Planning your 2020 cycling year and want to get away to ride a European Sportive? There are so many events these days, how do you chose what;s right for you? We break down the top rides of the year, from the cobbles of Flanders and northern France to the high mountains and everything in between.
Let's start with the biggest, hardest and most famous European Sportives around. These six sportives all feature closed roads, big pelotons & classic climbs. Without doubt these are some of the best sportives in the world. Five of them have the same route every year (give or take some minor tweaks) so the organisation is slick. The route directors are top class and the locations are some of the best in cycling. All of the sportives are hard. Apart from the 312, the weather is likely to be extreme (hot or cold) with long, tough climbs. Make sure you give yourself enough time to train. With the exception of the shorter routes of Mallorca 312 or Nove Colli, there is no hiding once you start these sportives and struggling against cut off climbs is no fun.
Originally a lap of the island (312km) this is now Mallorca's only closed road cycling sportive. It has grown rapidly since the first edition 10 years ago and has settled at 8,500 riders. The route starts and finishes on the coast in Playa de Muro and heads into the Tramuntana Mountains before heading back along back lanes and then looping around Arta.
There are three route options. The 167km route takes in all the main climbs, the 225km adds 60km more of glorious coastal roads. Feed stations can be busy but the groups are friendly and very international. The start can be chilly at 7am and some people are still riding in the dark after 9pm. It all makes for an epic day!
Insider tip: get into a good group for the middle miles, the headwinds coming back to Playa de Muro (the first time) can be draining. Ride the 312 in 2020.
The original mass participation cycling event. The Nove Colli has been around for 49 years over a stunning route in Emilia Romagna with nine hills that give the sportive it's name.
The Nove Colli starts and finishes in Cesenatico on the Adriatic coast. The route heads from the coast to the hills and back. There are two route options, the 130km includes 5 hills and the full 200km has all 9. The toughest climb is the Barbotto with some very steep ramps. The peloton is mostly Italian and the front of the race is very competitive. The event is very well run with great feed stops, a fun atmosphere (DJs pumping tunes out at the top of climbs) and a long sprint finish.
Insider tip: hold onto your hat at the start. The first 30km is among the fastest in any sportive, settle into a group that suits you & don't burn your matches before the first hill! Ride the Nove Colli in 2020.
The most famous climb in Italy and possibly the world, the Stelvio is the headline act of this excellent sportive. The ride takes place in early June where the weather has alternated in the last few years from warm sunshine to big snow drifts.
The route starts in the picturesque spa town of Bormio and heads down the valley to the climbs of the Teglio and then the fierce Mortirolo. The drag back upto Bormio is much tougher than it looks on the route map before you hit the final climb of the Stelvio. With closed roads for the event this is a good time to ride on the of the greatest climbs in the world.
Insider tip: come for a few days longer. The other climbs in the region (particularly the Gavia & Cancano) are spectacular. Ride the Stelvio Santini in 2020.
If the Nove Colli is the original sportive, the Marmotte is the original mountain sportive. The route has remained the same since the 80s with the exception of a brief interlude when a tunnel was impassable. The centre of the weekend is Alpe d'Huez where the race village is located. The sportive starts at the bottom of the climb in Bourg d'Oisans and goes over four big Alpine climbs - the Glandon, Telegraph, Galibier & Alpe d'Huez.
The Marmotte is both long (172km) and has a lot of elevation (5,200m) so it makes for a long day in the saddle. The key factor, as with many of the Big 6, is the weather. Often temperatures are in the high 30s and the final climb of Alpe d'Huez can be punishing with very little shade. This is partly what makes the sportive so special - it is not for the faint hearted and a real achievement to finish. The route is also glorious, the scenery on the upper parts of the Glandon and Galibier are two of our favourite places on the planet.
Insider tip: save energy for the Alpe, it can be a cruel place for tired legs. Ride La Marmotte in 2020!
In a list of the best sportives, the Maratona stands out. The scenery is second to none, as stunning a landscape as you can imagine. The sportive is not surprisingly one of the most popular in Europe and entries sell out immediately every year (we normally have places available until approx Jan but can sell out earlier).
The route is the same every year. The first 55km is over the four climbs of the Sella Ronda, a circular route popular with riders in summer and skiers in winter. The landscape here is particularly amazing from the meadows of the Pordoi to the rock faces of the Passo Sella, this is one of the finest loops in world cycling. From here, the route heads off to longer and tougher climbs. The medium route is challenging but doable, the long route includes the challenging Passo Giau.
