The 2017 cycling season is officially in the books. Froome won 2 Grand Tours, Sarah finished Mallorca 312 in under 12 hours, Van Avermaet cleaned up at the Spring Classics & Tom completed his first Marmotte inside the gold time. All of this counts for nothing in 2018, its a new year with a clean slate ready for you to ride your way to glory. It's time to gather your riding mates and choose your targets for next season.
We have spent all year checking out the classic sportives, local secrets and new events to find the best rides for 2018. You can see at the bottom of the post what we are riding in 2018. This guide into four sections to help you find your ideal ride. These are:
- The Big Six: The biggest, most prestigious and often toughest sportives of the year. If you are looking for a main challenge for the year, this is a great place to start.
- UCI Granfondo World Championships: Your chance to compete against other riders from around the world in your age category. Qualify in the UK by finishing in the top 25% and race for Team GB in Italy.
- Pro Race / Sportive Weekends: Ride one day classic routes on the Saturday and then watch the pros on the Sunday, an amazing cycling weekend. Normally there are a range of routes to suit all types of rider.
- Secret Sportives: Smaller local sportives with few international riders. Perfect for riders wanted to find new areas or for the sportive rider that has done everything.
Sportives come in all shapes and sizes from local rides organised by volunteers at the cycling club to massive, closed road races featuring riders from all over the world. A collection of sportives including the oldest & toughest sportives in Europe, taking in some of the most famous climbs with thousands of riders from all over the world. If you are looking for a focus event for your season, this is a great place to start but make sure you train properly as every single one of these rides are unforgiving to the unprepared. The season is short for the Big 6. Starting at the end of April at the amazing Mallorca 312, the big sportives are all crammed into the early summer months and close in mid July at the Etape du Tour.
April 28th 2018 | Playa de Muro: A closed road classic on the smooth tarmac in Mallorca. Choose between 3 routes from a very doable 167km to the full distance 312km. The route takes you along the coast and then into the Tramuntana mountains. Most of the climbing is front loaded and there are some glorious stretches along the coast before turning back home inland. For riders doing the full 312km, there is an extra loop to Arta and then a rapid ride home. A great event as a warm up to bigger sportives or as your main event of the year. More info - Mallorca 312
May 20th | Cesenatico: One of the original sportives in Europe, the Nove Colli started in the 1970s as a cycling club ride and quickly became famous around the world. Entries sell out immediately and the sportive is shown live on TV in Italy. Again there is a choice of route from 130km to the full 200km taking in all 9 climbs that give the event it's name. Usually held in lovely sunshine with a route taking in picturesque hill country and the coast, this is a very enjoyable cycling weekend. More info - Nove Colli
June 3rd | Bormio: A contender for best climb on the planet, the Stelvio is a must climb for any cyclist and doing it on a sportive is worthwhile so you are not fighting the motorcyclists and other vehicles that often make this mountain pass seem like central London during rush hour. The route takes in several bumps that would be considerable climbs back home and one very serious and painful ascent, the Mortirolo with 10km at 10%. A tough but very beautiful sportive. More info - Stelvio Santini
Maratona dles Dolomites
July 1st | Corvara: In our humble opinion, the most beautiful sportive in Europe. This part of the Dolomites is full of lush green valleys, interesting rock formations and apple strudel. The locals (whose first language is Ladin) are warm hosts for the weekend with lots of good music and support along the route. The ride takes in the famous climbs of the Sella Ronda, often called the best 55km of cycling in the world, before heading to longer ascents including the Giau. More info - Maratona dles Dolomites
July 8th | Alpe d'Huez: The original mountain sportive. The Marmotte is still the ultimate test for climbers, taking in 4 classic ascents of the Tour de France. The route starts with the long ride up the Glandon before heading down the valley to the Telegraph & Galibier. The Galibier summits at a whopping 2,645m and from here the only way is down. The descent is one of the best in the world and takes you almost all the way to the base of the final climb, Alpe d'Huez. A true bucket list sportive. More info - La Marmotte
Etape du Tour
July 8th | TBC: To round of the Big Six, the Etape du Tour is the most famous sportive in the world. Held every year over the best stage of the Tour de France over completely closed roads. Ride with 15,000 cyclists from around the world in either the Alps or Pyrenees, then have the satisfaction of watching the pros struggle (a bit!) during the Tour. More info - Etape du Tour
If you want a proper target for the year, the ultimate aim is the UCI Granfondo World Championships. This is your chance to ride for Team GB in your age category against riders from around the world. The UK qualifying event is the Tour of Cambridgeshire. Finish in the top 25% for your age group (18-34 male & female, then every 5 years, ie 35-39 and so on) and you will be on the team in the Italian Lakes. There is a time trial and road race and you can qualify at other events around the world if you can't make the Tour of Cambridge or if the route doesnt suit your style.
Tour of Cambridgeshire
June 2nd and 3rd | Peterborough - The UK qualifying event for the World Championships is over the flat route of the Tour of Cambridgeshire. The course is slightly rolling to start with and then opens out and can be exposed to the crosswinds of the Fens. Coming back into Peterborough there are a couple more small bumps before the finish but this is definitely a route for the big power riders. If this route doesnt suit your riding style, you can qualify for Team GB in any one of 15 events across the world by finishing in the top 25% of your age category.
UCI Granfondo World Championships - Varese 2018
September 1st and 2nd | Varese - The biggest sportive of the year. The time trial is on the Saturday over a fast 13km route featuring one gradual climb, a sharp turnaround and then a quick descent home with one tight corner. On the Sunday, it's the Road Race over a rolling course of 130km and 2,000m of climbing. From the start in Varese, the route heads to Lake Lugano with the major climb of the day coming early. From Lake Lugano, there is a climb across to Lake Maggiore and then onto the Lake Lugano. From here there is a climb in the last 5km back into town and then a fast, flat finish where there will be for sure some big sprint finishes if you haven't escaped on the last climb.
