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The Hardest Sportive of the Year

A question we get all the time, what is the hardest sportive in Europe? Ok, so lets rule out the small, specialist events that are only for the hardcore (here’s looking at you Tour de Mont Blanc with your 8,000m of climbing) and we will rule out anything further than Mallorca 312 as this is bordering on a pure endurance event.

Of course, everyone’s “hardest” depends on their own style. To many, the pave of Paris Roubaix is much harder than the steep ramps of the high mountains. We will look just at the facts to establish the toughest major sportive in Europe.

Stelvio Hardest

La Marmotte

Marm Alps


Distance – 174km
Elevation – 5100m
Average Finishing Time – 9hr01min
Average Speed of Average Finishing Time – 19km/h
Hardest Climb – Alpe d’Huez (13km at 8.1%)

Let’s start with a sportive that has forever had a reputation as the hardest in Europe. La Marmotte takes place at the very start of July every year on a classic route taking in four epic climbs made famous by the Tour de France. The event has been taking place since the early 70s and sees 7,500 people from all over the world flock to Alpe d’Huez to test themselves against the toughest terrain the Alps can throw at them. The weather is often a major factor with scorching conditions making recent editions very challenging. At the other end of the scale, a storm isn’t a surprise in the very high mountains (the Galibier tops out at 2,645m). The route is long for a mountain sportive leading to a lot of hours in the saddle and the final kicker is the last climb – the 21 hairpins of Alpe d’Huez.

Difficulty Rating – 4/5

Stelvio Santini

Long Route Hardest


Distance – 151km
Elevation – 4058m
Average Finishing Time – 7hr53min
Average Speed of Average Finishing Time – 19km/h
Hardest Climb – Mortirolo (12.4km at 10.5%)

One of the very few sportives that go higher than La Marmotte, the Stelvio Santini finishes on the legendary climb that gives the sportive its name at a whopping 2.757m. The route is shorter and has over 1,000m less climbing than La Marmotte but still has a very similar average speed for the person finishing in the middle of the pack. The reason, and what makes this so hard, is the presence of the Mortirolo in the middle of the route. With a reputation in pro cycling as the hardest long climb, the gradients stay consistently above 10% making this a brutal climb with little let-up. From here, there is a long false flat back to Bormio before the infamous climb up the Stelvio. Expect breathtaking scenery and breathtaking climbs.

Difficulty Rating – 4/5

Mallorca 312

Mallorca profile

Distance – 312km
Elevation – 5049m
Average Finishing Time – 12hr03min
Average Speed of Average Finishing Time – 25.9km/h
Hardest Climb – Coll de Femenia (7.6km at 6%)

For the first few years of the Mallorca 312, the route was a loop of the island. Since last year, this has become a closed road major race taking place mostly in the Tramuntana mountains. This is a very different challenge to other sportives on this list, the average speed is a lot higher and there are no tough climbs. However, the average finishing time is over 12 HOURS! That is a massive ride and for most people will be the longest ride of their year if not their life. It also comes relatively early in the year at the end of April so this requires a lot of winter training. Overall, despite the unique difficulties of this event, there are enough flat miles and the smooth tarmac on Mallorca makes this slightly easier than the mountain events.

Difficulty Rating – 3.5/5

Etape du Tour

Etape profile

Distance – 178km
Elevation – 3750m
Hardest Climb – Col d’Izoard (15.9km at 6.9%)

Unlike the other sportives on this list, the route for the Etape changes each year so we can’t compare average speeds. The distance is longer than La Marmotte so expect some finishing times well above the 10 hour mark. While the first half of the sportive is a mix of flat and lumpy, the second half is all action with two long false flats and two tough climbs. So this could go one of two ways, a nice mild day and you join a group your speed all the way to the bottom of the Col de Vars and the ride goes perfectly. Or, its a hot one and you are tired by the top of the Vars leading to a long, hard slog to the finish line.

Difficulty Rating – 3/5

Marmotte Pyrenees

Marm Pyrenees

Distance – 163km
Elevation – 5500m
Average Finishing Time – 9hr09min
Average Speed of Average Finishing Time – 17.8km/h
Hardest Climb – Col du Tourmalet (19km at 7.4%)

Starting in 2016, La Marmotte expanded to the Pyrenees and wanted a course the was as iconic as the Alps. They went big and created a monster. A normal tough day in the Tour de France might contain the Col d’Aspin, Col du Tourmalet and the Hautecam. This sportive includes all three climbs and warms up for them by coming up the other side of the Tourmalet and the Hauquette d’Ancizan. The feedback from the first edition was of a similar tone – “Toughest ride ever”, “Stupidly difficult” & “Stunning but brutal”. Even with some very tough sportives, this stands above as The Hardest Sportive of the Year.

Difficulty Rating – 5/5

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