Corvara / La Villa are an amazing place to ride for a few days. There is not much flat riding to be had but there are two lovely 55km loops for warm up rides in the days before the event. The hotels are mostly delightful, all family run with good restaurants serving hearty mountain food.
Insider tip: Get some practice group riding (with your local cycling club or at local sportives). The first couple of climbs will be in tight groups as 12,000 riders start together. Ride the Maratona in 2020!
The most famous sportive in the world, the Etape du Tour takes place over the Queen stage of the Tour de France. In recent years this has been in the Alps and is typically a week or so before the pros come through. 15,000 riders come from around the world to ride a different route each year, typically including 3 or 4 big climbs with around 4,500m of elevation.
There is no such thing as an easy Etape. The race directors here are the best in the world and they always create incredible routes with a mix of famous climbs (Izoard, Glandon, Alpe d'Huez in recent years) and some new smaller roads and climbs.
The route is announced at the end of October when the Tour is launched and then there is a mad scramble for a place - the Etape typically sells out in a few days. It is normally best to stay at the start town (the route is normally point to point) but in 2020 we can pick up your entries for you (previously this had to be done in person) so staying at the finish line might be the better option.
Insider tip: Do not, under any circumstances, underestimate the Etape. Sign up for our priority Etape list and get your first choice of hotels.
The five biggest weekends in cycling. Since 2017 it is now possible to ride all 5 sportives. Each are unique with their own challenge, from the distance of Milan San Remo to the steepest climb in cycling at Lombardia.
Four out of five of the monuments take place over the same weekend as the pro race so you get the full experience with fans by the side of the road and the course set up exactly as it is for the pros. The exception is Milan San Remo where you need the long hours of June to be able to complete the 302km course. The three spring monuments all have sportives with multiple route options so are perfect for riders of all abilities. Read Neil's account of riding all 5 monuments.
The longest running and biggest of the spring classic sportives, the Flanders weekend is part cycling festival, part celebration of all things Flanders and part piss up. The sportive is almost a victim of it's own success, the narrow bergs (steep cobbled climbs) get clogged up with riders making the steepest sectors impassable at times. However, the size of the event with 16,000 riders from around the world also gives it the fun atmosphere.
There are four route choices, the long route starting in Antwerp and the medium and shorter routes doing a loop from Oudenaarde. We suggest the longer of the two middle routes which takes in all the key climbs and is easier logistically. The sportive finishes with the Kwaremont / Paterberg and then a long sprint to the finish line. A great and popular sportive that every cyclist will love.
Insider tip: Arrive early on Friday and join our cobbles masterclass ride over the Kwaremont, Koppenberg & Paterberg. These sectors will be packed on the sportive. Ride Flanders in 2020!
Why do we do it to ourselves? We know what to expect - brutality on the pave. It's hard to explain, but this might be the best sportive of the year and definitely the most painful. It is a sportive that for once favours the big powerful riders and not the skinny climbers that have their day at every other sportive.
Paris Roubaix is of course famed for its cobbles. These are often farm tracks not softened by cars, sometimes the crown of the pave is smoothest / most consistent, sometimes its the sides. Normally when you think you are on a good line a huge hole will open up in front of you and you need to weave to a completely different line.
The route takes in all the highlights of the pro race. The full course starts in Busigny, the medium and short are loops from the Velodrome. All three give a great flavour of what Roubaix is all about. It is a mostly flat course with cobbled sectors coming at you regularly. These are assigned stars based on length / difficulty but even the two star sectors can be tough.
Insider tip: It's all about the bike. 28mm tyres at a minimum, strap everything on, its going to be a bumpy ride! Take on Paris Roubaix in 2020!
The last of the spring monuments, Liege Bastogne Liege is one of the hardest sportives of the year. The long route is right up there in elevation with the Etape / Maratona but adds in an extra 100km and very variable weather. As with the race itself, it favours all rounders who are good climbers.
There are three routes all starting and ending in Liege. The city is not as charming as those in Flanders but as you head south the countryside is pretty and the roads quiet. The sportive is rolling with some tough climbs, expect the occasional double digit gradient and a couple of really challenging sections including La Redoute in Philippe Gilbert's home town - almost 2km at 10% it's probably the hardest of the many LBL climbs.
