Already done a sportive in the UK? Ready for a bigger cycling challenge in Europe? Look no further as we list the 13 best cycling events in Europe for 2024 that will really test your resolve and ability!

After a ‘mixed’ few years thanks to COVID, 2023 felt much more settled for endurance cycling events, and the best gran fondos Europe has to offer should continue to run in 2024. Perhaps now is the time to consider what your next major European cycling challenge will look like?

Below, we share a number of the best European sportives for 2024, as well as one-day bike rides that classify somewhere between challenging and severe – so you can be sure there is something that will match your ability. (If you’re after an easier event, read this.)

For the hard-core cyclist, La Marmotte and the Maratona await. If endurance is your strong point, then Mallorca 312 or Saimaa Cycle Tour may be more to your liking. Or if you are more comfortable on the flat with the odd incline, then the Belgium sportives may be the answer.

Are you ready for 2024? Push the boundaries and test yourself with this list of the best cycling races!

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In the interests of complete transparency, we haven’t (yet!) cycled all of the routes/events in this article. If you have ridden any of these, let us know in the comments below!

Best marchas cicloturistas in Spain

Mallorca 312

Location: Playa de Muro, Mallorca
Date: 27 April 2024
Distance: 167, 225 and 312 kilometres
Where to stay: Iberostar, Playa de Muro (book here)

Our view

Looking for a cycling event in Europe to combine with a holiday in the sun? Look no further than this closed road sportive. Mallorca 312 has quickly established itself as one of the most popular European sportives, and arguably a contender for toughest cycling challenge Europe has to offer, with its long route taking a mammoth tour around the north-west of the island, and an elevation gain of around 5,000 metres.

The 312 route takes in the Serra Tramuntana mountains, which includes the well-known climbs of Puig Major and Col de Feminina. The sportive is a fantastic way to see the island as you clock up the kilometres, enjoying rolling countryside and stunning coastal views.

As with a lot of European bike challenges you will find a group of riders all dressed in a particular colour who ride together at the slowest acceptable pace. If they catch you, then you are likely to have your number removed and be effectively taken out of the event – you can, of course, just ride on, but you won’t be given a finishing time, etc.

As with many of the most popular/best gran fondos in Europe, Mallorca 312 has thousands of competitors (the 312 has around 8,000) making their way to these long distance cycling events. If you’re not accustomed to riding in big groups, you might want to start with a smaller event.

More information

Read our in-depth guide to Mallorca 312 here and our guide to cycling Mallorca here.

Conclusion

One of the most famous closed road sportives out there, offering a fantastic early season opportunity to tick off one of the best cycling challenges Europe has to offer.

Sea Otter Ciclobrava

Location: Girona, Costa Brava
Date: TBC – September 2024
Distance: 70, 100 and 140 kilometres
Where to stay: Hotel Gran Ultonia, Girona (book here)

Our view:

The Sea Otter Bike Festival is a three-day expo that used to be held in the last week of May in the cycling centric city of Girona, but for 2024, as it has been in the last couple of years, it will be held in September. It features the Ciclobrava Gran Fondo (road cycling sportive) as well as mountain bike and gravel ride contests.

The date of the sportive is yet to be confirmed, but the expo will take place between 20-22 September 2024.

While the 2024 route hasn’t been confirmed, we can share details of the 2023 route. The 140-kilometre Gran Fondo included 1,700 metres of elevation gain and took the form of an anti-clockwise loop from Girona on wonderful roads towards the Mediterranean coastline via the well-known and spectacular eight-kilometre Sant Grau climb.

The route continued through the Romanya Pass and featured many of the climbs that are regularly used in the professional Volta a Catalunya race as it meandered towards the foothills of the Pyrenees before turning back to the city. Just after the halfway point there was a feed station at the tiny village of Monells, arguably one of the most beautiful pueblos in Catalonia – it has to be seen to be believed.

If you want to try a cycle sportive in Europe for the first time, this would be the perfect starter event.

More information

Check our guide to cycling in Girona here.

Conclusion

A gran fondo in Girona is always a fantastic choice for great cycling roads and this event – one of the best cycling sportives in the region – highlights the wonderful coastal scenery.

