fbpx The Best Sportives on Pro Cycling Race Routes

The Best Sportives on Pro Cycling Race Routes

You can’t just turn up and play football at Wembley the day before the cup final. You can’t go and bat at Lords the morning of a Test match and you can’t run the 100m at the Olympic Stadium while Usain Bolt is warming up on the track.

Unique to cycling is the brilliant reality that in most of the best one day races anyone can ride a sportive over the exact route as the pros. From cobbled climbs in Belgium to Alpine passes in France & Italy, the season is full of amazing sportives that get you as close to the pros as possible. Here are some of the best events of the year where you can ride like a pro.

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad | Feb 28th | Ghent, Belgium


The cycling season proper kicks off in Ghent at the end of February with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Both the men & women’s pro peloton race on the Saturday before the amatuers get their turn on the Sunday. The route takes in many of the cobbled sections and climbs featured in the Tour of Flanders. The action is packed into the middle of the ride, sandwiched in between two quick sections along the Schelde to and from Ghent. The sportive has less climbing than most other European rides so makes a great season starter – and Ghent is a great host for a fabulous cycling weekend.

Summary – A great introduction to the spring classics with some iconic cobbled sections.
Difficulty – 2/5
Similarity to Pro Race – 3/5
More info here

Strade Bianche | Mar 6th | Siena, Italy


The origins of the Strade Bianche sportive are unusual. In 1997 a group of cycling enthusiasts started L’Eroica – a vintage sportive celebrating the heroes of a bygone era in the sport. This event grew rapidly in popularity and a pro race was introduced over the same gravel roads.

Like L’Eroica, the pro race also grew rapidly becoming a favourite for riders and fans alike. To complete the circle, in 2014 there was the first Strade Bianche sportive – an event dedicated to a pro race which is dedicated to a sportive. This sportive takes you into the beautiful Chianti countryside over the famed white roads and has probably the best finish of any event with a sharp climb leading into the glorious Piazza del Campo in Siena. There are two route options, 124km and 87km.
Summary – A unique sportive over Tuscany’s famed gravel roads with a stunning finish in Siena.

Difficulty – 3/5
Similarity to Pro Race – 3/5
More info here

Paris Nice | Mar 12th | Nice, France


New to 2016, the Paris Nice Challenge is your first chance of the year to ride some more serious hills and get some longer climbs into your legs. A day before the last stage of the famous pro race, the Paris Nice Challenge starts and finished on the Esplenade in Nice before heading north to tackle a number of climbs taking in a total of 2250m of elevation – more than double the climbing of the two earlier sportives. This is a good sportive to bookmark for a training event if you have your sights on the Marmotte or Etape.

The full route follows the pro race exactly.

Summary – Beautiful course with early season climbing on the Cote d’Azur
Difficulty – 3/5
Similarity to Pro Race – 4/5
More info here

Gent Wevelgem | Mar 26th | Wevelgem, Belgium


The spring classics season proper kicks off with Gent Wevelgem at the end of March. The race takes in Western Flanders past WW1 battlefields and is centered around Ypres. The main climb is the Kemmelberg with 23% segments but it is not as tough a route as others later in the season. The ride finishes with a long spring into Wevelgem where you can battle your mates for glory under the same finish line as the pros. There are route options from 60km to 220km to choose from.

Summary – A different part of Flanders to explore with some great cobbled climbs
Difficulty – 3/5
Similarity to Pro Race – 3/5
More info here

Tour of Flanders | Apr 2nd | Oudenaarde, Belgium


The big one for people in this part of the world. The sportive has been going for over 25 years and is ridden by 16,000 cycling enthusiasts from around the world. Choose the long route and follow the pro route closely from Bruges to Oudenaarde or take on the two shorter routes to just tackle the highlights around Oudenaarde. The sportive is so popular that you will need to fight your way up the packed, narrow climbs of the Paterberg and Koppenberg. The upside of this is that you will always have pelotons to join so your average speed should be quick. The route looks immaculate the day before the pro race with advertising banners up, hospitality marquees ready and plenty of locals cheering you on.

