Cycling fans from around the world flock to races in their thousands each season, with the hopes of experiencing first-hand the sights and sounds of the world’s greatest sport. While going to a Grand Tour or a Monument is an experience that everyone should have at some point in their lives, there is a plethora of other races which have equally electric atmospheres.
Here we’ll be looking at five races that we believe you simply have to go and watch (and then ride for yourself) if you have the opportunity. Let’s go racing!
La Flèche Wallonne
For some, this race is viewed as a stepping stone to Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the fourth of cycling’s five Monuments, given that it takes place just a few days prior to ‘La Doyenne’. The reality though, is that La Flèche Wallonne is a prestigious title in its own right for any puncheur, an icon of the Ardennes Classics.
With the men’s and women’s pelotons racing on the same day, La Flèche Wallonne is most well known for its multiple ascensions of the infamous Mur de Huy – before finishing atop it – arguably the toughest kilometre on the WorldTour calendar.
La Flèche Wallonne takes place in April each year in the Wallonia region of Belgium, near the Ardennes Forest. This means that there is also the opportunity to take the mountain bike out exploring the area’s historic trails after taking on the battle to be King or Queen of the Mur de Huy.
The area is rich with history, and sandwiched as it is between the Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, a visit to La Flèche Wallonne can be combined with these other iconic races. Not to mention the culture and heritage to be explored in places like Liège, the capital of Wallonia, home to medieval landmarks, archeological treasures, a stunning opera house, and the Montagne de Bueren (a 374-step stairway to Liège’s historic citadel), a tourist favourite.
Perhaps the ‘coolest’ race on the UCI road calendar, the self-proclaimed ‘Hell of the West’ is a 1.Pro level event (second tier) that deserves to be on the schedule of every Classics specialist in the peloton.
Like the more famous Strade Bianche over in Italy, Tro-Bro Léon takes on a number of gravel sections throughout the day, meaning that punctures and various other mechanicals are commonplace. You need luck as well as supreme bike-handling skills to take the win here, especially if it starts to rain. When this happens, the race transforms from a gravel track to a mud bath where only the hardiest riders will succeed.
Taking place in mid-May in the Brittany region of northern France, the race is easy to visit from the UK via ferry or a short flight across the English Channel.
If you need any more persuading, the first Breton rider to cross the line wins a pig. Who doesn’t want to see that?
The Tour of Britain
Now the only UCI-recognised men’s stage race to take place on home soil, the Tour of Britain serves as the only opportunity for some fans to see their heroes in the flesh.
Last season saw Belgium’s Wout van Aert reign supreme after a fierce battle with one of Britain’s own superstars, Ethan Hayter, and world champion Julian Alaphilippe. Mark Cavendish also took part in something of a homecoming, even a lap of honour, following his extraordinary exploits at the Tour de France.
The 2022 edition of the race takes place from 4-11 September, with a total of eight stages. The route takes the riders from Aberdeen to the Isle of Wight, with dips into Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Gloucestershire, and the Northeast included too.
If you can’t wait until September, there’s also the prestigious six-stage Women’s Tour, which gets underway in Essex on 6 June and takes in punishing back-to-back stages in Wales before its finale in Oxford.
So look ahead and check out how close the race comes to you, or better still, rent a campervan, mount your bikes to the back, and get on the road.
With the Deutschland Tour still a relatively small race, Eschborn-Frankfurt is Germany’s biggest bike race and serves as a test of the sprinters’ legs before the Grand Tours take place.
While the route isn’t the most challenging on this list, the cultural aspects of the race give it its place on this list. The race is held on 1 May each year, which is national Labour Day in Germany, so the crowds are as large as they can possibly be, creating a brilliant atmosphere in Frankfurt in particular. The finish plays host to plenty of food outlets and the beer is flowing all day, making for a joyous festival of cycling that is sure to get the pulses racing.
Frankfurt is easy to reach from the UK with regular flights leaving from a number of airports across the country.
The Arctic Race of Norway
Now this is one for the true cycling adventurers out there, and not a race you can visit on a whim.
The Arctic Race of Norway first took place in 2013 and takes in four stages around and sometimes inside the Arctic circle during August. In short, it can get cold here. Very cold.
For those wanting to experience the race first-hand, there is a sportive held alongside the professional race that gives fans the chance to experience the unpredictable conditions of the Arctic region. This is a true bucket-list event if ever there was one, with it being the northernmost sportive of the season. There are both long and short routes to give everyone the chance to enjoy the breathtaking roads and views of Norway. If you’re lucky you may even get to see the Northern Lights.
Getting to the Arctic Race is more difficult than some of the others on this list, however there are regular flights to the Norwegian capital of Oslo from the UK. Then local trains will be able to take you North to the city of Mo I Rana for the start of the 2022 edition.
Travelling to races is one of the most fun things a cycling fan can do, especially if you’re planning on riding the routes before or after the pros take them on too. Make sure you take out travel insurance with Yellow Jersey to give yourself full cover for peace of mind in case anything should go wrong. This includes sportive events, something other insurers don’t include in their plans.