Quebrantahuesos

Location:   Sabiñánigo, northern Spain
Date:   22 June 2024
Distance: 85 and 200 kilometres
Where to stay: Hotel Reina Felicia, Jaca (book here)

Our view

You may not have heard of Quebrantahuesos (kay-branta-waysos), but in fact, it’s the biggest marcha cicloturista in Spain. It is always hugely oversubscribed and sells out as soon as the 11,000 places are released by way of a lottery.

Roughly translated, Quebrantahuesos means ‘Bone Breaker’ and the long route, starting and finishing in Sabiñánigo, is a severe test over 200 kilometres (3,500 metres of elevation gain) into and around the Pyrenees featuring three Hors Categorie climbs. It is often staged in 30 degrees heat in late June and takes you from northern Spain up the Puerto de Somport and down into France. There then follows an ascent of the Puerto de Marie Blanc before you return home up and down the Puerto la Portalet (the latter two climbs are Tour de France regulars).

With the length of this event and the severity of the climbs, combined with the possibility of extremely hot weather, this is one of the leading cycling challenges in Europe in 2024. If you feel that it’s a bit too much in one day, then there is always the medio fondo called the Treparriscos, which is run over 85 kilometres.

One of only four men ever to win the Tour de France five times, Miguel Indurain, is a regular participant.

Conclusion

The Quebrantahuesos is a huge, closed road sportive that takes in some fantastic Pyrenean climbs, making it a valuable part of the cycling sportives calendar.

 

Gran Fondo Alberto Contador

Location: Oliva, Valencia/Costa Blanca
Date: 21 September 2024
Distance: 146 kilometres
Where to stay: Oliva Nova Beach resort (book here)

Our view

A relatively recent newcomer to the European sportive calendar is the Marcha Alberto Contador (Marcha is the Spanish word for a sportive). It starts and finishes in the Mediterranean coastal municipality of Oliva.

One of the highlights of this closed road sportive is the fact that you get the chance to ride with the seven time Grand Tour winner himself.

The event, in the Valencia region of Spain, has a limit of 4,000 participants. The sportive is closely located to the nearby major airports in Alicante and Valencia and is very well organised. It also provides a great end of season opportunity to ride in a comfortable temperature in late September.

The route takes you along many of the roads used by professional teams who come to the area between February and April for pre-season training and it features the well-known climbs of the Coll de Rates and Vall d’Ebo.  There’s a cumulative elevation gain of 2,500 metres. It’s a shorter route than last year, but still offering plenty of challenges.

More information

See our guide on cycling the Costa Blanca here.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a test, but nothing too severe, and fancy riding with Contador on closed roads, then this event is a good choice and can be combined with a break at the stunning Oliva Nova Beach resort. It may be newer than others, but it’s already established as one of the best sportives in Europe.

Start at the Contador sportive, SpainAt the start line of the GF Contador
On the Contador sportive courseOn the course

Best cyclo sportives in France

LaPierre Gran Fondo Mont Ventoux

Location: Vaison-la-Romaine
Date: 9 June 2024
Distance: 100 and 122 kilometres
Where to stay: Le Murier, Vaison-la-Romaine (book here)

Our view

Anything associated with Mont Ventoux is likely to be popular and provide a stiff test. This French sportive is no exception and is regarded as one of the best cyclo sportives in France.

The 122 kilometre route takes you through the stunning countryside of Provence with vineyards and stunning vistas punctuating the undulating terrain.

You’ll begin in Vaison-la-Romaine and travel through Bedoin on some more gentle climbs, before the first reach challenge of Col de la Gabelle. You’ll then loop around through the Gorges de la Nesque, returning to Bedoin before ending the event at the highest peak of the journey on Mont Ventoux. While the race ends here, bear in mind there’s still the small matter of a 30km descent to deal with too, bringing your total ride up to 152km!

More information

See our guide on cycling Ventoux, here.

Conclusion

The event for you if you fancy tackling the Giant of Provence as part of one of the best European sportives 2024 has to offer.

La Marmotte Alps

Location: Bourg d’Oisans
Date: 30 June 2024
Distance: 177 kilometres
Where to stay: Hotel des Alpes, Bourg des Oisans (book  here)

Our view

The alpine cycle sportive La Marmotte needs no introduction. It is generally regarded as the ultimate in European cycling events, and the 7,500 allocated places sell out very quickly.

