Your Year of Cycling Challenges

Looking for a big challenge for your cycling year? Look no further. From the tough to the insane, these are the rides that cyclists are judged by, from hard one day sportives to multi day rides over a mountain range. Whether you want to climb your first HC mountain or win an amateur World Championship, there is an amazing year ahead...

1. Ride one of the hard European Sportives

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If you have not been on a cycling trip to Europe yet, this is a good place to start. Ride over mostly closed roads with mechanical support and regular feed stations with a route that will take in either classic sections of a pro race, highlights of the local area or both. Try one of these amazing events, all super tough requiring a lot of training but oh so rewarding:

The Brutal: Paris Roubaix - very flat and not too long, but the cobbled sections are as tough as anything in Europe. This is easy to get to from the UK with a classic finish in the Roubaix Velodrome. Stay around the next day for the best one day race in cycling. RIDE IT - 2 to 3 night packages from £199

The French Classic: La Marmotte - the original mountain sportive taking in four legendary climbs of the Tour de France. Starting with the Col du Glandon, the route goes over the Telegraph & Galibier before finishing with the 21 hairpins of Alpe d'Huez. 173km and over 5,000m of climbing. RIDE IT - 3 night packages from £439

The Italian Beauty: Maratona dles Dolomites - the most stunning one day sportive on the planet. The Maratona takes in 6 of the best climbs in the stunning Dolomites going over 2,000m often, and ending with a short, Flanders style 20% ramp. RIDE IT - 4 nights from £749

2. Ride an HC climb

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Conquered your local hill and ready for something a bit tougher? Head over to France or Italy and take on one of the legendary climbs in cycling. Found mostly in the Pyrenees, Alps & Dolomites, the Hors Category climbs are literally the highlights of the Grand Tours where the best riders in the world have battled since 1910. You can ride in their shadows over the same roads, except you can grab a coffee at the summit. All of these can be done in a weekend and all have other great climbs nearby.  Try out some of these amazing climbs:

Passo dello Stelvio: Italy's most famous climb, the Stelvio has three ways up, all different and tough topping out at 2,760m. RIDE IT - 4 night breaks in June, July or September from £499

Col du Galibier: One of the highest passes in the Alps and one of the original climbs of the Tour de France. There are two sides up, both stunning. RIDE IT - fly into Turin or Geneva. Briancon makes a good base for this. 

Col du Tourmalet: The climb in the Pyrenees and the original Tour de France pass. There are two ways up and very fun descents. RIDE IT - fly into Toulouse and base yourself in any of the few small towns around here (Luchon, Saint Lary, Luz Saint Sauveur or Argeles Gazost).

Col d'Izoard - A beautiful climb close to the Italian border. Both sides up are tough and the top 5km are amazing. RIDE IT - fly into Turin, base yourself in Briancon or Barcelonette. 

3. Ride over 300km at a Sportive

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The ultimate long day in the saddle. Super long distance rides used to be for Audax and niche events only but the rapid growth of endurance events has led to more and more sportives over 200km and some going over 300km. Sportives are a great way to do long rides, you can work in big groups to smash the miles, benefit from feed stations all along the road and experience some glory at the finish line. Our top picks for 300km+ sportives are:

Mallorca 312Starting out as a lap around Mallorca, this is now a huge event with 8,000 riders over fully closed roads. The sportive starts at 7am in pretty chilly weather and riders come in well past 9pm in the dark. You get to see a lot of the island and go between the mountains, the ocean and the rural middle. RIDE IT: 3 to 7 nights from £399

Dragon Ride: Wales is an incredible country to ride with some of the best roads and scenery in Europe. The Dragon Ride is one of the original sportives in Wales and the route is spectacular. Ride the long Dragons Devil to go over 300km. RIDE IT: 1 to 3 nights from £125

4. Join the Club des Cingles du Mont Ventoux

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Mont Ventoux is the most famous climb in Europe and so often the centrepiece for the Tour de France. This monster mountain stands alone in the middle of Provence and can be seen from miles away. There are three sides up the Ventoux and the local club started a group for people that ride all three in one day. To do this, you get a Carnet which you need to get stamped at all three towns at the bottom and again at the summit. We sent Phil Crow there on the 50th anniversary of Tommy Simpson's death on the climb. Here is how he got on - RIDE IT - 4 night break from £569

5. Ride across a mountain range

There are three classic rides across mountain ranges in Europe. These are tough with no rest and can be quite gruelling experiences, but the achievement of getting across a mountain range with just your pedal power is amazing. The classic three are:

 - Raid Pyreneen: Run by the Cyclo Club Bearnais in Pau, this is a 720km route over 18 cols including the classics like the Tourmalet, Aspin & Peyresourde. It must be completed in 100 hours and you need to get your card stamped along the way. RIDE IT -

 - Raid Alpine: A very popular ride from Thonon les Bains in the shores of Lake Geneva to Antibes on the Med, this amazing route takes in most of the classic climbs in the Alps including the Galibier, Izoard, Iseran & Roseland. 

 - Raid Dolomiti: Ran by the same club as the Raid Alpine, this starts in Thonon les Bains and goes across Switzerland and Italy to the finish in Trieste. Taking in the Stelvio, Giao, Pordoi and the amazing Tre Cime di Lavaredo. 

6. Compete in a multi day sportive event

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One tough day not enough for you? Sign up for a multi-day sportive. The pinnacle for these is the Haute Route with an 7 day event across the Pyrenees and a 7 day event across the Alps. These routes take in the bucket list climbs and some incredible lesser known cols and there is a time trial thrown in. The racing at the front end is very competitive and then near the back people are just trying to finish. Expect tough days with most routes around 150km and over 3,000m of climbing. There are more and more multi day events in the sportive calendar now over some great routes, check out some of these events as your flagship ride this year:

 - Giro Sardinia:

 - Giro Sicily:

 - Ride Across Portugal:

 - Haute Route Pyrenees: 

- Haute Route Alps: 

7. Compete for your country at the UCI Granfondo World Championships

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A season long endeavour. The pinnacle of amateur bike racing is the UCI Granfondo World Championships. At this event, the major countries (UK, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Spain, Italy & France) bring big teams with hundreds of riders and there are teams from around the world competing to win the rainbow jersey. There is a Time Trial and Granfondo and you race in age and gender categories. To qualify, you need to finish in the top 25% at one of the many qualifying events over the year.

RIDE IT: Qualify at the Tour of Cambridgeshire, book your spot in the Team GB Race Village in Varese from £375

8. Finish the Tour du Mont Blanc

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The ultimate. The insane, the Everest of cycling sportives. 330km with over 8,000m of elevation. Yes, that's like riding the Etape twice. A huge chapeau to anyone that finishes this monster. RIDE IT -