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Cycling holidays: the best sportives and gran fondos

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2 May 2019
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This feature first appeared in Cyclist magazine and was produced in association with Sports Tours International

Holidays are important. For many of us, they make up the best bits of our photo albums and indeed our memories. Which is probably why the process of booking one often ends being one of the things that stress people out the most.

Get it wrong, fail to do your research or read the small print and you run the risk of wrecking what should be the highlight of any given year.

Which begs the question: how do you get it right? Well, by booking with a firm that doesn’t just offer great value, accommodation, support and services, but has a proven track record for meticulous planning, plus a clear sales policy that guarantees your money’s 100% safe.

That’s why we’ve teamed up with Sports Tours International for this guide, as it’s an ABTA, IATA and ATOL-bonded travel company with 45 years experience, which ticks all those boxes and more.

It also offers a huge range of cycling holidays, from DIY trips to VIP events. In this guide we cover a trio each of sportives and gran fondos to get you started. Check back in for our guides to multi-day events, Grand Tour escapes, VIP cycling tours, and more.

Plus, at the end of this guide you’ll find a handy diary covering the best cycling events in 2019 to pencil into your calendar.

One way or another you’ll be sure to find something to inspire your next trip – and with Sports Tours International you have the perfect partner to and help create memories so special, you’ll have them on replay for many years to come.

Sign up for a sportive

Transform a big day in the saddle into a cycling challenge that you’ll remember forever

Entering a sportive is a sure-fire way to establish a cycling landmark in your year to both look forward to and then look back on.

The name is derived from the French term randonnée cyclosportive and is used to describe a one-day mass participation cycling event over a set distance or distances.

These aren’t competitive events and rather than race against each other, riders pit themselves against the clock or a demanding distance – usually for fun, charity or both.

Professionally run, often with feed stations, plus medical and mechanical support, there are stacks to choose from – see the bottom of this article for a more complete list.

Here we look at three absolute stars of the annual sportive calendar…

L’Etape du Tour

When: Sunday 21st July, 2019
Where: The French Alps over a 135km course
Why: This spectacular annual event attracts around 15,000 riders from all over the world and offers you the chance to live out your Tour de France fantasies.

Held over a single stage of the world’s greatest bicycle race, you’ll get a taste of what the best riders in the world have to contend with and discover just how good a rider you are in the process.

This year’s L’Étape replicates Stage 20 of this year’s Tour, starting in Albertville and ending at high altitude in Val Thorens. It sees riders taking on 135km of closed roads and over 4,000m of climbing.

How: Registration for this year’s event is now closed but you can bag a place for 2020 by signing up for Sports Tours International’s notification list, meaning you’ll be the first to hear when it reopens.

Packages include entry, accommodation, bike transport, a finisher’s medal and much more.

Prudential RideLondon Surrey 100

When: Sunday 4th August, 2019
Where: London/Surrey UK, either 100 or 46 miles
Why: Attracting 25,000 riders, this is a hugely popular event that gives you the opportunity to ride along a route made famous by Sir Bradley Wiggins and co during the 2012 Olympic Road Race.

And just like the pros, you’ll be riding on closed roads through one of the greatest cities on earth, then out into the beautiful Surrey countryside before returning to central London to ride past such iconic buildings as Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament before finishing on The Mall right outside Buckingham Palace.

How: Entry is by public ballot (see prudentialridelondon.co.uk). Entry for this year is now closed, but cyclists from abroad can book through Sports Tours International, which also offers hotel packages with secure bike storage for anyone who might be riding.

Mallorca 312

When: Saturday, 25th April, 2020
Where: Mallorca, over three distances – either 312km, 225km or 167km
Why: Mallorca is known as the greatest cycling playground on earth and rightly so, with the entire island geared up to meet your every cycling need.

And that includes some of the best roads, routes and views you’ll find anywhere in the world, something that the Mallorca 312 was created to showcase.

Originally conceived as a lap around the island, the course – on closed roads – now allows you to choose from three different distances should you fancy something a little less taxing.

You can still expect plenty of climbing along routes that will take you deep into the fabled Tramuntana mountain range. Whether you go short(ish) or long you can expect an epic day out in the saddle.

How: To grab one of the 6,500 entries for next year’s event (see mallorca.312.com) why not book through Sports Tours International? Packages include a guaranteed place, accommodation, bike storage, transfers and more.

Quick tips for a successful sportive

• Test ride your bike the night before. Knowing it’s fit for purpose will help you sleep better

• Prep your kit the night before, too, packing jersey pockets to ensure everything fits

• Don’t skip breakfast. Porridge is easy to digest if you’ve got a nervous stomach

• Check your tyres beforehand for damage, and remove any lurking debris

• Set yourself a reasonable pace goal and stick to it – especially early on

Go for a gran fondo

For some they’re a race, but even if you ride one just for fun, expect a spectacular challenge

Originating in Italy, where the name loosely translates to ‘big rides’, gran fondos started out as a racing outlet for wannabe pros who’d failed to make the grade.