Over 177 kilometres and with over 5,000 metres of climbing incorporating no less than three Hors Categorie climbs, this is  definitely the big one! Complete this and you can ride anything!

Starting in the village of Bourg d’Oisans, the route takes in the world famous climbs of the Col du Glandon and after a flatter section on the floor of the Maurienne valley, the Col du Galibier which, including the Col du Telegraphe, is a combined climb of 35 kilometres at an average gradient of 5.5%.

There follows a quick descent down the Col du Lauteret to the other side of the valley before a flattish section back to Bourg d’Oisans with just the prospect of a 14-kilometre finishing climb up Alpe d’Huez at an average gradient of 8%.

Make no mistake, this French sportive is a supreme test of fitness, climbing ability and mental strength that the average cyclist would find challenging if it were split into two days. In previous editions the finishing times ranged between 5 hours 40 minutes to 13 hours! It’s no surprise that personal lighting is mandatory.

Undoubtedly, it will be one of the premier amateur cycling events in France in 2024.

More information

Don’t miss our in-depth guide to the Marmotte, here and here.

More interested in L’Étape this year? Read this.

See our guide on cycling this area of the Alps, here.

Conclusion

The event to do for cycling kudos and Tour de France climbs.

View on Instagram

 

Best gran fondos in Italy

Gran Fondo Strade Bianche

Location:   Siena, Tuscany
Date:   3 March 2024
Distance: 87 and 139 kilometres
Where to stay: Garden Hotel, Siena (book here)

Our view

The Strade Bianche is acknowledged as one of the true classic races on the professional circuit. The Strade Bianche gran fondo offers 6,500 amateur riders an opportunity to experience this too – it’s an event that lets you step back into history and ride through the undulating terrain of Tuscany on the world-famous white chalk dust roads.

Starting in Siena and finishing in the same city in the Piazza del Campo, reached after a short but brutal climb, the 139-kilometre route will take you through some of the most stunning landscape that Italy has to offer.

What makes this event so different is that around a quarter of the distance runs over the ‘sterrati’, as the locals refer to it. This is a compacted white gravel type surface which winds through vineyards and includes a number of short and punchy climbs.

This gran fondo is really tough (particularly when the chalk roads get wet) as the regularity of the hills gradually saps the strength of even the fittest of competitors. After negotiating the kilometres of different grades of sterrati, it actually makes the remainder of the Tuscan roads feel like riding on silk!

With the cycling world’s recent fondness of promoting ‘gravel’ rides and races, the gran fondo Strade Bianche is only going to become more popular. Certainly one to consider adding to your European sportive calendar for 2024.

Conclusion

The event to try if you fancy some gravel riding in spectacular Tuscany on the same roads as the pros. It’s one of the best European sportives you can attempt in 2024.

There’s more information on cycling in Tuscany, here.

Gran Fondo Stelvio Santini

Location:   Bormio
Date:   2 June 2024
Distance: 64, 108 and 130 kilometres
Where to stay: Hotel Funivia, Bormio (book here)

Our view

An eagerly awaited Italian sportive, the Gran Fondo Stelvio Santini is among the extreme cycling challenges in 2024 and sees over 3,000 amateurs arriving in the town of Bormio each year to ride the roads made famous by the Giro d’Italia.

The highlight of all three routes on offer is the finishing ascent of the incomparable Passo dello Stelvio (from Bormio) with its famous hairpin turns (or tornanti as the Italians refer to them), the energy-sapping altitude followed by 22 kilometres of punishing gradient (7% average).

Add to the mix the savage ascent of the Passo del Mortirolo (11% average gradient), a climb that Lance Armstrong once said at his peak, ‘On the hardest parts, I was hurting, really hurting. The Mortirolo is the hardest climb I’ve ever ridden’, and you can get a sense that this event is not for the faint-hearted!

In fact, it’s so hard that a special commemorative cap is presented to all who manage to finish. A challenging European sportive for 2024, if ever there was one!

