Whilst we're big fans of the beautiful British countryside all year round, we also believe that cyclists need a holiday too. Although, it wouldn't really be a holiday if we couldn’t take our best two-wheeled friend along to indulge a world of pain and a mountain pass or two, now would it?! So we’ve searched high and low (but mainly high) to bring you what we consider the toughest one day sportives in the world. And, surprise, surprise... they all happen to be in Europe.
1. Tour du Mont Blanc
When: 15th July 2017 (TBC 2018)
Where: Hauteluce - Les Saisies
What to expect: A 300km ride through three countries, spectacular views and a mountain or two. With over 8,000 metres of climbing, by the time you’re through on the Tour de Mont Blanc, you’ll have climbed almost equivalent to the height of Mont Blanc twice and be well on your way to scaling the height of the Daddy of them all - Everest. Ouch.
Considered by many as the toughest one day sportive in the world, the Tour du Mont Blanc is a challenge taken on by amateurs and pros alike. It used to be taken quite seriously by teams who were supported over the distance, notably for the 2011 edition where few were able to complete the course within the time limit due to snow, rain and hypothermia. There hasn’t been that level of drama since though, with those who do bow out early referencing the mountains rather than the elements.
There are spectacular views and plenty of space for hours of quiet contemplation - during which you will no doubt ask why you’re inflicting such suffering on yourself?! But we’re sure this journey through such a beautiful part of the world will give you reason enough to find the strength to carry on. And if all else fails, the promise of free pasta at the finish line should spur you on too.
More information: http://letourdumontblanc.fr/
2. Mallorca 312
When: 28th April 2018
Where: Playa de Muro, Mallorca
What to expect: ‘Rolling terrain’... also known as about 5,000 metres of climbing packed into the first half of the 312km sportive. Oh - and a time limit of 14 hours.
There’s a choice of three routes on the day, which includes two shorter route options (232km and 167km), as well as the whopper of a title distance. You needn’t stress out if you booked onto the main event and have accidentally spent a few extra hours in the hotel bar the night before.
All route options follow the same course for the first 90km and part from there - so there’s nothing stopping you from pulling on the parachute, and taking the easy way out (apart from Strava - and the guilt, obviously).
Up until last year, the main route skirted round the perimeter of the island but now the revised course includes a complete road closure and 500 meters of gratuitous climbing. And who doesn’t love a few hundred metres of climbing thrown in for the sake of it?!
More Information: http://www.mallorca312.com/
3. Maratona dles Dolomites
When: 1st July 2018
Where: Corvara, Italy
What to expect: One of the most popular, and well known sportives. Not for you if you’re not a massive fan of people… or fun.
Last year, the Maratona had over 30,000 apply for the 9,000 places, which makes it one of the most oversubscribed sportives in Europe. But with over 4,000m of climbing packed into its 138km, it’s well worth taking a gamble on an application for a spot. That 4,000 metres of climbing is kindly split between six long climbs and one short-but-steep one. So despite the relatively low mileage of this sportive, you’ll find that just under half of the distance is spent ascending - meaning it packs a punch.
Giro d’Italia fans will be delighted to know that many of the climbs on the course have featured in the Giro, so you’ll be dancing around the Dolomites in good company – with the ghosts of cycling legends - current and past. Best of all, The Maratona is renowned for it’s festival atmosphere, which emanates from its village-style base, boasting music, screens to show the live action and yet again more pasta! (we’re sensing a sportive theme here…)
More information: http://www.maratona.it/en/
4. La Marmotte
When: 1st July 2018
Where: Bourg d'Oisans, France
What to expect: Descents so technical that the clock is stopped to deter riders from taking extra risks. Yikes!
The La Marmotte route is 174km long and includes three Hors Categorie climbs, the longest of which is 35km of continuous ascent. By the time riders cross the finish line, they’ll have climbed 5,180 metres. The piece de resistance is, of course, the final ascent up the infamous Alpe d’Huez - which leads riders back and forth around 21 sharp hairpins, and at last to the conclusion of the course.
