The 5 Toughest Sportives In The World

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: July 

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.

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2. Mallorca 312

When: April

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?!

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3. Maratona dles Dolomites

When:  July 

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…)

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4. La Marmotte

When: July

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).

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5. Paris-Roubaix Challenge

When: April 

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!

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Blog written by bike-racer-in-residence, @LaurenKirchel


August 09, 2017 by Anna McNuff