Over your lifetime you will clock tens of thousands of kilometres on your bike. When you look back at the end of it a few rides will stick out. These are our top 10 bucket list rides you need to plan. We are not saying these are the best 10 days on the bike you will ever have, that is more subjective and personal but these are the 10 that unite us road cyclists - the classics of our sport that enough people will have done that you can share stories with strangers. Most of these are tough rides, definitely some type 2 fun rather than type 1 and are more fun to do when you are fit but all of them will leave you with lifelong memories. In no particular order:
Survive the Paris Roubaix Sportive
This is most polarizing rides on the list and definitely the most painful. Paris Roubaix is the biggest one day race in cycling. Started in 1896 there is so much history on the famous cobbles of northern France. Unlike other cobbled sectors in Belgium, these are mostly not open to riders on other parts of the year and no traffic goes over them. That means two things:
1. The Paris Roubaix sportive is one of the few times you can ride these famous sections
2. Without cars smoothing the pave, they are left horrifically uneven.
The sportive takes in all of the classic sections including the Forest of Arenberg (pictured above) and by the end your arms will be in so much pain from the vibration battering. The finish is in the velodrome in Roubaix, a fitting location for an absolutely epic ride.
Note - so many people are put off by the pain factor and get roped into riding it with their friends. These are normally the riders that end up loving it. It is a unique experience and one every cyclist should do.
Climb the Stelvio
This is probably the most photogenic climb in cycling with a morale destroying 48 hairpins on the Prato side. The Stelvio is one of the highest passes in Europe topping out at 2,757m, considerably higher than the Galibier / Tourmalet. This means long climbs from all three sides and some truelly impressive road architecture.
The Stelvio is in the Italian Alps very close to the Swiss border. The area is blessed with some amazing riding including the nearby Passo Gavia and Passo Mortirolo as well as some great lesser known rides making this the perfect location for a weekend break for climbers.
The most famous side up the Stelvio is from Prato on the east side. This is 24km averaging 8% with very little relief. You can see the top with 7km to go and it looks intimidating. Counting down the hairpins can be soul destroying when your speeds go into single digits.
The other way up is from Bormio. This side is more varied in view and terrain with a couple of flatter parts but also steeper sections. The third way up is in Switzerland up the Umbrail Pass. This meets the Bormio side with 3km to go to the top.
Race the Haute Route
Since it's inception in 2011 the Haute Route has become the pinnacle of multi stage amateur cycling. The main Haute Route events are over 7 stages in the mountains. The Haute Route Alps is the original quickly followed by the Haute Route Pyrenees. Recently they have expanded to offering the Haute Route Rockies and several 3 day events on classic climbs.
The set up is very professional and the closest you can get to experience life in the pro peloton. Race briefings are held each night and then stages start early with rolling road closures. The routes are expertly designed by some of the best race directors in the world so you can expect classic climbs and local secret routes. At the finish each day there is a festival like atmosphere in the race village with fans cheering as you cross the finish line and a masseuse waiting to help get you ready for the next day. There is a pasta party every night before the race briefing before you repeat again the next day.
At the front of the peloton the race is serious with some very strong amateur riders from around the world and towards the back the atmosphere is very friendly with an international pack of riders helping each other finish each stage. A must do for any cyclist.
Find out more about the Haute Route HERE.
Join the Club des Cingles du Mont Ventoux
Mont Ventoux is possibly the most famous climb in France and every time it features in the Tour it makes it the Queen's Stage. It is an absolute beast - known locally as the Geant of Provence. Ventoux can be seen for miles around and is a long, steep climb in all three directions with the famous lunar landscape on the last few km. Doing it from one side is a tough ride, so of course the cycling world push things as far as possible and up sprang a club for anyone wanting to ride all three sides in a day: The Club des Cingles du Mont Ventoux.
Riding all three sides is brutal. The numbers stack up against a very tough sportive (ie Etape / Maratona) as around 140km and 4,600m of climbing but there is very little time between ascents and you are up against the conditions: very hot in the forest, windy at the top.
The first two ways up (from Bedoin & Malaucene) are both equally hard, lots of long sections around 10%. From Bedoin the bottom section is in the forest until you get to the famous Chalet Reynard, from here you are into the lunar landscape where the gradients get a bit easier. The Malaucene side is at least as difficult with uneven gradients and some steep parts.
The third ascent is from Sault and is long but easier. On tired legs and in the heat of the day this is still challenging. From the final summit you have a fantastic descent back down to Bedoin where you can celebrate joining a very exclusive club.
Ride the Mallorca Coast to Coast
This is one of the few rides on the list that is not too difficult and is more about the life affirming feeling of riding your bike somewhere beautiful rather than the challenge of completing something brutal.
Mallorca is the most popular cycling destination in the world and for very good reason. The roads are perfect with light, mostly respectful traffic, the terrain is mixed with lots of mountain passes and flat routes and the climate is pretty idyllic for riding.
The gem in Mallorca's crown is the coast to coast ride following the Ma-10 from Andratx on one side of the island to Port de Pollensa on the other. This route hugs the coast for most of the way and takes you over 4 climbs, each varied but offering spectacular views either of the coast or inland. The route is 115km and requires a transfer to Andratx to start (1hr15 by car). It is still a significant day on the bike with almost 3,000m of climbing but one where you can get back to the hotel in one piece to enjoy a beer by the sea rather than questioning your life choices which so often happens when we push ourselves too far!