Summary – A well organised and popular homage to this legendary pro race
Difficulty – 3/5
Similarity to Pro Race – 4/5
More info here

Paris Roubaix | Apr 9th | Roubaix, France


The most famous one day race in the world has for the last 5 years had its own spring sportive. Unlike other sportives in the year, it is almost impossible to train for riding this far on cobbles this brutal so all of the 5,500 competitors are in the same boat and on the tougher sectors it is all about survival. The long route starts in Busigny but there is a shuttle service from Roubaix making this logistically an easy ride. There are also medium and short routes starting and finishing in Roubaix. All the famous parts of the race are included – Arenberg, Carrefour de l’Arbre and the finish in the famous velodrome.
Summary – Unique, a must do for every cyclist at least once to experience what its like to ride Paris Roubaix.

Difficulty – 5/5
Similarity to Pro Race – 4/5
More info here

Amstel Gold | Apr 16th | Valkenburg, Holland


A huge weekend of cycling in Holland. Amstel Gold is the biggest pro race in the Dutch calendar and the sportive is massively over subscribed with only the lucky 16,000 able to ride. There are numerous route options catering to mixed abilities. The sportive starts and finished in Valkenburg, a proper cycling town that has hosted more UCI World Championships than anywhere else. The pace is quick with many Dutch Cycling Clubs riding a quick tempo and the hills come thick and fast.

The last of these is the Cauberg, a classic short, sharp ramp in the middle of town where huge crowds cheer you on and DJs blare out music to keep your legs moving. After this climb is a 2km straight sprint to the finish line where the race sponsors make sure the beers are flowing.

Summary – A party atmosphere, a lumpy sportive and a great finish in the heart of Valkenburg.
Difficulty – 3/5
Similarity to Pro Race – 4/5
More info here

Liege Bastogne Liege | Apr 23rd | Liege, Belgium


The final, oldest and hardest of the spring classics. Riding the long route on the sportive is 273km and over 4600m of elevation. This makes it tougher than the Etape du Tour and many of the other mountain sportives of the summer. The elevation comes from the sheer volume of hills coming in all shapes and sizes with a couple of very challenges climbs featuring gradients of 20%+. The organisers to a good job of making the sportive feel as close to the pro race as possible with individual video and timings on the major climbs and great facilities at the finish.

Summary – Finish your spring off in style with this challenging sportive in the Ardennes.
Difficulty – 5/5
Similarity to Pro Race – 4/5
More info here

Giro d’Italia | May 22nd | Cividale del Friuli, Italy


Italy’s biggest cycling race occupies the attention of the nation in May as the best riders in the world fight it out for the pink jersey across all corners of this beautiful country. This sportive is Italy’s answer to the Etape du Tour and gives you the opportunity to ride a stage of the Giro. This year the event is in the Eastern Julian Alps with five local climbs to overcome. Now in it’s second year, this sportive promises to be a major event in the calendar and will only become more popular. The route options are 132km, the same route as the pros apart from the first short section, and an easier 77km route. The Giro takes on this stage three days before the sportive.

Summary – Discover a different part of Italy and enjoy the spectacle of the Giro.
Difficulty – 3/5
Similarity to Pro Race – 4/5
More info here

Etape du Tour | Jul 10th | Morzine, France


The most famous cycling race in the world and the most famous sportive in the world. This is the closest you can get to riding a pro race. The route follows the pro stage exactly with closed roads, timed climbs and green jersey sections.

The event is massively popular with entries selling out to the general public in the days after the route is officially announced. This year the stage goes from Megeve to Morzine over four long climbs culminating in the Col de Joux Plane. Watching the pros ride your stage brings immense satisfaction, in 2015 the entire Sky team were dropped by the peloton on the first climb making us amateurs feel very smug that we conquered a route that the pros struggled with. No doubt there will be some casualties in the Tour on this stage in 2016.

Summary – The closest you can get to the Tour de France and a memory that will last forever
Difficulty – 5/5
Similarity to Pro Race – 5/5
More info here