10 best cycling challenges for beginners (UK and Europe) 2021 Back to top
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10 best cycling challenges for beginners:
UK + Europe 2021

If you're a newbie cyclist, setting yourself a cycling challenge is a great idea.

Having a challenge on the horizon can keep you motivated on the indoor trainer and give you the extra bounce to get you out of bed at ridiculous-o’clock on a Saturday morning!

In this article we share ten cycling challenges for beginners that will keep you improving and discovering new passion for cycling. 

Enjoy!

Banner photo: the stunning Costa Brava coastline. 


Before we get into the challenges, just a quick note to let you know that this article is sponsored by Costa Brava Tourist Board.

They're the perfect partner for this article because Girona and the Costa Brava are ideal for cyclists - not just the hundreds of pro cyclists that make Girona their home, but for anyone, beginner or expert, looking for a cycling challenge away from home. As you'll see, there are also loads of novice-cyclist-friendly events in the area.

And now, onto our pick of the best cycling challenges for beginners:


1. Conquer a famous climb

The beauty of this is that you get to decide the climb you want to conquer. 

You can start out with the climbs in your back yard. Try setting yourself a goal - while you're in the beginner category, just getting to the top without stopping can be a big challenge! Once fitness and experience increases, you could start thinking about setting a time for the climb. It will help you monitor your fitness and, if you're that way inclined, even lead to a Strava Queen/King of the Mountains. 

Once you're ready to conquer a bigger climb, it might be time to head over to Europe's mountains. Often considered to be one of the ultimate cycling challenges, a mountain climb tests your endurance and conditioning, but rewards you with magnificent views. When it comes to Europe, the Grand Tours have made some mountains exceptionally famous – but don’t take them too lightly. 

Only tackle a mountain climb once you’ve practised ascending and descending and you know your fitness levels are suitable. Start with the smaller foothills before you try the iconic climbs. 

If you're in Girona, the must-do climb is Rocacorba. It’s a real test, which is why the pros like to use it for training, but the views at the top are more than worth the effort. You might even get lucky and find the Rocacorba Food Truck waiting for you!

Cycling completing cycling challenge in Girona

At the top of Rocacorba


2. Tackle a long distance trail

Long distance cycling challenges combine a healthy, active way to travel with an incredible holiday. There’s nothing like getting out on a long route and exploring the landscapes and culture that a new area has to offer.

While the UK has a few long distance routes, Europe does them much better. The EuroVelo routes offer some of the best European cycling challenges out there and are a good target for any beginner. You can always break up a route and just ride a small section until you've got the time and inclination to complete the whole thing.

By way of example, EuroVelo Route 8, the Mediterranean, runs from Cadiz in southern Spain, up through the Costa Brava, all the way to Izmir in Turkey. The section through the Costa Brava is stunning. 

Another option in the Costa Brava are the Via Verdes (Greenways) – they’re less well known than the Eurovelo routes, but the Olot to the Costa Brava coastline trail, which goes through Girona, is gorgeous and perfect if you’re looking for some family cycling. You can find the Olot to Girona section here and the Girona to Sant Feliu de Guíxols section here.

For a multi-day loop, the Pirinexus trail creates two additional sides to the Via Verdes around Girona, joining up both ends. You'll definitely need a gravel bike (or maybe even a mountain bike) though!

Gravel riding off-road around Girona

On the Via Verdes, Costa Brava (photo credit: footnote 1)


3. Ride a century

Your first century (a 100-mile ride in one go) is a true milestone for any beginner cyclist. They’re something you need to properly train for – not just your cardio, but your core and back too, otherwise you’ll end up uncomfortable and in pain when cycling the six to eight hours that a century will likely take.

You could complete a century anywhere, but it's particularly tempting to do one in Europe where the weather is generally better, meaning a more comfortable ride. Pick an area like the Costa Brava and you'll find it less populated than the UK, giving you quiet, peaceful roads to enjoy your ride on. 