More information

See our detailed guides to the Stelvio Santini sportive and the Bormio area

Conclusion

If you’ve always wanted to tackle the legendary Giro climb that is the Stelvio, this is the sportive for you.

Maratona dles Dolomites

Location:   Abetone
Date:   7 July 2024
Distance: 55, 106 and 138 kilometres
Where to stay: Hotels near La Villa (book here)

Our view

Think of ‘gran fondo Italy’ and most cyclists will think of the Maratona. It’s one of the most prestigious and best sportives in Europe.

The Dolomites mountain range have been awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status and are the stunning backdrop to the Maratona dles Dolomites.

Unlike the Marmotte, there are no flat stretches, just steep mountains (cumulative elevation gain of 4,230 metres) and lightning-fast descents. You’re either pushing hard up the climbs or revelling in thrilling descents, such as the ten-kilometre section between Arabba and Cernadoi.

This gran fondo ride, starts in Abetone and finishes in Corvara, and is a huge event with planning and organisation of the first order. A festival-type environment is created with spectators lining the route and television crews capturing the images for Italian television.

Save for the famous Passo Giau (10k @ 9.3% gradient) the climbs are not too severe; it is just the sheer number of them one after the other that grinds away over the 138 kilometre (mostly closed roads) long route.

More information

See our detailed guides to the Maratona dles Dolomites and cycling in the Dolomites.

Conclusion

This event is one of the most renowned out there and is a fantastic climbing challenge.

View on Instagram

Best sportives in the UK

Check out our in-depth guide to the UK’s best sportives and gran fondos, here!

 

Best of the rest

Tour of Flanders

Location:   Flanders, Belgium
Date:   30 March 2024
Distance: 75, 144, 179 and 257 kilometres
Where to stay: Leopold Hotel, Oudenaarde (book here)

Our view

There are sportives and there is the Tour of Flanders sportive! The 108th edition of the Ronde van Vlaanderen will be held in 2024 and the organisers allow the public to ride the famous cobbles in a sportive the day before the professional race.

There are four distances to choose from with the longest course of 257 kilometres starting in Antwerp and finishing in Oudenaarde, the other options (179, 144 and 75 kilometres) start and finish in Oudenaarde.

All routes have a healthy allocation of cobbles and bergs (Belgian hills), which not only adds to the spectacle of the event but also makes it more of a challenge. Try the ascent of the Koppenberg in the wet with your back wheel spinning out of control as the gradient hits 20%!

All four routes incorporate the aforementioned Koppenberg and they all finish with a double helping of the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg!

This is a truly spectacular opportunity to ride the famous cobbles where careers and legends were made, but make no mistake, it’s tough!

More information

See our guide on cycling in Flanders here.

Conclusion

The picks for cobbles and bergs – plus the renowned atmosphere of Belgium’s biggest amateur cycling event!

Amstel Gold

Location:   Valkenburg, Netherlands
Date:   13 April 2024
Distance: 60, 100, 125, 150 and 240 kilometres
Where to stay: Grand Hotel Voncken, Valkenburg (book here)

Our view

The Amstel Gold professional road race is the biggest race in the Dutch cycling calendar and one of the big one-day races on the WorldTour. It’s also the only Dutch WorldTour ‘Classic’. It always attracts a high-quality field. The sportive is staged on the preceding day in the province of Limburg and offers no fewer than six different route options to cater for all levels of ability.

The 240-kilometre-long route incorporates all the climbs that the professionals tackle, including an ascent of the legendary Cauberg. At only 1.2 kilometres and an average gradient of 6% (max 12%) it is not the most difficult finishing climb in world cycling, but after the punishment of the many previous bergs it requires some finishing power.

With overall elevation of around 3,500 metres, the long course is a substantial challenge full of short, sharp and punch climbs.

This is an extremely popular sportive and you will need to get in early should you wish to take part. It is possible, though, to gain entry through an official tour company who will guarantee your place if you book accommodation with them. Some tour companies also help you see the pro race the day after.

As part of the Ardennes Week in the WorldTour, it’s one of the most popular April gran fondo cycling events Europe can offer, not only for amateurs but for fans of the professional sport too, as many travel to see European bike races here as part of the Spring Classics.