And although today these big rides look and feel very much like sportives in the sense that they’re mass-participation events, the front end of them can still have quite the competitive edge, with riders battling it out for bragging rights.

For most, however, a gran fondo is quite simply an excuse to ride somewhere amazing with like-minded people, to make new friends and to sample the local food, drink and culture afterwards. Here we look at three that definitely fit that description…

Milan-San Remo Gran Fondo

When: Sunday 9th June, 2019
Where: Northern Italy, over a 294km course
Why: Simply put, this is a beast. Should you choose to take it on, you’ll find yourself hurtling along the same route the pro peloton tackles during the legendary Milan-San Remo Monument, which is the longest one-day event on the WorldTour calendar.

Starting on the outskirts of Milan, you’ll cross Lombardy and the Piedmont plains, before winching up and over the famous Passo del Turchino to Genoa before following the coast west to San Remo, tackling the legendary Cipressa and Poggio climbs along the way.

How: You can either apply for one of the 1,100 places online at milano-sanremo.org or book through Sports Tours International to be guaranteed a starting place.

Its packages also include accommodation, all breakfasts, evening meals, airport transfers and more, with prices starting at £629 per person for a four-day trip.

Gran Fondo Quebrantahuesos

When: Sunday 22nd June, 2019
Where: Spanish/French Pyrenees over a 205km course
Why: Known locally as la Quebranta, or the ‘the Bone Breaker’, the course wends its way through the craggy peaks of the Pyrenees, taking in over 3,500m of climbing along the way.

Starting and finishing in the Aragonese region of Sabiñánigo, this very much has the feel of a pro race, with mechanics patrolling the course on motorbikes, a fleet of ambulances on standby and even emergency helicopters.

You can also expect thousands at roadside to cheer you on and a post-ride massage when you finish.

How: Although there are 11,000 places up for grabs, this is Spain’s most popular gran fondo and tickets sell out very quickly.

If you want to ride in this year’s event, however, Sports Tours International can guarantee entry as part of a package that includes three night’s hotel accommodation with breakfast, secure bike storage, the services of a bike mechanic, airport transfers and more.

Prices start from £499 per person.

La Marmotte Gran Fondo Alps

When: Sunday 7th July, 2019
Where: French Alps over a 170km course
Why: This is as hardcore as cycling challenges get, with a spectacular course through the French Alps that includes 5,000m of climbing and takes in some of the most iconic – and feared – climbs in road cycling.

Starting at dawn, in the Alpine village of Bourg d’Oisans, by the time you’ve completed this monster you’ll have conquered the Col du Glandon and the Cols de Telegraph and Galibier.

Oh, and overcome the tortuous 21 hair bends that’ll take you up Alpe d’Huez to the finish.

How: Registration is limited to just 7,500 participants (see marmottegranfondoseries.com) with tickets going fast. For a guaranteed place, book through Sports Tours International.

Packages start from £359 for a three-night stay on a B&B basis.

Events diary

January

• Andy Cook Bike Weeks at Club La Santa

• Four-stage Mountain Bike Race Lanzarote

 

February

•  UCI Cyclocross World Championships

•  Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

 

March

• Strade Blanche

• Hotchillee Cape Rouleur

• Cape Town Cycle Tour

• Milan San Remo

• Paris-Nice

• Costa Blanca Training Camp

• Gent-Wevelgem

 

April

• Dwars door Vlaanderen

• Tour of Flanders

• Paris-Roubaix

• Amstel Gold Race

• La Fleche Wallonne

• Brabantse Pijl

• Liège–Bastogne–Liège

• Mallorca 312

 

May

• Giro d’Italia

• Tour de Yorkshire

• Gran Fondo Nove Colli

• Haute Route Asheville

• Ride across Portugal

 

June

• Haute Route Dolomites

• Une Semaine Monumentale

• Milan-San Remo GF

• Gran Fondo Quebrantahuesos

• Tour TransAlp

 

July

• Maratona dles Dolomites

• La Marmotte

• Tour de France

• Etape du Tour

• Haute Route Alpe d’Huez

 

August

• Prudential RideLondon

• Haute Route Pyrenees

• Vuelta a España

• Haute Route Alps

• UCI Gran Fondo

• World Championships

 

September

• Vuelta a España

• Seniors’ Cycling Week at Club La Santa

• UCI Road Cycling World Championships

 

October

• Haute Route Ventoux

• Gran Piemonte

• Milano-Torino

• Il Lombardia

• Taiwan KOM Challenge

 

November

• Ghent 6 Day

• International Bike Week at Club La Santa

 

December

• Mountain Bike Week at Club La Santa