There are so many mountains to climb and races to ride. How do you pick which ones to tackle in 2018? We take thousands of riders each year to the top sportives in Europe and spend time meeting with race directors and visiting small moutain passes to find the best events of the year. The following are a mix of our favourites and the events that get the best feedback from our riders. We have only looked at sportives with a minimum of 3,000 riders and base our choices on the quality of the route, the organisation and other rides to do in the area. Here are our top 7 European Sportives for 2018:
Etape du Tour
When / Where - 8th July, Annecy | France.
What's it all about - This is the most famous sportive of the year attracting 15,000 riders from all over the world. Every year the Etape is over a different route over the best stage of the Tour de France and the 2018 edition is probably the most interesting route ever in the event's 25 year history. Starting in Annecy, the 169km route takes in 4 climbs including 2 very tricky, lesser known Cols with multiple sections with more than 10% gradients. The race goes into the lesser visited part of Haute Savoie and then takes in the first ever gravel section in the Etape du Tour. This section of around 3km includes a short climb and a descent which will be a real challenge to a large, inexperienced peloton. The final climb is the stunning Col de la Colombiere before a descent back to Le Grand Bornand and then just over a week later the pros take it on during 3 amazing days in the Alps.
Rider Review - This is an Etape that will have you searching for that lowest gear and spinning out down some fast descents. The climbs are tough but the scenery throughout is spectacular (Scott Cornish - recon Etape ride, October 2017. Read more from Scott's recon ride here - https://sportivebreaks.com/blog/riding-the-2018-etape-du-tour-route/)
Insider Tip - Preparation is key. Go and ride the gravel section and Col des Glières before race day.
Ride it - 3+ night breaks from £550: https://sportivebreaks.com/sportives/etape-du-tour/
When / Where - 28th April, Playa de Muro | Spain
What's it all about - The Mallorca 312 started out as a lap of the island (312km) and has quickly become one of the biggest sportives on the calendar. In it's 9th edition, 2018 will be the biggest one yet with close to 8,500 riders on completely closed roads. The route is now largely in the Tramuntana mountains for the first half and then heads inland and over to Arta for the longer routes. The full version is a real endurance event starting at 7am with some riders finishing after dark, but there is a challenging 232km route and a 167km version that most riders can complete.
Rider Review - I just want to say thanks for your help with getting us signed up for this. We had the week of our lives and the event itself surpassed my expectations. I'll be recommending it to anyone who'll listen (Liam Rowsome, Mallorca 312 rider 2017).
Insider Tip - The start can be cold so get your layers right. Nutrition is key, the first feed station comes fast but if you skip this the second feed is a long way.
Ride it - 4+ nights including entries, half board accommodation in a 4* hotel by the start line and airport transfers from £435: https://sportivebreaks.com/sportives/mallorca-312/
When / Where - 24th March, Wevelgem | Belgium.
What's it all about - The start of Flanders Classics week and a real cyclists' sportive. The event has grown in recent years and now attracts around 4,000 riders with the vast majority coming from Flanders. This can mean a healthy pace from the locals and it is definitely worth holding their wheels as the main challenge of this sportive is fighting the strong winds of Western Flanders. The route goes through narrow farm tracks and quiet country lanes where the peloton will be sprinting out of each corner. There are a number of distance options suitable to all abilities, all follow the same format of leg softening start against the wind, then the famous climbs in this area including the Kemmelberg and sprint home through the stunning town of Ypres. Start your cycling season here!
Rider Review - It was maybe the best event I have ever done. A very special setting to be amongst the Flanders battle fields, memorials and war cemeteries. Apart from that, not a hard ride, apart from the wind which was grinding by the end & fewer riders than Flanders so Kemmelburg was easier to navigate than Koppenberg - A Great Event (Clive Lewis, Gent Wevelgem rider 2017).
Insider Tip - Pick your groups wisely, any kms on your own early on will come back to haunt you later. And watch out for all the accelerations out of every corner.
Ride it - 2 & 3 night breaks including accommodation & entries from £145: https://sportivebreaks.com/sportives/gent-wevelgem/
When / Where - 13th October, Como | Italy.
What's it all about - New in 2017, a chance to ride the sportive accompanying the Race of the Falling Leaves, the final monument of the season. The route is not an exact replica of the pro race but does take in the classic climbs of the Ghisallo and Sormano and takes in some great lakeside riding by the lake. The sportive starts & ends in Como and the route is short but not easy. At the moment, there is just the one route option so everyone goes up the Sormano with sections of 25% plus gradients! Look out for some small improvements in 2018 but this has already secured it's place alongside Flanders & Roubaix as a classic sportive. Como is also a great spot for a season ending long weekend of cycling watching the pro race on Saturday and doing some other rides by the lake.
