Route: 112 miles
Entry fee: £60
Website:
Fred Whitton Challenge

Etape du Dales – Sunday May 14

The sportive of the Dave Rayner Fund has been taking riders through the Yorkshire Dales since long before the Tour de France visited.

– RCUK’s Best of British: Yorkshire Dales –

The Etape du Dales is another sportive characterised by relentless climbing and steep slopes, with Fleet Moss, Buttertubs, Tan Hill and Garsdale Head all featuring on the 110-mile route.

The Etape du Dales takes in some of Yorkshire’s toughest climbs (Pic: Simon Wilkinson/SWPix.com)

Wide-open roads, not least on the isolated Tan Hill, make for spectacular scenery but if the wind’s a-blowing you’ll know about it.

Alongside being a tough but beautiful challenge, entering the Etape du Dales means you’re helping to raise money for the Dave Rayner Fund and, in the process, help to fund the fledgling careers of young British riders.

Route: 110 miles
Entry fee:
£49
Website:
Dave Rayner Fund

Tour of Wessex – Saturday May 27 to Monday May 29

And now for something a little different… three days of challenging riding on the biggest multi-stage sportive in Britain.

Packing in quintessentially English countryside in the quiet lanes and byways of the south west, the Tour of Wessex gives you the choice of completing 322 miles, 224 miles or just an individual stage.

Cheddar Gorge is one of the highlights of the Tour of Wessex (pic: Deloitte RAB)

Though every stage starts and finishes in Somerton, each day packs in new and iconic challenges like the climb of Cheddar Gorge or up to King Alfred’s Tower.

The third and final day also includes the Alpine-like Porlock Toll Road – taking riders from sea level to the highest point in Exmoor.

Routes: 332 miles, 224 miles
Entry fee:
£135, £120
Website:
Pendragon Sports

Dragon Ride L’Etape Wales – Sunday June 11

One of two, gruelling Welsh challenges to choose from on the same day, the Dragon Ride continues to go from strength to strength and now has the stamp of approval from Tour de France organisers ASO.

A range of routes are available – with the multi-day Dragon Tour or the 305km Dragon Devil the go-to options for those really looking to push themselves to the next level.

The Dragon Ride tackles some serious tough climbs in the Brecon Beacons (Pic: Human Race)

The 230km Gran Fondo route, meanwhile, still packs in an almighty 3,616m of climbing in the Brecon Beacons, including Bwlch, Rhigos, Black Mountain and Devil’s Elbow.

This year’s event will be the 14th running of the popular sportive, and it’s easy to see why so many people sign up every year – the Dragon Ride is one of the UK’s must-ride events.

Routes: 100km, 153km, 230km, 305km
Entry fee:
£47.50, £52.50, £57.50, £92.50
Website:
Human Race Events

Etape Eryri – Sunday June 11

While Dragon Slayers take on the Brecon Beacons on Sunday June 11, another of Wales’ toughest sportives will be taking riders up some of Snowdonia’s toughest climbs at the other end of the country.

The Etape Eryri has earned rave reviews from Team Sky supremo Sir Dave Brailsford and offers three routes – Bach, Canol and the 102-mile Mawr.

Sir Dave Brailsford has given the Etape Eryri his seal of approval, having tackled the route through the Snowdonia National Park (Pic: Gwynfor James)

Oh, and then there’s also the small matter of Europe’s longest ultra-sportive, the Etape Xtrem, which tackles all three routes for a mammoth 222 miles (with 3,878m of climbing).

Climbs include Drws y Coed, The Wall, Crimea Pass and Llanberis Pass, offering some of the toughest but most picturesque climbing around.

Routes: 47 miles, 76 miles, 103 miles, 226 miles
Entry fee:
£35.99, £37.99, £39.99, £95
Website:
Etape Eryri

Chiltern 100 – Sunday July 16

The south east may the lack the severity of climbs found in the Yorkshire Dales, the North Pennines, Brecon Beacons or Snowdonia, but the Chiltern 100 should not be underestimated.

