Gran Fondos, sportives, randonees, cyclos, marchas, whatever you’d like to call them, Europe has hundreds of them just waiting to be ridden. They’ve been big news across the pond for a long time, and thousands of riders turn out each weekend during the “race” season to take part in these mass participation rides, often finding themselves riding alongside some of the all time cycling greats.
There are almost as many formats as events. Some events follow classic Alpine mountain routes, others rattle over the fabled cobblestones of the north, while some are simply beautiful rides!
L’Etape du Tour, July, France
The annual “Etape” is possibly the most famous of them all. The “race” takes place along the route of a classic Tour de France stage (often on the actual TDF rest day), and riders get many of the race support frills and thrills usually only reserved for the elite pros.
Entry is restricted to 9500 riders for this year’s ride, which is on the Pyrenean stage route from Bayonne to Luchon, crossing the legendary Tourmalet, Marie-Blanque and Soulor along the way.
L’Ardechoise, June, France
This is the biggest of Europe’s great “cyclo” events, with some 15,000 riders turning out in the hilly Ardech region of central France every year. Various distances are on offer, and many top young, and ex-pro, riders also compete.
La Marmotte, July, France
Ride 174 kilometres over the great cols du Galibier, Telegraphe. Lautartet and the Glandon, and then crawl up the most famous of them all – the curvaceous Alpe d’Huez! La Marmotte is a true classic, and the ultimate way to experience the prime climbs of the Alps.
L’Eroica, October, Italy
This event has fast established it’s self, and is one of the grandest gran fondos. There are various distance options, and it is preferred that rider go “retro”, with antique bikes and gear – although it’s not obligatory. The route is largely on the Tuscan “strada-bianchi” – white roads (or dirt roads).
Gran Fondo Sportful, June, Italy
Formerly the Gran Fondo Campagnolo, this northern Italian event is one of the best around. The longest of the three distances takes in 215 kilometres, and crosses the famous Croce d’Aune climb amongst others.
Gran Fondo Novecolli, May, Italy
One of the oldest and biggest of Italian gran fondos. This event attracts around 9000 riders each year, with the bravest of them lining up for the nine-hill 200km route. There is also a 130km option.
Maratona Dles Dolomites, July, Italy
La Maratona is one of the toughest of all gran fondo events. Almost 9000 riders turn out for the 138km event, which includes over 4000 meters of climbing. The event is the culmination of a whole week of cycling in the region.
Quebrantaheuseos, June, Spain
Taking place in the Aragon region of Spain this is the biggest “marcha” event on the Spanish calendar. Around 8000 riders make it to the start line for this tough and hilly event, with the longest option covering 200km in all.
Tour of Flanders, April, Belgium
Murs, cobbles, wind and pain are guaranteed if you take o the challenge of the cyclo sportive version of the “Ronde”. The event takes place a day before the pro race, and offers 3 distances – with the ultimate being the same 255km route raced by the pro riders.
Cape Argus Cycle Tour, March, South Africa
Okay, so it’s not in Europe – but we can’t miss out on the biggest of the big rides! The Argus Tour attracts 35,000 riders each year, who set off in waves, with the first off being the pro riders. Many great sporting legends turn out for this 130km classic.