What makes a bike race so epic that it becomes a bucket list obsession? We’re talking about an event so sacred, so downright must-doable, that we’re willing to save, sweat, and sacrifice just about all our personal downtime for the chance to pin a number to our jersey and hit the start line. Is it the course? The competitors? The landscape? The individual challenge? The post-ride festivities?
We like to think it’s all five of these things, with a little bit of vibe — that elusive emotional element one can’t always put their finger on — thrown in for good measure. From Italian Gran Fondos to gravel grinders through Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, here are 9 races that demand to be tackled at least once in a lifetime. Choose your adventure, then head to TrainingPeaks to get a race-specific training plan that will have you ready for the big day.
With their epic courses, often held on some of the most iconic landscapes made famous by Grand Tours and classic one-day races, Gran Fondos and century rides have become increasingly popular over the last few years. These challenging events are more than a group ride and require both speed and endurance, so check out TrainingPeaks’ expert tips and training plans.
What: Maratona Dolomites
Why: Set below the sheer limestone peaks of Italy’s UNESCO-protected Dolomites, the Maratona is a climber’s paradise, serving up nearly 14,000 feet of vertical ascent in only 85 miles. The route is as sinuous as it is scenic, tackling seven switchbacked passes made famous by the Giro d’Italia. Though with nearly 10,000 riders, don’t expect much elbow room, either during the race or at the rowdy after party.
Why: Sure, Belgium might not be as dramatic as the Alps, but what this landscape lacks in topography it more than makes up for in soul. Flanders — the country’s Dutch-speaking northern region — might as well be cycling’s holy land, in a large part due to its namesake race, the annual Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), whose steep cobbled “bergs” can cause even the most seasoned of professional riders to dismount their bikes and walk. Tackle roughly the same route during this punishing, 146-mile Fondo, which starts in the charming streets of Antwerp and ends, as do most things in this convivial country, with a cold Trappist beer in hand.
What: Mallorca 312
Why: There’s a reason why most pro cyclists — like 2012 Tour de France champ Sir Bradley Wiggins — winter on the Balearic island of Mallorca. Blessed with plenty of sunshine, and punctuated with leg-searing climbs, the island is a hardcore rider’s paradise. The Mallorca 312 (yup, that stands for 312 kilometers, or 193 miles) takes competitors on a challenging route across the island’s rugged northern coast, where you can gawk at the Mediterranean while winding through olive groves and limestone cliffs. Save some energy for the Puig Major, Mallorca’s highest point, and don’t be surprised if you rub elbows with some of Spain’s most famous riders, like Grand Tour legends Alberto Contador and Miguel Indurain. Post ride festivities include a pasta party and a massage.
What: Triple Bypass
Why: You don’t need to fly to the French Alps to experience world-class climbing or vertiginous scenery. America’s got some of the most infamous ascents around, and three are packed into Colorado’s Triple Bypass Fondo. A point-to-point race between Evergreen and Vail, the 107-mile route features three timed segments over Juniper, Loveland, and Vail passes, totaling over 10,000-feet of climbing through some of America’s most breathtaking countryside. And, as if all this endorphin-triggering terrain wasn’t enough, knowing your entry fee will help benefit nonprofits like the American Diabetes Association, The Special Olympics, and the High School Cycling League, should ensure the stoke remains high. Sold out for 2021. Be sure to keep an eye out for registration in 2022!
Where: New York City
Why: Are there more epic roads than those found in New Jersey? Absolutely. But how many Fondos begin on the closed lanes of the George Washington Bridge, the shimmering spires of Manhattan to your left, the placid waters of the Hudson to your right, thousands of competitors babbling away in a cacophony of languages? The annual GYNY draws an international crowd, and for good reason. There’s the chance to race up the verdant Hudson Valley to the top of Bear Mountain and back again, all to the tune of 100 miles. But there’s also the chance to experience Manhattan, its restaurants, theaters, and museums, all of which make a worthy post-race reward.
Gran Fondos often include long, gradual climbs, so working on your steady-state training is imperative. Here are some training plans that’ll do just that.
Gravel riding is one of cycling’s fastest growing subsets, and it offers a whole different realm of challenges. Due to the length of most races, not to mention the battering your upper body must endure, strength and mobility can make a huge difference in your race performance. Get race-ready with training plans and expert advice from TrainingPeaks.
What: Unbound Gravel
Why: The race formerly known as Dirty Kanza still draws a grave-crazed crowd. Offering five events over four days, it’s the 200 mile marquee race that’s considered this subset of cycling’s unofficial world championships. The course more than lives up to the hype. Starting and finishing in Emporia, Kansas — aka Gravel City, USA — riders battle dirt and gravel roads (many of which are unmaintained) across the Flint Hills of this prairie-strewn state. Expect river crossings, stiff competition, and a moment of profound transcendence when you cross the finish line.
What: Crooked Gravel
Where: Winter Park, Colorado
Why: Inspired by a ride taken by seven-time Tour de France racer Ron Kiefel, Crooked Gravel challenges racers with some of Colorado’s most expansive terrain, as well as some of its most secret. Wind through pine forests and aspen groves as you ascend timed segments, then rip down wide open descents under a sky that can seem endless. Thanks to the scenery, the 5,000 feet of climbing feels epic without going overboard, the afterparty in this sleepy ski town is equally awesome, but it’s the remote sections of the course, held on hidden roads deep within the jagged mountains of Grand County, that make Crooked Gravel a must-do on every gravel rider’s bucket list.
What: Rebecca’s Private Idaho
Where: Sun Valley, ID
Why: Established by Ultra Endurance pro Rebecca Rusch, Rebecca’s Private Idaho is a four-event gravel bacchanalia set in the state’s stunning Saw Tooth Mountains. Smash-worthy climbs and untouched dirt roads abound, especially on the four-day Queen’s Stage Race, whose 196-mile course features over 12,000 feet of vertical, and challenges riders with everything from singletrack to time trials.
What: Vermont Overland
Where: Ascutney, VT
Why: Don’t be fooled by the rolling nature of Vermont’s gorgeous Green Mountains, or the feel-good atmosphere of this soulful event; Vermont Overland is a beast. Packing 6,000 feet of vertical into just 50-miles, racers not only have to contend with a near constant barrage of climbs, but they’ve got to survive seven sectors of Vermont pavé — dirt roads whose untamed ruggedness can feel downright diabolical at times. Just ask local boy Ted King, whose used his World Tour pedigree to win this event.
Steep, short climbs are common in gravel events, so make sure that your training incorporates threshold workouts. You can use these gravel training plans to get ready to race.