Finish La Marmotte
There are too many great alpine climbs to name and so much history from the Tour de France but for our money the best part of the Alps is covered in the original mountain sportive: La Marmotte.
The route for the Marmotte is a classic. Starting at the base of Alpe d'Huez the sportive goes over the Glandon / Croix de Fer and then down the valley to the stunning Col de Telegraph and then possibly our favourite climb in cycling, the Galibier. This climb has everything - wild, rugged setting, amazing views, varied terrain and so much cycling history.
From the top of the Galibier, the descent down including the Col de Lautaret is rapid and fun even if you are having a bad day. It keeps going and going almost to the bottom of Alpe d'Huez where you have one last climb. The Alpe is fairly tough at the best of times with a gradient that starts steep and never really calms down. But at the end of a long sportive in the heat it can be very tough.
This sportive has been going since 1982 so generations of riders have set this as their ultimate challenge. It is a full day out at 172km and over 5,000m of elevation but well worth the months of training.
Complete the Pyrenees Circle of Death
The Alps take most of the headlines in cycling. There are a lot more people, climbs, sponsorship money and cities in the Alps so the Tour is gravitating there more and more for the main stages.
However, the Pyrenees for our money has a lot more soul and the riding there feels special - away from the traffic and tourism and back to nature. One of our favourite moments ever on a bike is descending the Tourmalet when a huge (thousands of them) flock of sheep joined us on the road and we were forced to ride at their pace with sheep milimetres from us in all directions.
The Circle of Death is the name of the main stage in the Pyrenees each year but originally was the name for the daddy stage here: Pau to Luchon over the Aubisque, Tourmalet, Aspin & Peyresourde. This can be done in one, long day or we suggest breaking it down to multiple days and taking in some of the other classic climbs in the region. There are several ski station climbs which in the summer are empty apart from a few riders who can't believe their luck. An early morning or evening ride to Superbagneres, Hautecam or Luz Ardiden is about as good as it gets.
The classic climbs of the Circle of Death are all beauties. The Aubisque is long and varied getting more beautiful the higher you go. There is a long drag up the valley to the Tourmalet which really opens up in the top half with amazing views. The descent here is so fun and before you know it you are on the Aspin in the forest. After the Aspin it is just the Peyresourde to go with fairly even gradients before a long, fun descent into the spa town of Luchon. Unmissable!
Ride the Circle of Death over 4 days from £649
Take a moment at the Cycling Church
There are a few special places in cycling where you can pull over and contemplate things bigger than yourself. The Tom Simpson monument on Ventoux is one of them, another is the Madonna del Ghisallo in Lake Como - the Cyclist's Church.
The church contains numerous relics including bikes ridden by legends of Italian cycling throughout the years. There is a bike museum next door which documents our sport over the last 150 years.
Riders come from all over the world to visit here and it is ridden past every year on the last monument of the year, the Race of the Falling Leaves. The church sits on the top of the Ghisallo climb, a stunning 11km ascent from Lake Como in Bellagio with some very steep sections and tight hairpins. The brave can then take on the even steeper Muro di Sormano soon after with gradients of 28%.
Autumn is our favourite time to visit Como which is a great destination for cycling with climbs in all directions. The Tour of Lombardy now has a sportive to accompany it and this is the perfect time to ride in the region and visit the Madonna del Ghisallo.
Smash the cobbles at Flanders
Nowhere in the world is cycling as popular than this corner of Belgium. Bike racing in Flanders is a religion and everyone has an opinion. The culmination of this passion is Flanders Week starting with Gent Wevelgem and finishing at the Tour of Flanders.
Flanders rivals Paris Roubaix as the biggest one day race in cycling. The route changes slightly every year but the main feature is the short, sharp cobbled climbs which are tough in good conditions and almost impossible if there is rain making the stones slippy. The most famous climbs are close to the finish town of Oudenaarde. The Koppenberg is so steep it was taken out of the race for years. The Oude Kwaremont is the longest cobbled climb in the region and the Paterberg makes a fitting final climb for the pros.
After a short absence, the race (and some sportive routes) now include the classic Kappelmuur in Geraardsbergen. The sportive has 16,000 riders from all over the world and the atmosphere is amazing. The route is action packed with cobbled sectors or climbs coming at you ever 5km before finishing like the pros on the long straight in Oudenaarde.
The pro race the next day is amazing. Get yourself to the Kwaremont and watch the action in person with the locals. There are giant screens and food / beer stalls. It is a unique experience and one of the highlights of the year.
Experience the beauty of the Dolomites
Our final bucket list ride is the most beautiful. Ask your cyclist mate or guy in your club that has been everywhere about their favourite place and they will say the Dolomites. The landscape is breathtaking with lush green valleys and stunning rock formations in every direction.
The highlight of the cycling season here is the Maratona dles Dolomites - a closed road sportive taking in some of the best climbs in the area. The event sells out immediately every year and is one of the most popular cycling events on the planet.
Based in beautiful Corvara, the ride starts with the four climbs of the Sella Ronda, widely regarded as the best 55km of cycling in the world. These four climbs just act as a warm up. Once over the last of these, it is back to the first climb (Passo Campolongo) before a long and fun descent down to the start of the toughest climb of the day: the Passo Giau. This is 10km of 10% gradients often in the heat, very tough.
From the top of the Giau there is one last climb before a long descent into La Villa where the race director throws in one last challenge, a Flanders like short climb in town with 16% gradient. Tough on tired legs!
Finish back in Corvara and enjoy a cold beer and some apple strudel. It's good to be in the Tirol after a long ride!
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