But it’s not just the ascending that poses a challenge on La Marmotte – the technical descents can be tougher than the climbs for some riders and each will provide a psychological challenge along with the physical one. The spectacular scenery will undoubtedly go a long way to spurring you on, and you’d be forgiven for taking an impromptu rest stop to take a few pictures (and a few deep breaths).
More information: http://marmottegranfondoseries.com/
5. Paris-Roubaix Challenge
When: 7th April 2018
Where: Somewhere between Paris and Roubaix
What to expect: The same point to point course the pros will take on the following day - so lots of drama, dropped chains and cobbles!
The route is 172km long but there’s the option of choosing a shorter distance if the full ‘Hell of the North’ experience doesn’t appeal to you. The main route sets off from Busigny and naturally culminates in crossing the finish line at the velodrome in Roubaix ( where an elaborate and creative winner’s pose is optional). Whilst other pro races offer a sportive on the same course as the real thing, this is arguably the most iconic and revered of the classics, which is why it’s taken pride of place in our top 5.
Bobbing along the first of the cobbled sections, you might be channelling your inner Van Avermaet, but by the time the penultimate section comes along, we’re pretty sure you’ll be crying out for the council to tarmac the entire ruddy thing. This challenge promises to be Type II fun at its very best!
More information: http://www.parisroubaixchallenge.com/en/
Blog written by bike-racer-in-residence, @LaurenKirchel
The Tour de France has drawn to a close. Hundreds of riders have desperately clung on through stage after stage, doing their best to shave seconds off their overall time or just trying to stay upright on the challenging descents that this year’s elected route had in store.
These riders all come to the race as individuals, but as members of tight-knit teams, many share a common goal – to support their general classification rider in a bid for the Maillot Jaune. But what if tradition had been established differently at the very first tour, all those years ago? And what if Chris Froome was now proudly wearing a green armband instead of that famed Yellow jersey?
FROM HUMBLE BEGININGS...
The tour today is steeped in history and tradition, but when it first started it was an ever changing experiment that was established as a result of a newspaper feud. There was no L’Arc de Triomphe ceremonial sprint stage, there were no kings of the mountains or best young riders and there was certainly no Maillot Jaune. To be honest, there wasn’t an awful lot to write home about, and it looked like the organiser, French newspaper L’Auto (a newspaper championing motor racing) was making it up as they went along. Thankfully, their laissez-faire approach gave the tour enough room to grow into what we know it to be today - the biggest and most anticipated bike race in the world.
The first tour was held in 1903 and fifteen riders entered. They had signed up to five stages which visited cities around the perimeter of France. The riders cycled through the night until early the following afternoon and earned an entire rest day, before setting off on the next stage. Once a leader was established, he would wear a green armband on the road - slightly less conspicuous than a yellow jersey!
THE FACTS N' STATS
Before this year's Grand Depart, Chris Froome had been zipped into Le Maillot Jaune a total of 49 times - ranking him third to Eddie Merckx’s 96 days as the race leader. This proud moment has been shared between 283 riders who have worn the yellow jersey some 2,103 times since the inaugural edition of the stage race.
This number is more than the total number of stages that have taken place in the tour. Although my maths skills may be questionable, they have not let me down this time - the mismatch in the numbers is due to the fact that three editions of the race actually had multiple race leaders. Due to identical finish times (and possibly the lack of finish line technology in 1931) the yellow had to be shared yellow across the peloton.
FROM GREEN ARMBAND TO YELLOW JERSEY
As with all great stories, there is a touch of mist hanging over the beginnings of the Maillot Jaune, along with its fellow classification jersey siblings.
The Maillot Jaune could potentially be traced back to 1913 and to Philippe Thys, winner of the tour in 1913, 1914 and 1920. He told his story over 40 years later claiming that Henri Desgrange - the race director - told him to wear a bright colour so it would be easier to distinguish him from the other riders. He explained that he didn’t want to wear something that would make him more visible; but after several stages he gave in to pressure from his team manager, popped into the closest bike shop and donned what we now know as the yellow jersey. Unfortunately, the first world war the following year wiped out most of the competitors of the 1913 edition and so there was no one to corroborate his version of events.