There are some fantastic 100 mile rides around Girona. For example this amazing loop ride around Figueres and Llançà, taking you through the Aiguamoll de l'Empordà Natural Park, along the Costa Brava coastline and past Benedictine monasteries, olive trees and picturesque villages. It can be ridden in two stages (stage 1 here and stage 2 here) or as one challenging 120 mile (200 kilometre) loop.

You could also consider completing your first 100-miler as part of a sportive, where the number of people around you means you might be able to benefit from some aerodynamics and drafting to make those miles fly by! Which leads us on to...

Cycling Costa Brava

The kind of roads you can expect in the Girona Costa Brava region (photo credit: footnote 2)


4. Take part in a sportive

When you’re looking at cycling events for beginners, sportives are a great place to start. They’re organised, but they aren’t races, taking the pressure off as you get into the swing of road cycling events. 

There are plenty of sportives throughout the UK, but closed road options are perfect cycling challenges for beginners because you can just focus on the ride, without having to pay attention to traffic. Of the many cycling challenges Scotland has to offer, the Etape Caledonia is one of the best-known, with stunning views of the Highlands, or try the Tour O’ The Borders for more amazing scenery.

If the prospect of Scotland's undulating hills is too daunting, a flat event like the Cambridgeshire Classic might suit you more until you’re feeling fit enough to tackle climbs. Or if you really want to just dip your toe in, a shorter sportive like the New Forest Classic is a relative piece of cake at just 17km.

If you're looking for a warmer option, there are lots of gran fondos and sportives in Girona to consider:

100x100 Tondo

Short distance: 68km, + 980m

Long distance: 126km, + 2,200m

La Ciclobrava - Sea Otter Europe

Three distances: 70km, 100km and 140km

Cerdanya Cycle Tour

Sport distance: 84 km, 1,171 m

Media distance: 138 km, 2,549m

Endurance distance: 179 km, 3,486m

Lloret - Costa Brava Gran Fondo

Short distance: 90km, + 1,400m

Long distance: 160km, + 2,700m

Terra de Remences

Short distance: 100km, + 1,280m

Long distance: 175km, + 2,600m

Girona Gran Fondo

Short distance: 125km

Long distance: 142km

Soak up the sun in Girona Costa Brava, take part in a gran fondo and you’ll soon be graduating from cycling beginner to enthusiast and even expert. 


5. Take part in a cycling festival

Once you've done a single day sportive, you might be ready for an even more immersive experience; why not head to a cycling festival. 

There are cycling festivals in the UK, but a festival in Europe is likely to have weather that better suits a festival atmosphere! There are some amazing events that combine races, bike shows and more for passionate cyclists. 

Girona is home to two of the best cycling festivals out there – the Sea Otter Europe Festival and the Girona Cycling Festival, which embraces everyone from beginners upward.

There are also many other cycling events in Girona and the Costa Brava, throughout the year. You can find information here.

Cyclists at the Girona cycling festival, a suitable cycling challenge for beginners

Cyclists taking part in the Girona Cycling Festival (photo credit: footnote 3)


6. Try a triathlon

If you're in the mood to vary up the cycling with a bit of running and swimming, triathlon may be for you. Training for a triathlon is gruelling, but the rewards and the thrills are worth every hour spent building up your running, swimming and cycling.

How about training for, or signing up to, a triathlon in Europe to make the most of the excellent facilities and cycle routes on offer. 

Girona is recognised as a Sports Tourism Destination by the Catalan Tourism Board, with extensive pool complexes and of course amazing countryside for trail runs and cycling training.  This brochure has lots of really useful information on triathlon training camps in the Costa Brava and Girona Pyrenees. This website is also a great resource.


7. Enjoy a training camp in the sun

The first thing to say is that you should feel free to replace the term training "camp" with "holiday"! Cycling away from home doesn't have to just be about hard work and gruelling fitness!