Classic cycling weekends. Ride the sportive on the Saturday and then watch the pros on Sunday.
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.
Most of these are early in the season in spring. Our first weekend is Gent Wevelgem, a popular sportive fighting the winds of Western Flanders and a couple of great cobbled climbs. In mid April is the brilliant Amstel Gold. This event sells out immediately and is extremely popular with the Dutch. The pro race on the Sunday is the biggest cycling event of the year in Holland and the fans show their enthusiasm to the riders and race sponsor.
March 24th | Wevelgem: The start of Flanders classics week. Gent Wevelgem is the sportive riders' sportive, a favourite for a lot of seasoned riders with a peloton made up mostly of local Flandrien cyclists over a route into the countryside with strong headwinds and a route which every year seems to get more rolling. There are a handful of climbs in the middle including the Kemmelberg before a quick ride home via Ypres. The pro race is more intimate than Flanders and this is a great way to kick off your season. More info - Gent Wevelgem
Tour of Flanders
March 31st | Oudenaarde: The big one in this part of the world. The Tour of Flanders is a huge race and the sportive has become a key part of this cycling weekend for the last 20 years. There is a variety of routes from 75km to over 200km. Most of the action is packed in the middle with climbs and cobbled sections coming thick and fast. The highlights include the Oude Kwaremont, Paterberg, Koppenberg & Muur. Definitely stay around on the Sunday for the pro race, the atmosphere is great and the action always exciting. More info - Tour of Flanders
April 7th | Roubaix: The Hell of the North. Unlike most of these sportives, the Roubaix route is normally shut to traffic and cyclists so this is a rare chance to ride the infamous pave. There are three route options from 75km to 172km. The cobbled sections are marked by stars with 5 stars being the hardest. There are three of these on the route, all absolutely brutal and unforgettable. The finish is in the famous velodrome in Roubaix and with the pave sectors coming so frequently there is never any downtime on this great sportive. More info - Paris Roubaix
April 14th | Valkenburg: The start of Ardennes week. Amstel Gold is the big race in Holland and the sportive is massive - selling out immediately and ridden with enthusiasm by people from all over the country. The route is packed with climbs of all shapes and sizes from mid size gentle to short and very sharp. The final climb is a beauty, the Cauberg. Often the decisive part of the pro race, on the sportive there is music blaring and locals cheering to help you get up the steep gradients. A fun weekend! More info - Amstel Gold
Liege Bastogne Liege
April 21st | Liege: The last monument of spring. Liege Bastogne Liege heads south from Liege and into the Ardennes with some pretty countryside and lots of tree lined climbs. There are some tough climbs with steep gradients making the long route sportive one of the toughest of the year. The weather is very inconsistent and can make or break your ride. Prepare yourself for all conditions. More info - Liege Bastogne Liege
October 14th | Como: Finally, the last monument of the year on the shores of Lake Como. This is a great way to end the season. Uniquely on this list, the pro race is on the Saturday and the sportive is on the Sunday. The route starts in Como and heads to Bellagio for the famous climb of the Ghisallo. From there it is up the 28% slopes of the Sormano before two more climbs on the route back to Como and a finish right on the lake. A stunning route and the perfect season ender. More info - Granfondo Lombardia
For the rider that has done all the big sportives or looking for new areas to ride. These are the Sportive Breaks picks for great local rides on stunning routes. Each event is in a region rarely visited by UK & Irish riders and you will be in a peloton made almost entirely of local riders. Typically smaller, more intimate events than the Classics or the Big Six, we will set you up in the best bike hotels and provide locally sourced warm up rides to make the most of your break to these lesser ridden regions.
Take on the beautiful Tre Cime di Lavaredo in the Dolomites, ride between the Lakes at Tre Valli Varesine, over some classic climbs in the Pyrenees and more in these secret sportives.
Date tbc | Luchon: A stunning sportive in the French Pyrenees. This route takes in the climbs around Luchon including the amazing Col de Mente with its countless switchbacks and finishing with one of the great climbs, the 18km ascent of Superbagneres. Routes and dates to be announced soon...
Tre Valli Varesine
Date tbc | Varese: The start of Autumn Classics Week. The route takes in three lakes, Lugano, Maggiore & Varese over rolling but pretty comfortable climbs with nothing either too sharp or too long. This region is hugely popular for cycling with lots of great routes for warm up rides. Another great end of season weekend.
Where are we riding in 2018
With some discipline, we have limited ourselves to 3 European breaks & 1 UK break. Here are our rides for the year:
Rob - Tours Manager
I am starting the sportive year at the Mallorca 312, one of my favourite places to ride. I have never done the 312 so I am excited to test my legs early in the year and try the full 312. I am packing in three sportives in 5 weeks. First of the big mountain sportives is Stelvio Santini, I love the Stelvio almost as much as I hate the Mortirolo! Then back in the UK I am taking on the Tour of Cambridgeshire for a fast event. If I am feeling particularly strong I will aim to qualify for the World Champs. After this, all my eyes will be on the Etape du Tour, like a lot of Brits I ride this every year and can't wait to take on the route in 2018. Not a bad year!
Phil - Tea Maker
My year begins in Flanders for Gent Wevelgem. I love the mental concentration needed in this event, keeping pace with the locals as they accelerate out of each corner so you are not left stranded in the winds. In June, I am looking forward to my first Dragon Ride in a part of the world I love. My big mountain sportive will be the Etape du Tour, like Rob I ride this every year and love the variety. The race directors are great and always design a stunning route, 2018 looks no exception. Then I will finish the year in Como at the Granfondo Lombardia, just in it's second year but quickly becoming a classic!