100 miles. Once a distant benchmark, an aspiration; now a casual Saturday ride or an interminable Zwift session. So why not consider something a bit more adventurous than a century in 2018.
For some of you, this list may be nothing new. For others, it may be an eye-opening insight into what lies beyond the boundaries of your local club ride. To make things easy, we’ve split this into an event you could consider each month.
So grab a coffee, put your earphones in and spend the next 20 minutes peering down the rabbit hole of endurance, classic and stage races around the world. Just don’t blame us for next month’s credit card statement.
Gran Canaria has long been a cyclist’s winter paradise. It’s the third largest of the Spanish Canary Islands off the coast of southern Morocco, and boasts average January temperatures of 20 degrees celsius, daily low-cost flights from most major city airports, immaculate roads and a stunning 47km climb from near sea level to 1,942m.
This Gran Fondo on the 14th January kicks off our 2018 list of must-do (or at least must-contemplate) events. 182km, over 4,000m of climbing, €55 entry and the promise of some winter sun to ride away the January blues. Start your season with a bang.
If you happen to find yourself in Costa Rica in late February, we feel it would be a shame not to ride over the highest road in the country. At 3,451m, the Costa Ricans have ominously named it the “Mountain of Death”. But don’t be perturbed. The name likely harks back to when crossing the range took four days on foot; now crossing this volcanic behemoth can be done on two wheels in hours, so we’re sure it’s a bit less deadly these days.
Gran Fondo la Fortuna is a low key, one-way sportive with a lot of up, then a lot of down. A 164km ride all the way to the Pacific coast. Entry costs are reasonable considering what’s on offer – the basic package starts at $80. That being said, it’s not really a long-weekend kind of trip: you’d have to be in the area and fancy a death-defying ride.
This overly dramatic 12 minute video, reminiscent of a 1990s American movie trailer, definitely does the Cape Epic mountain race justice.
If you’re looking for a sadomasochistic way of covering ground in South Africa over the course of a week, look no further. At 653km and with 13,350m of climbing over treacherous terrain, this amateur stage race isn’t a ‘yeah go on then’ kind of decision. The price tag of $5,690 per team is enough to make many wince. Nevertheless, in certain quarters of the cycling world, it’s a must.
Now we’re talking – somewhere less than 2 hours away! Up until now, much of mainland Europe has been taking a winter-induced cycling hiatus, but Mallorca’s relatively reliable weather, mountainous west coast and perfectly maintained roads makes this island an early season cycling haven.
The Mallorca 312 Sportive is one of the largest events in its cycling calendar, and a bit of a monster. It covers 312km, with 5,000m of climbing and a 21 hour cut off (don’t worry, there’s a broom wagon). This ‘non-competitive’ sportive takes you on a spectacular full tour of the island. If you’re still not convinced, watch the video (you may want to put it on mute…).
Hawaii, the world’s most isolated major archipelago, is on the other side of the world from sunny Britain. The tropical paradise is renowned for its status as the home of surfing, flowery necklaces and that place they filmed Lost, but many overlook it as a cycling destination. Yes, they do host the Ironman world championships there every year on a dull, out-and-back coastal road, but few people know that it’s home to the world’s largest mountain if measured from its underwater base. Fewer still know that you can get to the top on a bike. (Bring your skis too if you want, there’s snow on top).
Admittedly, this isn’t an event, nor is it that long. But the fact that only 81 Strava users have attempted this climb means it’s probably quite difficult (or incredibly remote). At 69km (with the final 7km on gravel), and with 4,200m of climbing and 6 different ecosystems, there aren’t many other climbs like it in the world. Just wrap up warm for the descent.
Self-proclaimed as ‘the UK’s toughest sportive’, The Monster deserved a spot in our list. Previously capped at 200km, this event clearly wasn’t hard enough for the organiser or riders. The updated 300km version in the western Brecon Beacons is not to be sniffed at. The terrain is varied, the road surfaces variable and the climbs punishing – 6,500m overall.
