Here is our no stone un-turned guide to the best sportives in 2016. We are going month by month and staying just in Europe. These are all trips that you can easily squeeze into a weekend. If you want more help finding the right Sportive for you please get in touch.
2016 – a year in sportives
The sportive calendar continues to evolve with new events entering the scene to take their place along the classics. This year sees the 7th edition of Mallorca 312 & 6th edition of the Paris Roubaix Sportive – both will see record numbers and have become firm favourites across Europe. This is also the year of the 100th Tour of Flanders where the region will pull out all the stops to make it a spectacular cycling weekend. There is a return to the classic route of La Marmotte and a new Pyrenees version of this most challenging of events. The focus for many sportive rider is the Etape du Tour which is over a classic Alpine route from Megeve to Morzine. For the first time in a few years the Marmotte / Etape double is very possible being only one week apart. 2016 promises to be a great year of riding with more choice than ever.
Sportives in January
You have January to work off the Christmas “holiday pounds” and at last indoor training is fun. This is the first year of Zwift being mainstream. If you have not seen this in action, check out www.zwift.com. Addictive, fun and a great way to stay in touch with friends, Zwift should inspire you to spend more time training this winter building you up for a great 2016.
Sportives in February
The cycling year kicks off at the end of Feb with Het Nieuwsblad in Flanders. Unusually the pro race is on the Saturday with the sportive following on Sunday. The weekend is based in the stunning town of Ghent, we can arrange VIP entries from £59pp to watch the pro race in style. Last year saw one of the most exciting races of the season with Sky’s own Ian Stannard beating three Belgium Etixx teammates for his second consecutive win in Ghent.
The sportive is short in comparison to most other European events. You have a choice of 70km with 3 cobbled sections and 1 climb or 105km with 5 cobbled sections and 5 climbs. This route shares a lot of highlights with the Tour of Flanders and should be suitable to most levels of fitness.
Our Pick – Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Sportive (28th Feb)
This is still a quiet month for sportives with but features three very different & very interesting events. The first weekend has 2 Italian sportives both on March 6th. The Gran Fondo del Po follows the River Po so has no significant hills or difficult sections and start & finishes in the pretty town of Ferrara in Emilia Romagna. This is designed as a season starter and is quite unique in the sportive calendar. On the same day is the Gran Fondo Strade Bianche over the white roads of Tuscany. This sportive weekend also features a great pro race on the Saturday and is based in Siena. This is a much tougher sportive full of short sharp climbs hitting a max of 18%.
Easter this year is March 27th and this weekend is the second big Belgian sportive of the year – Gent Wevelgem. The route takes you into western Flanders close to many WW1 sights and roles through Ypres on the way back to Wevelgem. There are still some cobbled sections to get your teeth into but this is an easier sportive than many in northern Europe. Our hotel is in the heart of Kortrijk and is used by Tinkoff & Katusha pro teams.
Gran Fondo del Po (6th March)
Official site – www.granfondodelpo.it
Distance – 80 or 133km
Start / Finish Town – Ferrara | Italy
Nearest airport – Bologna
Gran Fondo Strade Bianche (6th March)
Official site – www.gfstradebianche.it
Distance – 83.5 or 122km
Start / Finish Town – Siena | Italy
Nearest airport – Pisa
April is one of the busiest months in the sportive calendar with big international events every weekend. The biggest races in northern Europe take place in April as well as a new classic in Mallorca for those who prefer sunshine, tarmac & churros to cobbles, beer & chips.
The month starts with the 100th Tour of Flanders. This is one of the best pro races of the year & one of the most popular sportives. The whole region is obsessed with cycling and this is their FA Cup final. For the sportive on the Saturday you can ride the full distance (239km) from Bruges or shorter options starting and finishing in Oudenaarde of 127km or 71km. Our preference is the 127km route which is easier logistically and still takes in all the best sections. The atmosphere on this sportive is great with riders from all over Europe.