Instead, the first widely accepted (and not so heavily disputed) appearance of the yellow jersey was in 1919. The colour was chosen to match the paper that L’Auto was printed on, according to the official race history. However, other sources claim that Desgrange needed 15 jerseys of the same colour and he could only find that many jerseys in yellow due to it being the least popular choice with cyclists at that time! The first rider to wear the jersey during the 1919 tour was Eugène Christophe who bore the brunt of the name calling during the race, being called a canary and ending up with an unwanted nickname as a result.
As the race has developed and evolved, the yellow jersey has turned into something that riders dream of, rather than make fun of. With one exception...
Until 1947 the jersey was made of wool and only had Henri Desgrange’s initials embroidered on it. The race leader would pin their team name onto the jersey which would be either written on embroidered on a piece of fabric. There was a new sponsor for this particular tour - Sofil, a synthetic materials company. They incorporated synthetic fibres into the jersey design, which went against stage victor Louis Bobet’s ideals about pure wool being the best material to wear cycling. The company then had to manufacture another jersey overnight without the synthetic fabrics.
HOW IS THE YELLOW JERSEY MADE TODAY?
The last minute rush to make the yellow jersey isn’t too far removed from the production of it today, where often the jersey is printed overnight. There is the ceremonial jersey which the race leader is zipped into on the podium and then they are passed a handful to sign after the presentations. They are then given a range of the Tour de France Maillot Jaune stock which are taken away to be printed with the team logos and sponsors by a portable printer (aka - a man in a van). With Team Sky guarding the jersey since day one, his job couldn’t have been easier this year!
So there you have it. Are we any closer to nailing down where it all began? Perhaps not, but we're sure what it lacks in accuracy, the history of the yellow jersey makes up for in intrigue, mystery and a bit of drama.
Blog written by bike-racer-in-residence, @LaurenKirchel
Given that we’re a brand named after some of the greatest mountain climbs in the world, we thought it only fair that we offer up a guide to the must ride mountain passes in France. Here’s our top picks for stunning scenary, ribbon esque roads and gradients that get just a little bit the wrong side of cheeky. We’ve even included a dash of Tour de France History too…
1. COL DE L'ISERAN
The highest paved road in the alps – need we say more on why-oh-why it simply must be pedaled. With the option to pass through the famous skiing towns of Tignes and Val-d-isère, you’ll not be short of places to stop and enjoy the view. You can opt to take a slightly longer 48km more gradual road from Bourg-Saint-Maurice to the North, or take on the shorter 33km southerly route from Lanslebourg-Mont Cenis – although be warned, this one comes with a sting in its tail and a steeper section at the end.
General area: The Graiain Alps, near the Italian border
Peak altitude: 2,700m
Average Gradient: 5% if taking the Northern 48km climb from Bourg-Saint-Maurice, 5.5% of heading from Lanslebourg-Mont-Cenis.
Max Gradient: 12%
Tour de France History: First used in the Tour in 1938
2. COL DE PEYRESOURDE
Rumour has it they sell crêpes at the summit of Col du Peyresourde, and it’d be rude not to ride all the way up the 1,500 metre pass to find out. With two ways to get there, you have a choice between a slightly less gradient-heavy (albeit undulating) climb from the east, or a shorter, sharper and more exposed ride up from the west. Beware of the summer heat if climbing from Armenteule in the west and stay hydrated – there is little in the way of tree coverage, and so little respite from the sun. And you'll want to make sure you’re hydrated enough to enjoy that long awaited crêpe at the top.
General area: Haute-Garonne region of the Pyrénées
Peak altitude: 1,569m
Average Gradient: 6% if taking the eastern 15km climb from Bagnères-de-Luchon, 7.6% if heading from Armenteule.