This year, the Chiltern 100 has joined forces with the Chiltern Cycling Festival, to form the, erm, Chiltern 100 Cycling Festival. That means, as well as the sportive, there will be Cycletta women-only ride and a vintage ride, the Amersham Classic, both covering 32 miles.

The Chiltern 100 sportive takes in plenty of picturesque English countryside – and no shortage of climbs (Pic: Human Race)

The sportive, meanwhile, offers three routes: 32 miles, 68 miles and 107 miles, with the latter packing in 2,400m of climbing over the short, steep climbs typical in the Chiltern Hills.

All riders will have a chance to compete for the title of King or Queen of the Chilterns on the final, timed climb, before receiving a celebratory glass of champagne, a finisher’s medal and a musette on their return to the event HQ at Penn House, Buckinghamshire.

Routes: 32 miles, 68 miles, 107 miles
Entry fee:
£24.95, £37.95, £37.95
Website: 
Human Race

Great Dun Fell Cycle Sportive – Sunday July 30

No prizes for guessing which climb takes centre stage here – the Great Dun Fell Cycle Sportive offers the chance to ride the UK’s highest road, which also happens to be one of the country’s finest climbs. In fact, Great Dun Fell also starred in our Best of British ride in the stunning North Pennines.

– RCUK’s Best of British: North Pennines –

Peaking at 835m above sea level, the private access road (but open to cyclists) to the radar station in the North Pennines has been dubbed England’s Ventoux – and for good reason. The climb measures 4.5 miles in length, with an average gradient of nine per cent and a maximum pitch of 20 per cent – there’s nothing else quite like it in England.

Great Dun Fell is England’s Mont Ventoux (Pic: Tejvan Pettinger, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Great Dun Fell, which concludes the route, is, of course, the highlight, but the undulating route from Appleby and through the Eden Valley showcases some of the North Pennines’ best riding.

Skirting the edge of the Lake District, the long course is 64 miles in total, all building up to the iconic final ascent. This may not be the longest sportive out there, but Great Dun Fell will still provide a very stern test.

Routes: 64 miles, short course TBC
Entry fee:
£25, £22
Website:
Sport in Action

Bealach Mor – Saturday September 2

Bealach na Ba is one of the UK’s most iconic climbs, snaking up the mountainside from sea level to an elevation of 626m in six miles.

– Ten MORE of the UK’s steepest climbs to ride –

It’s long as far as UK climbs go, measuring some six miles, but it’s steep too and is probably as close as you’ll get to an Alpine ascent on British shores.

The sweeping hairpins of Bealach na Ba (Pic: Stefan Krause, via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s the jewel in the crown of the Bealach Mor sportive, but there’s plenty more to enjoy – or endure – with the 90-mile route packing in 9,600ft of climbing in all.

The rugged Applecross Peninsula is not for the faint-hearted – but while your legs may not thank you, this will be a stunning ride

Route: 90 miles
Entry fee:
£42
Website:
Hands On Events

Exmoor Beast – date tbc

The Exmoor Beast is named after the mythical creature said to prowl the Exmoor National Park, but it’s a fitting name for what is a super-tough sportive.

The shark’s tooth profile of the route gets the blood pumping from the start, but it’s the climb of Dunkery Beacon that has earned the Exmoor Beast it’s fearsome reputation.

Dunkery Beacon offers stunning views – ample reward for a seriously tough climb (pic – Kerry Garratt, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Kicking up to a 1:6 gradient almost immediately, the climb will test every rider who takes on the Beast and, after a brief respite halfway up, the wide-open moor ramps up to 17 per cent once again.

With an average gradient of ten per cent, across three kilometres, you’ll have earned the comparatively relaxing return ride to Tiverton.

Route: tbc
Entry fee:
tbc
Website:
Exmoor Beast

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