This sportive is a wonderfully low-key event, attended only by enthusiasts or the woefully misinformed. The entry fee was only £30 in 2017, which included a selection of feedstops brimming with homemade cakes and a finisher t-shirt awarded at the underwhelming finishing line. Completing the 300k ride is a phenomenal achievement, just don’t expect sympathy when you complain about the weather: it didn’t stop raining in 2016.
This video alone is probably enough to make you drop what you’re doing, sign up to the Haute Route Alpe d’Huez and never come home. If you need more convincing, read on.
The Haute Route races, a brand whose name derives from the variety of mountain routes used to cross the Alps from Chamonix to Zermatt, are deemed to be some of the hardest amateur cycling stage races in the world. Bryan Fogel’s Netflix documentary – Icarus – gives you a gruelling insight into the difficulty of the routes and competition. If you haven’t seen it, you probably should.
The original format was a seven-day stage race (Alps, Pyrenees or the Rockies). 2017 was the first ‘short’ three-day stage race based around the iconic Alpe d’Huez. 1 time trial and two road stages. The route has not yet been announced, but you can still sign up. The entry fee is €700, a shade pricier than the Monster in June, but the experience is one you’ll never forget.
Unsupported. No prizes on offer. Kyrgyzstan. Off-road. 1,700km. 26,000m of climbing. £300 entry.
This teaser video for the Silk Road Mountain Race does the inaugural race more justice than I ever could. Watch it.
Another self-supported route a little closer to home. This 800km circular route starts and ends in Inverness, heading clockwise round the rugged, wild and windswept northern coastline of Scotland.
September seems like a sensible time of year to attempt this route. The weather is likely to be less awful, and you’ll only catch the tail end of midge season. Apparently the blighters can’t fly above 7mph, so as long as you don’t stop, you’ll be fine. (We’re pretty sure that’s why Mark Beaumont chose to ride the whole thing in 38 hours). We do suggest stopping here and there though, to soak up the majestic highland views. And the majestic highland rain.
If Taiwan is not high on your list of ‘must cycle’ destinations, you should probably reconsider that list. Taiwan KOM is a 105km race almost entirely uphill. Since the inaugural edition in 2012, this Asian brute of a climb has attracted high profile riders: Vincenzo Nibali won it this year in an astonishingly fast time of a little over 3 hours. For a race that starts at sea level and winds its way up to 3,275m, that is no mean feat.
You can watch GCN’s crew struggle up it below:
Another thing we like with Taiwan KOM is that the prize money for men and women is equal. Entry fees are reasonable too (5,000NTD or roughly £125). But we’re pretty sure EasyJet won’t get you there.
A six-day mountain bike stage race in the southern Alps is our November recommendation, but don’t worry about frostbite or exposure: this is the summery southern Alps of New Zealand. The promo video certainly put a few reps of a soggy Box Hill into perspective.
The Pioneer MTB stage race starts and finishes in Queenstown. The stages cover 430km and 15,500m of climbing, and the terrain is varied (only 14% on road) but not considered to be overly technical. The entry costs of £1,600 covers your team of two. It’s all well and good paying together though, just make sure you finish together!
No bucket list would be complete without an Eroica. This steel-tubed vision, founded in 1997, is now one of the most popular mass participation series in cycling. Riders must have a bike made before 1987, or one which adheres to strict criteria: no quick release clips, no internal cabling or bar-mounted shifters, and certainly no Di2s.
The Uruguayan Eroica in Punta del Este is the second southern hemisphere instalment in the series, with the other being in Cape Town. The $85 entry cost enters you into a festival spanning two days, and the 185km ride across gravel roads is only a part of it.
Eroica is a slice of cycling heritage – a celebration filled with live music, food, drink, moustaches and lots of nosing at finely buffed, well preserved relics. The bikes are worth admiring too. The ride is on the Sunday, so we wouldn’t go too hard on the Saturday night. Then again, it’s the suffering that counts, no? Where’s that Malbec?
Yellow Jersey bicycle insurance policies cover your bike worldwide as standard and our travel insurance is specifically tailored to cover you for any medical expenses if you’re travelling abroad to take part in a cycle event – whether one of the monster events featured here, or a nice family ride with your nearest and dearest.