The following weekend (9th & 10th) is another massive race weekend replacing cobbled climbs for a flat route with more brutal sections. Paris Roubaix is probably the biggest one day race in the calendar and the sportive is very popular with nearly 2,000 Brits in the field of 5,500. Logistically this is an easy event being close to Calais or the Eurostar station of Lille. Stay in central Roubaix, the short and medium sportives start at the velodrome while there is a coach from the velodrome to the start of the longer route. Our preference is the longer route. This is a unique ride and you want to feel that you have tackled every cobbled section when you finish. There has not been a wet Roubaix since 2002, surely this is the year…
The next two weeks see the Ardennes hills take centre stage with Amstel Gold & Liege Bastogne Liege sportives & pro races. Both are packed with a mix of longer, 3 to 5km gentle climbs and short, very steep ramps. Climbs come thick and fast and both sportives but particularly LBL are as challenging as some of the mountainous climbs later in the year.
The month finished with Mallorca 312. Now in it’s 7th edition, this popular sportive goes from strength to strength. Choose between either the whole loop of the island (312km) or cut the second part in half (167km). Mallorca is such a popular place for cyclists with good reason, the roads here look like they were designed for cycling. If you are in great shape, take on the 312 but the 167 is also a great route and a decent challenge for early in the season. Arrive a few days before the event so you can warm up on the smooth tarmac and climb Sa Calobra – the most famous climb on the island and not on the 312 route.
Official site – www.sport.be/parisroubaix/2016/
Book accommodation & entries – www.sportivebreaks.com
Distance – 70, 139 or 163km
Start / Finish Town – Busigny (long route) or Roubaix (short & medium) & both finish in Roubaix
Nearest airport – Brussels (or Lille Eurostar)
There are three intriguing sportives in May. The only problem is they are all on the same day. On 22nd May you have the choice between Italy’s most popular sportive, riding a stage of the Giro or a closed road classic in the UK.
Italy’s most popular sportive is Nove Colli in Cesenatico on the Adriatic coast. This sold out in 4 minutes this year, not bad for an event that has 13,000 riders. This sportive is brilliantly organised over a beautiful route and is a must do for every cycle enthusiast. The whole event is closed to traffic and the pace is quick on the two long flat sections.
The Gran Fondo Giro d’Italia is a newcomer to the calendar having had its first outing in 2015. Anyone that has watched the Giro in recent years will have seen thick snow on the higher mountain stages and this year the Gran Fondo stays relatively low in the eastern Alps. It will be interesting to see this event develop and see if it can become the Giro’s answer to the Etape du Tour.
The home option on May 22nd is Velothon Wales. Last year saw the inaugural running and controversy a plenty as locals complained of road closures. This year should run smoother and hopefully will see support from across the board as Velothon put on another great event which should rival Ride 100 as the best mass participation sportive of the year.
The next two months are the business end of the sportive season. The snows have melted from the top of the cols and all but the highest of passes are open by early June. The next two months see most of the season defining sportives, the ones we spend months training for, the ones that make us think twice about having an extra slice of chocolate log on Christmas evening.
June starts with a bang with two sportives over arguably the best two climbs in Europe – Mont Ventoux and the Stelvio. Both of these sportives are in classic cycle country. Bormio is near the base of three classic climbs, the Stelvio, Gavia and Mortirolo. The first and last of these are tackled in the Gran Fondo making this a challenging event. This is early in the season in the Italian Alps so be prepared for some chilly conditions as the top of these climbs are much higher than most other European climbs. The riding around Ventoux is very different with gentle hills and pretty French villages rather than long, iconic climbs. June in Provence should be great weather wise and this is another location that every cyclist should visit.
The heart of the cycling season. July sees three classic and challenging sportives and the Tour de France provides daily distractions for office workers around Europe.
Two of the biggest sportives in Europe take their usual place on the first weekend of January. On Saturday (2nd July) is La Marmotte, the oldest and hardest major sportive in Europe. Starting at the base of Alpe d’Huez and going over four major Alpine climbs (Glandon, Telegraph, Galibier & Alpe) this is one to start training for early.
