Spring is just around the corner - and what better way to motivate yourself to get out and ride than the promise of an amazing day in the saddle? Even better if that day in the saddle will be considerably more enjoyable if you build up enough fitness between now and then to get the most of the route.
We've heard it said that the 'sportive market is saturated' - and that statement might well bear a little truth. However, there are a few that stand head and shoulders above the rest either in terms of atmosphere, attractiveness or downright brutality (it's ok, they're not all brutal).
We've rounded up some of the super special sportives we think are well worth signing up for in advance. These are carefully selected events that we've either ridden or would love to ride - though we decided to leave out a couple that were over £70 for a day in the saddle.
Here are ten of the best - each promises a memorable experience that is well worth training for...
Cycle an entire island in a day:
Isle of Wight Randonnee - Sunday 30 April
Ok, so it is a small island. But it's still pretty cool to cycle round the perimeter of the Isle of Wight alongside thousands of other cyclists. You can choose to ride 100km (62 miles) or 55 km (34 miles), with the option to include some gravel paths if you wish.
The route - which you can follow any day of the year via blue cycling signs - was established in 1985 by the Wayfarers. The event is completely free to enter and around 3,000 riders are expected - find out more here.
About as tough as it gets:
Fred Whitton Challenge - Sunday 7 May
This Lake District challenge ride is renowned in all of cycling for its testing that include Kirkstone, Honister, Newlands, Whinlatter, Hardknott and Wrynose passes. Hairpin bends promise 30 per cent gradients and the surface won't be smooth.
The event is run each year in memory of local rider Fred Whitton, and starts and finishes in Coniston. The route covers around 112 miles, with 12,959 ft of climbing.
All proceeds go to charity, and you can enter in advance if you're riding for a good cause. To pay and ride, it costs £60 and the ballot opens on January 9 - places will be allocated randomly and you'll only pay if you get one. Read more here.
Also really tough:
Etape du Dales - Sunday 14 May
Another super sportive for those after a mega challenge is the Etape Du Dales. This 110 mile Yorkshire ride leaves from the village of Grassington and was founded long before the Tour de France visited the area, but shares many of the same testing climbs that the pros covered.
Anyone who completes the ride achieves a 'Bronze' award, whilst women who make it in under 8.5 hours get a 'Silver' band and those finishing in under 7.5 hours achieve 'Gold'. The event raises money for the Dave Rayner Fund, which supports talented young riders in their competition.
There's more information here.
Super friendly, feminine, cake fuelled adventure:
Belles of Belvoir - Sunday 4 June
The Belles of Belvoir sportive is organised by Britta Bayman and Emma Roberts, who make up '2 Wheels and a Piece of Cake'. They decided to start putting on sportives when they found the male dominated atmosphere at other events just wasn't what they wanted - and thankfully many women agreed.
The events leave from Belvoir, not far from Nottingham, and you can choose to ride 24, 50 or 70 miles - with the latter covering 3,300 feet of climbing. Rides cost between £30 and £40 and yummy home made cakes, a light lunch plus signposting and mechanical support are all included.
Celebration of all things vintage:
Eroica Britannia - Sunday 18 June
Eroica rides are something completely different to any other sportive. Organised around cycling festivals, they celebrate the heritage and history of two wheeled travel. Riders take part on bikes built pre 1987 (though you can opt out on shorter routes) and dress to match.
The original route takes riders around the stunning Tuscan roads in Italy. However, the British edition takes place in the Peak District.
Riders can choose routes of 25, 55 or 100 miles. There will be hills, but the scenery will be beautiful and if you opt to take on 100 miles on a pre 1987 machine you can bet on having plenty of time in the saddle to take it all in!
The ride costs £65, and there are festival only tickets available for £20 a day here.
Evans Cycles Hoy 100 - Sunday 2 July
What better motivation than knowing you're training to ride alongside Sir Chris Hoy at his very own sportive? This Cheshire treat explores the countryside and Sir Chris will set off to ride with the intention of talking to as many cycling passers-by as possible.
You can ride 62 or 100 miles, with the longer route looping into the Peak District's Macclesfield Forest for some more testing climbs, amounting to a total of 4,580 ft ascent.
Riders can expect a memento to remember the day (rhymes with pedal we expect), way marked routes, well stocked feed stations and mechanical support as well as GPX files in advance. And the chance to ride with Sir Chris Hoy. Entry costs £35.
Something for all the family:
Chilterns Cycling Festival - Sunday 16 July
This cycling festival offers a bumper package of events, with something to suit pretty much everyone. All set in the Chiltern Hills, there is:
- Amersham Classic - 'Retro' 30 miles with vintage inspired dress
- Chiltern 100 Sportives - 107 miles, 68 miles or 32 miles
- Chiltern Cycletta - women's only 32 mile wave
As well as way marking, feed stations and mechanical support, all riders will enjoy the buzz of the festival. There will be a short family ride, 'Vintage Concors D’Elegance' parade of vintage bikes, over 30 stalls feature Retro Fashion, cycling clothing, equipment, gifts and collectibles, live music and Craft Beer & Gin tent with gourmet cuisine. Plus a large screen with live coverage of Stage 15 of Le Tour de France.
Find out more about what's on offer here.
Ride with a huge crowd:
Prudential RideLondonSurrey 100 & 45 - Sunday 30 July
Last year, 26,000 people finished the RideLondon 100 and over 3,000 finished the 46 mile option. The route takes place on completely closed roads, and there's something pretty exhilarating about being part of a massive peloton leaving the streets of London into the lanes of Surrey.
In Surrey, you'll tackle climbs such as Leith Hill and the iconic Olympic climb of 2012, Box Hill. Though there won't be any car traffic, be prepared for a fair amount of cycling traffic on the climbs though.
Entry is via a ballot, which for the 100 mile route is now open. The cost is £58, which you only pay if you get a place, and the ballot for the 46 mile route opens in March. Find out more here.
Friendly women's only ride in the Lakes:
Ladies of the Lake - Sunday 17 September
Another event that's more full of character than testosterone is the 'Ladies of the Lake' ride. The event is organised by Sportive Lakes, a company made up by husband and wife duo Alan and Ali Brenton. They're passionate about offering sportives that provide testing routes without cashing in on adjectives such as 'brutal' and 'leg busting'. Whilst some of the rides are tough, they want you to smile on the way.
This is a chance to explore the stunning scenery of the Lake District - the rides begin from Ulverston and you can choose 30 or 45 miles with plenty of climbing - 4,100 ft on the long route and 2,7oo on the short.
Currently, rides are £26 and £28, but there's just 10 days left of early bird pricing.
Something Life Changing:
Women V Cancer End to End - 8 to 20 September
Call us crazy - but someone's got to do it and a ride like this is the kind of challenge that you will remember for a lifetime.
The trip is fully supported and will see you start at John O'Groats and ride all the way to Land's End, raising money to fight breast, cervical and ovarian cancers. If you simply can't make the full route (it is 1,000 miles) there are three day packages available, too.
For the full route, registration costs £299 and you do need to raise £3,000 for the charities. However, all accomodation and support will be included. Find out more here.
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