Rider Review - Doing the Gran Fondo Lombardia was a great experience. It's very different (more competitive, less "friendly") compared to a sportive in the UK and you need to be prepared for that. This was the first time this event has been held and I suspect that there are things that they will need to get right for future events. (Philip Jones, Lombardia rider 2017).
Insider Tip - Everyone will be preparing for the Sormano but dont forget the last climb out of Como and be careful on the sharp and technical descents.
Ride it - 3 night breaks, coming soon: https://sportivebreaks.com/sportives/granfondo-lombardia/
When / Where - 7th April, Roubaix | France.
What's it all about - The Queen of the Classics, the Hell of the North. Paris Roubaix is the best cycling weekend of the year and an absolute love/hate sportive. The love - legendary route over cobbled sections that are rarely open to cyclists, a chance to get a real appreciation of the pro race, a very flat route that favours big power riders rather than skinny climbers like most sportives & a finish on the famous velodrome. The hate - the cobbles are absolutely brutal and it's hard to comprehend that we are choosing to ride these for fun! There are three route choices suitable for all levels, the short and medium start and end in Roubaix making it a very easy weekend close to Calais.
Rider Review - Hated it at the time but loved it by the finish. Did the middle route so my first experience on the cobbles was Arenberg, absolutely brutal. Felt amazing when the cobbles finished but was never too far to the next assault. By the time I had reached the velodrome, I was so beaten up I didnt take it in. A unique and unforgettable day out. (Rob, Paris Roubaix rider 2016).
Insider Tip - Get your bike set up before you go, pro tyres are getting wider and wider and help cushion the pain of the pave. Book a service at your local bike shop a couple of weeks before you leave.
Ride it - 2 & 3 night breaks including accommodation & entries from £169: https://sportivebreaks.com/sportives/paris-roubaix/
Maratona dles Dolomites
When / Where - 1st July, Corvara | Italy.
What's it all about - The most beautiful sportive in the world bar none. The Maratona is a Dolomites institution having been around for over 30 years and sells out immediately every year. The right starts in La Villa and finishes nearby in Corvara. There are three route choices, all with plenty of climbing and descending with the long route being tough (over 4,000m) and the short route being challenging but achievable for all levels. Everyone starts together with the four climbs of the Sella Ronda, a stunning 55km loop with some of the world's best scenery. From here, the long route riders head up the tough Giau with plenty of kilometres around 10%. In the final run in back to Corvara there is a nasty, Flanders style, steep climb which on tired legs is very unwelcome.
Rider Review - Amazing ride! Quite tough with climbing or descending throughout but the route was incredible the whole way round. Crowded early making it quite hard to climb the Campolongo at your own pace but very well organised. (Phil, Maratona rider 2015).
Insider Tip - Play close attention to the weather. You go above 2,000m and will likely be cold in the start pens and in the afternoon sun on the final climb. Leave some energy for the last kicker near the finish.
Ride it - 4, 5 & 7 night breaks including airport transfers, accommodation & entries from £749: https://sportivebreaks.com/sportives/maratona-dles-dolomites/
When / Where - 8th July, Alpe d'Huez | France.
What's it all about - The original and probably hardest one day mass sportive in Europe. The route is always the same with four classic climbs - the Glandon, Telegraph, Galibier & Alpe d'Huez. There is over 5,000m on this route with very little flat to recover. The descent off the top of the Galibier, almost all the way to the bottom of Alpe d'Huez, is one of the best around and will leave you at the last climb happy if not totally refreshed. The Marmotte is a must ride sportive for every serious cyclist, give yourself some extra time in Alpe d'Huez to ride some of the other great climbs in the area and take on the time trial up Alpe d'Huez on the Friday.
Rider Review - Started quite late at 8am so the first climb was packed and I spent most of my time overtaking people on the gravel at the edge. Loved the Telegraph & Galibier, was cramping near the top so stopped near the tunnel. Took me an hour to grind up the Alpe but great to finish with a sprint cheered on by a big crowd (Andrew, Marmotte rider 2016).
Insider Tip - Arguably the hardest one day mass sportive, there is no substitution for proper, smart training. Riding this when not in peak fitness is not fun and will leave you climbing Alpe d'Huez in blazing sunshine and tired.
Ride it - 3 night breaks including accommodation and entries from £299: https://sportivebreaks.com/sportives/la-marmotte/
See our full range of sportives here - https://sportivebreaks.com/sportives/