Conclusion

If you’re with a group of mixed abilities, Amstel Gold offers fun cycling events for everyone. The 240km route is one of the more popular ultra cycling challenge races in Europe.

Vätternrundan

Location:   Motala, Sweden
Date:   14-15 June 2024
Distance: 315 kilometres
Where to stay: Hotell Nostalgi, Motala (book here)

Our view

Vätternrundan (pronounced vet-turn-rund-an) is an increasingly popular cycle sportive in Sweden and is now recognised as the biggest event of its type in the country.

It’s a full week of bike events, starting with a kid’s race, a mountain bike sportive and ending in the ultimate 315-kilometre long sportive, a fantastic challenge if you’re looking for amateur cycling races. Starting and finishing in Motala in the south of the country, the 315-kilometre course tracks around the edge of the beautiful Lake Vättern in a complete loop.

Feedback suggests that it is a very well organised event with riders from over 50 countries travelling to Scandinavia for the event. It’s certainly making its mark on the cycle sportive calendar, as the population of Motala increases threefold over the weekend of the event!

There is great emphasis placed by the organisers on the fact that it is, first and foremost, a recreational ride and not a race. That said, participants do wear a timing chip that registers their individual times and when they pass the various check points on the course and when they finished.

The Vätternrundan has to be a top pick for anyone considering 2024’s best cycling events in Europe.

Conclusion

One to do if you fancy trying something new and like the sound of a 315 kilometre odyssey! Major cycle events don’t usually offer such a good mix of challenges.

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Saimaa Cycle Tour

Location:   Imatra, Finland
Date:   28-29 June 2024
Distance: 38, 85 and 300 kilometres
Where to stay: Imatra (book here)

Our view:

Returning for its fourth edition in 2024, the Saimaa Cycle Tour takes place in Imatra, and allows cyclists to soak up the most stunning lakes and forests of northern Finland at a time where the sun doesn’t set!

There is a choice of three routes for 2024:  38, 85 and 300 kilometres. All of these were designed by former Finnish road cycling champion Juho Suikkari, who took inspiration from his old training routes.

In 2024, the long route begins and ends at the Imatrankoski bridge, which covers the Imatra rapids – a popular tourist destination.

Eight service stops, or feed stops, serve the riders and two of which provide warm meals. Music to any long-distance rider’s ears, we’re sure!

More information:

You can read our full guide on this event here.

Conclusion:

An excellent way to discover the stunning roads and scenery of Finland without worrying about riding into the night. It remains of the newer cycling challenges for 2024, but it’s becoming established as a staple of the European calendar.

Want something to help you remember your sportive?

These cycling map prints are just the ticket. How it works:

  • You upload a GPX file or connect to Strava and find your ride (you can add multiple day rides to one map). 
  • You use the map builder to create the print as you want it (you can alter the size, colour and text). 
  • You submit all the details and are then sent a preview to check before it’s printed and sent to you.
  • More info here. Prices start at £35.
Custom map makes a unique cycling giftExample Bilbao to Barcelona ride
GPX based custom map printExample LEJOG ride

Where will you ride in 2024?!

What did you think of our list? Anywhere you’d add? Have you completed a gran fondo in Europe? What were they like? What are your bucket list cycling events?! Let us know in the comments below!

Also feel free to just drop us a comment if you have a question we haven’t answered. We monitor all comments and would love to help!

If you feel like entering one of these sportives, remember we have detailed guides to some of the best cycling in Europe here. These guides will help you plan a trip that combines a sportive with a holiday in some of the most picturesque and stunning areas in Europe.

And finally, if you need a turbo trainer to kickstart your training, this article about turbo trainer hire is for you.

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John Vicars

John Vicars divides his time between England and Spain and, together with his wife, clocks in around 10,000 miles each year searching out Europe’s finest roads. John loves to share his experiences (good and bad) from the saddle and has a particular loathing for double digit gradients, sub-zero temperatures and red traffic lights!

Last Reviewed: 01 December 2023

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2 Responses to “13 best cycling challenges in Europe 2024: sportives, gran fondos and more!”

  1. You surely forgot about the Austrian ones. Most notably the Ötztaler Radmarathon, which is a true best in its own kind.

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