The following day and over in the Dolomites is the Maratona dles Dolomites. Based in Corvara over a stunning route, this is a popular event with riders all over Europe. Starting with a loop of the Sella Ronda before heading for longer climbs including the mighty Giau, the Maratona mixes warm local hospitality, challenging routes and amazing scenery. This may be the most picturesque sportive in Europe.
One week later is the biggest sportive for UK cyclists. Nearly 3,500 of us will head to the Alps to ride the Etape du Tour. In 2016 the route goes from Megeve near Mont Blanc to Morzine over four climbs culminating in the Joux Plane. Being so close to the Marmotte (in both time and distance) there is an opportunity to tackle both in one holiday. Morzine is a great finish town for the Etape where you can tuck into some guilt free Savoyard food and tuck in at the patisserie on Monday morning.
July is packed with great sportives. Our very own Ride London is at the end of the month and the Gran Fondo Sestriere featuring the unpaved climb of the Colle della Finestre.
The sportive world slows down in August as cyclists are forced to spend time with their families on crowded beaches. Late in the month is the epic stage races Haute Route Pyrenees and Haute Route Alps. For the one day sportive variety, there is the Sean Kelly Tour of Waterford and the Gran Fondo Les 2 Alpes in France.
The Gran Fondo les 2 Alpes features to Col de Sarenne – the back way up Alpe d’Huez used in the 2013 Tour de France when the peloton did two ascents of the Alpe. The final climb is up Les 2 Alpes where Marco Pantani took victory famously in the 1998 Tour de France. This is a great training climb and a mini Alpe d’Huez, a fitting end to this sportive.
Our Pick – Gran Fondo Les 2 Alpes
Official site – www.grandtrophee.fr
Distance – 70 or 164km
Start / Finish Town – Les 2 Alpes | France
Nearest airport – Lyon
Sportives in September
After a quiet month the season ends with two packed months of season ending sportives. These events have a different feel to the excitement of early spring and the nervous energy at the starting grids of the big mountain classics. September & October riding is more enjoyable – soaking up the last of the sun in southern Europe, not worrying about your time and enjoying time in the saddle before winter kicks in.
At the start of the month is the popular La Ronde Picardie just a short hop from Calais. Compared with most European sportives this is a very flat course but with coastal roads the difficulty of the day is likely to be determined by the strength of the Atlantic winds.
Further south in France, September ends with Marseille’s most popular sportive – Les Bosses du 13. Run for over 20 years by the local cycle club, this is a brilliant season ender. The course is stunning, at times hugging the med then darting inland with gentle climbs and quick descents. We could not recommend this sportive enough.
La Ronde Picardie (10th September)
Official site – www.grandtrophee.fr
Distance – 128 or 180km
Start / Finish Town – Abbeville to Eacuourt
Our Pick – Les Bosses du 13 (25th September)
Official site – www.bossesdu13.fr
Distance – 94, 136 or 164km
Start / Finish Town – Marseille | France
Nearest airport – Marseille
Just like the pro peloton, our season ends in October. We really recommend booking a late season sportive as it will increase your motivation to stay in shape after the end of summer. There are lots of smaller sportives in southern Europe in this month but our attention is caught by two very different events.
Firstly, the original L’Eroica in Tuscany sees riders get on their vintage bikes and tackle the strade bianche. This would be a tough ride with modern, light carbon fibre bikes – on old rickety bikes this is quite a challenge. The Eroica weekend is a celebration of cycling culture and tradition and is incredibly popular – just don’t expect the ride to be easy.
A newcomer to the sportive calendar is the Gran Fondo Arrabida in Portugal. Set in the stunning countryside outside Lisbon this has the potential to put Portugal on the sportive map. With a steady amount of climbing (2400m on the long 140km route) and a mix of coastal and hill country scenery, we are interested to see if this will quickly become popular with British riders.
L’Eroica (2nd October)
Official site – www.eroicagaiole.com
Distance – 46, 75, 135 or 209km
Start / Finish Town – Gaiole in Chianti | Italy
Nearest airport – Pisa
Gran Fondo Arrabida (9th October tbc)
Official site – www.arrabidagranfondo.com
Distance – 100 or 140km
Start / Finish Town – Palmela | Portugal
Nearest airport – Lisbon