However much "serious training" you want to do, the main idea behind a trip away with your bike is that it gives you time to focus on riding in a destination that's really well suited to cyclists. A training camp can help develop core cycling skills and fitness. Of course, choosing to take some time away and do these things in a stunning location is all part of the appeal! 

Girona and the Costa Brava region is the perfect destination for your cycling training camp – the climate is mild, the scenery is impressive and it’s huge in the cycling world.

The region is blessed with a variety of terrain: from easy, flat terrain, to rolling hills and the foothills of the Pyrenees. 

Girona is stuffed full of beautiful bars, top quality coffee shops, restaurants and bike shops so not only can you do some pro spotting, you will also know that the bike shops are there for you if you need some advice on routes or have a mechanical you need help with. This article shares more on why Girona makes such a great cycling training destination.

Cyclists at Lake Banyoles near Girona

It's not all about the training on a cycling training camp! Here cyclists relax by Girona's Lake Banyoles (photo credit: footnote 3)


8. Cycle coast to coast

Ready to tackle a big, open road ride? Some of the best UK cycling challenges come in the form of coast-to-coast routes. 

Whether it’s Scotland, Northern England or Devon, you get to see the best of Britain.

Be aware though that not all coast to coasts are the same - some are a lot harder than others. Consider choices such as the Devon coast-to-coast from Ilfracombe to Plymouth or the Way of the Roses, rather than the classic Whitehaven to Sunderland coast to coast route which has some gruelling gradients!


9. Complete a classic challenge ride

Not all challenge rides are super long-distance beasts – the London to Brighton event is 55 miles – but if you want something tough then you’ve got options.

In the UK, the NC500 shows off the best of Scotland’s coastline, or take on one of the famous cycling challenges for charity – Land’s End to John O’Groats. 

If you want a challenge ride somewhere warmer, the Raid Pyrenees route is worth a look. It passes just north of the Costa Brava region. You can read more about the route here and several of Girona's tour operators will be able to help you organise it if you would like some support.

Bike Breaks –

Girona Cycle Centre

Catalonia Bike Tours

Cicloturisme Tours

+34 972 205 465

+24 608 57 68 21

+34 972 221 047

gironacyclecentre.com

cataloniabiketours.com

cicloturisme.com

Eat Sleep Cycle

Girona Pro Sport

Trek and Ride

+34 972 649 131

+34 690 248 632

+34 972 28 00 94

eatsleepcycle.com

gironaprosport.com

cicloturisme.com

Zona BTT Pirineu Girona

+34 605 227 978

zonabtt.com

Cycling the Pyrenees, France and Spain

Girona Costa Brava is well-placed for accessing the Pyrenees (photo credit: footnote 2)


10. Compete in a cycling race for beginners

Once you’ve worked your way through your cycle club ranks, have some miles and experience under your belt and are looking for something to test you, you might want to consider a cycling race. Sign up to one of the hundreds of cycling races for beginners in the UK and it'll be great motivation to get training!

You don’t need to be setting a record pace but you’ll feel the thrill from the competitive edge a race gives you. 

Check out the list of races you can join at British Cycling - and sign up for your race licence while you’re at it. 

If you fancy racing somewhere warmer, there's an active racing scene in the Costa Brava. You can find out more here. Don't forget to bring your British Cycling licence with you - or get a one day licence on the day.



A big thank you to Costa Brava Tourist Board for their support with this article. We hope it’s given you some ideas for your next cycling challenge!


Are you looking for cycling challenges for beginners?

Feel free to drop us a line if you have any questions this article hasn't answered! We know it can be a bit daunting when you're first starting out.


Want to know more about cycling in Girona?

Check out our in-depth guide to Girona, which contains route guides, tips for riding in/around Girona and much more!

You might also like this article with tips for the best easy cycling routes in Girona.


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Photo credits:

Footnote 1: CycleTours Catalonia 

Footnote 2: Costa Brava. The Col Collective. CBGTB Image Archive.

Footnote 3: Bike Breaks Girona

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