Max Gradient: 9.8%
Tour de France History: Featured over 50 times in the Tour de Franc
3. COL DE IZOARD
On the way up to Col de Izoard you’re guaranteed a stunning ride through lush alpine forests. There’s not much to choose between the two options of riding 16km from Guillestre in the south, or 19km from Briançon in the north – although the latter offers a longer ride, more of a chance to take in the views and slightly more gentle gradients.
General area: Haute Alpes
Peak altitude: 2,361m
Average Gradient: 6.9% if climbing from Guillestre, or 5.7% if riding from Briançon.
Max Gradient: 11%
Tour de France History: There’s a small cycling museum at the summit, paying homage to legends Fausto Coppi and Louison Bobet.
Image credit: Plint
4. COL DU TOURMALET
Known more affectionately as ‘the terrible mountain’ the Col du Tourmalet is the most used ascent in the Tour de France, and the highest road pass in the Hautes-Pyrénées. Founder Yanto took on this beast of a mountain just last week, and managed to sneak in the top 100 with the 98th fastest ascent on Strava. It took him a little over 1 hour, but it'll likely take the amateur rider closer to two.
There are two ways to reach the top of the pass, where you’ll be greeted by a memorial to Jacques Goddet, (director of the Tour de France from 1936 to 1987) and a large statue of winner of the 1910 tour de France, Octabe Lapize.
Both routes offer up twists, turns and stunning mountain, but the latter route kicks up to steeper gradients and will place your legs firmly in the pain-cave at certain points en route. What a treat.
General area: Hautes-Pyrénées
Peak altitude: 2,115m
Average Gradient: 7.4% for both routes from Luz-Saint-Sauveur or Sainte-Marie-de-Campan
Max Gradient: 12% (via the eastern Sainte-Marie-de-Campan route)
Tour de France History: Featured in the the Tour de de France 82 times so far.
5. COL DU GALIBIER
The cool thing about the Col du Galibier is that the route options to the top are distinctly different. The first route is a shorter, but sharper 8.5km climb from Col de Lauteret to the south. For the more hardy among you, take the road from St Michel-de-Maurienne. This 35km ride climbs 1,924 metres, reaching maximum gradients of 12%, and taking in the bonus climb of the Col du Télégraphe along the way. Everyone loves a bonus climb.
General area: Rhone-Alps
Peak altitude: 2,645m
Average Gradient: 5.5% if coming from St Michel-de-Maurienne in the north
Max Gradient: 12%
Tour de France History: Andy Schleck took victory at the first ever summit finish of the Tour here in 2011, after a 60km breakaway.
6. COL DE LA BONETTE
The Col de La Bonnette is almost the highest paved road in the alps. We say ‘almost’ because the col itself is actually lower than the tourist sightseeing road the ‘Cime de la Bonette’, which skirts around it and reaches a slightly higher altitude of 2,802 metres. There are two ways to reach the top – a 26km climb from the south, starting at Saint-Etienne-de-Tinée featuring a steep section of 15%, or the slightly shorter 24km route from Jausiers in the south.
General area: French Alps (near the Italian border)
Peak altitude: 2,715m
Average Gradient: 6.4% from Saint-Etienne-de-Tinée / 6.6% from Jausiers
Max Gradient: 15%
Tour de France History: The Pass has featured in the Tour four times so far. When it was last featured John-Lee Augustyn was the first man over the top – receiving a tidy 5,000 euros as part of the Henri Desgrange trophy (awarded each year to whoever reaches the race’s highest point first). Unfortunately Augustyn crashed rather spectacularly on the descent the other side and didn’t claim the stage win.
7. MONT VENTOUX
What better way to finish a list of the top French climbs than with the Daddy of them all, Ventoux. This mythical mountain became famous when it claimed the life of the great English cyclist Tom Simpson, who died just shy of the summit on July 13th 1967 - collapsing from a combination of heat exhaustion, alcohol and amphetamines. There are three route options to take on Ventoux. The routes from Bedoin (21.5km) and Malaucene (21.8km) are just as exciting and steep as one another, but there is also the longer 26km and slightly less taxing way to the top, starting at the town of Sault.