Insider tip: The hardest sportive to pack for, play close attention to the weather (we use https://www.yr.no/place/Belgium/Wallonia/Li%C3%A8ge/) and bring lightweight layers so you are never caught out. There is a bag drop service by the organisers and at our private feed stop. Ride LBL in 2020!
Milan San Remo
The longest of the monument sportives, Milan San Remo is the only one that doesn't take place over the same weekend as the pro race. You need all the daylight hours possible to complete the 296km course from the outskirts of Milan all the way down to the coast in San Remo.
First ridden in 1970, the event has grown to 2,000 riders from all over the world. There are a number of ensurance sportives these days but this was the original big one. The route goes down to the Ligurian Coast and features the famous last two climbs of the Cipressa and the Poggio. The weekend with us includes a couple of short warm up rides in the stunning hills north of San Remo before a transfer for Saturday evening in Milan before the big ride.
Dates to be announced soon...
The Race of the Falling Leaves, there are few cycling weekends as romantic as this one on the shores of Lake Como. Unlike the spring monuments, the pro race takes place on the Saturday with the sportive on the Sunday which is not the ideal way round.
Since the Granfondo started in 2017 the race has taken place in perfect sunshine and there are few better places in the world to ride on a nice day than here. The route is rolling with some thrilling sections on the lakefront. The highlight of the sportive is the Ghisallo & Sormano. The former is beautiful with a couple of tough sectors at 14% but overall its mostly 5-6% with great lake views. At the top is the famous cycling church, a great place to stop for a drink and take it all in.
By contrast, the Sormano is a beast with nothing to enjoy apart from the finish. This is possibly the hardest climb in cycling with 28% gradients - there is a long descent and flat before the final two climbs so you will have some time to recover after emptying the tank. The finish is back in Como on the lake where the beer stand does good business and the sound of content riders make for a great atmosphere.
Classic cycling weekends. Ride the sportive one day, watch the pros the other. These events are typically smaller than the Monuments with a more local peloton. This gives the weekend a different flavour and gives you more of a chance to delve into the local culture.
One of the modern classics of the sportive calendar. The Strade Bianche is one of the first major races of the European season taking in an undulating route over the old gravel roads of Tuscany. The pro race stems from a sportive set up in the late 90s in this region called L'Erioca which celebrated the golden age of cycling where amateurs would ride old bikes in retro kit over stunning Tuscan roads. This became so popular the pros wanted a race on the same terrain, and to come full circle there is now a granfondo for the pro race which is based on a sportive.
The weekend is made up of a warm up ride on Friday, riding out to see the pro race on Saturday before returning for lunch in the square and watching the finish of the race before the sportive on Sunday. Great riding, an amazing host city in Siena and some of the world's best food.
Insider tip: Make sure you get out and ride on Friday / Saturday to get used to the gravel. Conditions can change depending on the weather so get your eye in before hitting these sectors with thousands of other riders. Ride the Strade Bianche in 2020!
The Race to the Sun and an indicator that winter has finished in spring is here. The sportive on the Saturday takes in climbs from the last stage of the race including the Col d'Eze. The route goes north of Nice into the beautiful hill country of the region. For most riders this is their first sportive of the year so the route is forgiving - 108km with 1800m of elevation.
The pro race comes into town for the final stage the next day making this a great way to kick of your cycling season in the sunshine.
Inside tip: Come out early and ride some of the amazing climbs just north of Nice. Ride Paris Nice in 2020!
The start of Flanders Classics week, this might be our best sportive of the year. Unlike the Tour of Flanders the peloton is largely locals (though this is changing each year). The route is famed for headwinds on narrow farm tracks, keeping with your group is a key skill here. The main climb (and there are not many) is the Kemmelberg, a cobbled berg with 18% slopes. The route also goes past many WW1 battlefields and cemeteries and takes in the famous Plugstreets - compact gravel sections.
The best base for this weekend is Kortrijk (Wevelgem is a small town) and you can ride to the finish of E3 Harelbeke on Friday before watching the Gent Wevelgem pro race on Sunday. A packed cycling weekend taking in the real heart of the sport in Flanders.
Insider tip: Be smart and stay in large pelotons as much as you can, most of the route is flat and exposed and riding on your own will get tiring fast. Ride Gent Wevelgem in 2020!
See our full range of Sportives HERE. All of our breaks include guided warm up rides, expert mechanical support, private feed stations and post ride socials. Read our customer reviews from riders like you HERE.
We look forward to seeing you on the road!