General area: Provence
Peak altitude: 1,912m
Average Gradient: 7.5% from Bedoin / 7.2% from Malaucene / 4.4% from Sault
Max Gradient: 10.9%
Tour de France History: In 1970 Eddy Merckx famously rode himself to the brink of collapse as he rode to victory on a stage taking in the Col. He recovered and went on to win the tour that year.
We're big fans of the beautiful British countryside, and we can't help but feel that Britain is even more beautiful when viewed from a saddle, with lungs on fire and legs that have long since turned to jelly. So we've scoured the country and hunted down the 6 toughest sportives out there:
1. THE FRED WHITTON CHALLENGE
When: Sunday 13th May, 2018
Where: Grasmere, Cumbria
What to expect: Gruelling climbs, winding roads, steep descents and top British scenery
Although this years’ challenge has already taken place, we couldn’t leave the Saddleback Fred Whitton off the list. Besides, you’ll likely need a bit of time to get in shape for next years’ event, which follows a gruelling 110 mile route through the Lake District, taking in every major climb in the area, totalling 3,950 metres of ascent.
The icing on the pain-cake comes at 99 miles, when you arrive at the foot of what organisers call ‘the daddy of them all’ - Hardknott pass. Although only a 393 metre climb, the 30% gradient in the final section has brought many a rider to their knees. If you manage to stay on your bike the entire way through, you’ll be among the few who do.
We love the FAQ section on the Fred Whitton website, including the inevitable query: ‘Will it hurt?’, to which the answer is of course a simple: ‘yes’. It’s a popular event and entry is via a ballot system. Keep your eyes peeled for the 2018 ballot opening in December 2017.
More information: www.fredwhittonchallenge.co.uk
Photo credit: Steve Fleming
2. THE ULTIMATE MONSTER
When: Saturday June 24, 2017
Where: Llandovery, Wales
What to expect: A very long day on the bike and more metres of ascent than you can shake a saddle at.
Last year, the organisers of Wales’ already brutal Monster sportive became a little concerned that their ride was no longer going to be the toughest in the UK. So they went and added a new ‘Ultimate Monster’ 300km route, which takes in 6,500 metres of climbing. What we love most about this sportive is their dedication to ‘pushing every rider to his/her limit’.
The event starts in the Welsh town of Llandovery just after dawn, offering you every scrap of daylight available to complete a ride which follows a stunning route through mid-wales, including Llyn Brianne reservoir and Nant y Moc, plus brutal climbs ‘Devils Staircase’ and ‘Dylife’.
Of course, if 300km sounds a little too much for a nice Saturday out - you can always opt for the original route at 200km long with 4,500 metres of ascent. We’re sure that’ll be walk in the park too….
More information: www.monster.wales
Photo credit: The Monster Sportive
3. STRUGGLE THE MOORS
When: Sunday 9th July, 2017
Where: Ampleforth, Yorkshire
What to expect: Exposed, steep climbs, stunning scenery and a touch of ‘horror’
We love a good Yorkshire sportive, and Struggle The Moors is up there with the best. It follows a 110 mile long route, taking in six significant climbs in the North Yorkshire Moors and a total of over 3,000 metres of ascent. All of the major climbs have an average gradient of over 10%, including the aptly named ‘Glaisdale Horror’ at 14%.
To put the icing atop the pain-cake, you’ll find yourself battered from pillar to post by strong winds on a largely exposed route. Still, you can cross the finish line safe in the knowledge that you’ll have taken on a ride every bit as a tough as a stage of the Tour de France. Whether you’d want to repeat it day after day… we’ll leave that up to you.
More information: www.ridethestruggle.com
Photo credit: Russ Ellis
4. DRAGON RIDE L'ETAPE WALES
When: 8th June 2018
Where: Port Talbot, Wales
What to expect: A stunning route, a well organised event and a man with a trident
For the second year running in 2017, Dragon Ride L’Étape Wales was an official Tour de France sportive, and part of the global L’Étape series. Riders have a choice of four routes, and our favourite is of course the 300 km Dragon Devil, which comes with a whopping 5,000 metres of climbing.
Being an official Le Tour event guarantees a slick, well organised ride and a carefully selected route through stunning mid-wales scenary, but there are a few other extras too.In 2017, when riders approached the short n’ sharp Devil’s Elbow climb, they were greeted by Le Tour’s legendary Didi the devil. What more can you ask for on a sportive, than a man dressed as a devil, and armed with a trident.
Registration for the 2018 event is open now, and it’s advisable to get in there early. The event sells out quickly when places go on sale in the autumn, and you’ll want to be among those who can say that they’ve ‘slayed the dragon’ next year.
More information: http://www.letapeuk.co.uk/wales/dragon-tour/
Didi the devil (photo credit: The Human Race)
5. THE TOUR OF WESSEX
When: May 26th - 28th, 2018
Where: Somerton (near Yeovil) and around
What to expect: Iconic west country scenery, 34 stunning climbs, castles, national parks and a friendly, festival atmosphere.
If three days of back-to-back quad-punishing riding is your idea of bank holiday heaven, then mark this one in your diary for next year. Taking place over the late May bank holiday, the Tour of Wessex is the ultimate multi-day sportive event in the UK.
There’s no shortage of climbing over the long weekend, and you’ll be treated to some especially spectacular ascents through the iconic Cheddar Gorge and up the winding Pollock Toll road, on the edge of Exmoor National Park. The standard three day route splays out in three different directions from the ‘capital of Wessex’ Somerton, and is comprised of:
- Day 1: 107 miles, including 11 ascents, Cheddar Gorge and King Alfred’s Tower, with a max gradient of 18%
- Day 2: 116 miles, including 9 climbs and taking in the short-but-steep Black Hill.
- Day 3: 112 miles, including 14 climbs and featuring the 25% gradient at Bryant’s Hill.
Perhaps one of the best things about this sportive are its amply stocked feed stations, friendly basecamp atmosphere and the excuse to indulge in pub dinners and a stay in one of the many traditional B&B’s in the area. Well worth the trip for what is a quintessentially British experience.
More information: http://www.pendragonsports.com/Tour_of_Wessex
Photo credit: Pendragon Sports
6. BEALACH MOR
When: Saturday 2nd September, 2017
Where: Applecross Peninsula, Scotland
What to expect: Rugged remote roads, steep climbs, windswept coastline and panoramic views of the Isle of Skye
Named after one of the toughest and most iconic UK climbs, this sportive takes in over 2,000 metres of ascent, following a 90 mile route through the remote roads of north-west Scotland’s rugged Applecross peninsula.
Bealach Na Ba itself is a bucket-list climb for many cyclists, leading riders up and away from the sea and around alpine-like hairpins for a grueling 10 kilometres. The reward at the top is a brief moment to take in spectacular panoramic views over the west coast and the Isle of Skye, before plunging back down to sea level again.
Much of the second half of the ride follows the undulating peninsula coastline, past rocky cliffs and ducking in and out of sandy coves. The views are a guaranteed spectacular, but there’s little respite from the wild Scottish wind.
For the sheer rugged, windswept beauty of this event, and the chance to ride some of the UK’s most remote roads – we think this sportive is well worth the trip north of the border.
More information: http://www.handsonevents.co.uk/bealach-mor
Photo credit: Richard Pearce
JOIN US FOR A NEW SPORTIVE THIS JULY
If you fancy a more leisurely jaunt around the British hills this summer, take a look at the inaugural 'Let's Do This' Chavenage Sportive, brought to you by Le Col and Eisenberg. It's a fantastic opportunity to meet and ride with pros from the Bike Channel Canyon team, including James Lowsley-Williams, a star of the recent Tour De Yorkshire.
Our founder, former Team GB national champion Yanto Barker, will also be there all day - on hand to answer any of your questions about cycling, Le Col or the BIKE Channel team.
To find out more, click here.