16 of the best UK sportives to ride in 2021: when, where and why! Back to top
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16 of the best UK sportives 2021

It's that time of year for making resolutions about the cycling year to come and planning our cycling calendar. If you're looking for a goal, a sportive makes an excellent target.

In this article we share our pick of the best UK sportives - some are well known and will need no introduction, whilst some are relatively new to the scene but provide something different.

2021 updates

Our 2021 pick of sportives contains quite a few changes compared with our 2020 list. After so many events were cancelled due to Covid in 2020, sadly some of the events that were previously on our favourites list are no more. 

Let's cross our fingers that the new vaccine and regulations mean that this year's sportive calendar will go ahead as planned. One thing's for certain - the organisers will undoubtedly be doing everything they can to ensure there are no more cancellations...

A spread of events

For the benefit of cyclists all over the UK we have selected sportives from each geographical region.

We know there will be plenty of other events that would undoubtedly qualify as being one of the best sportives in the UK, but unfortunately, we can’t cover them all; let us know in the comments below which ones you think we should add on our next update of this article!

Written by John Vicars

A few notes about this article:

  • Due to Covid-19 and other unforeseen circumstances, all of the dates and details listed here are subject to change. Check with the organisers before booking.
  • It includes details of hotels we think would make a great base for each event (though you'll need to double-check with them on bike storage etc). If you click on a link and make a booking, we may earn a commission. We only suggest places we'd want to stay ourselves! Please read our disclosure policy for further information.
  • You'll see that we refer to some distances in miles and some in kilometres. This reflects how they're advertised on the official event websites.

If you'd like a nice reminder of your sportive, these beautiful GPX-based prints are a great idea. More details at the bottom of this article!


London and south east sportives

Hampshire Hilly Hundred

Location:  

Sparsholt Collect, Winchester, Hampshire

date:  

9 May 2021

Distance:

 60 and 100 miles

Where to stay:

The Running Horse, Winchester (Book here)

Cost:

£22-26


Our view:

Here’s a great opportunity to train with a purpose through the spring months with a focus on getting an early season 100 miles under your belt.


The Hilly Hundred is set in the beautiful South Downs National Park. It features three challenging climbs: Butser Hill, Beacon Hill and Old Winchester Hill. With elevation on the 100-mile route at around 1,250 metres (there is a 60-mile alternative) you don’t need to be a mountain goat to get around, so it’s a perfect appetiser for the summer.

 

The course has chipped timing, full mechanical support and, believe it or not, a free breakfast before you start! One of the best Hampshire sportives around.


Conclusion:

The Hilly Hundred is a great early season 100 miler with challenging climbs.

Ride London

Location:  

London

date:  

30 May 2021 (date TBC)

Distance:

awaiting details of the new format

Where to stay:

central London hotels (book here)

Cost:

Awaiting information

Our view:

Note: the information below is based on the 2019 event. The 2020 event was cancelled due to coronavirus and it appears that the 2021 event will be in a revised format that does not include roads into Surrey. It may be based on a 50 kilometre loop, rather than the usual 100 miles, but we await confirmation and further information.


Due to the men’s and women’s professional road races taking place over the same weekend and because you get the opportunity to ride on closed roads through the streets of the capital city, the Prudential Ride London is regarded as one of the best sportives in the UK. It is however extremely difficult to gain a starting berth, with the 25,000 places being snapped up very quickly, unless of course you are prepared to apply for a charity place.


At around 1,300 metres of elevation on the 100-mile route it’s not too heavy on the climbing front but you do get the chance to experience the well-known ascents of Leith Hill and Box Hill when you get out of the city and into rural Surrey.

 

It’s more expensive than the standard sportive at £79 per entrant but it’s one of those events that cyclists aspire to complete at least once in their life. There are two shorter circuits available aimed at youngsters and those who don’t want to take on the longer route.


More information:

Check out our guide to the hills of RideLondon, here


Conclusion:

Prudential RideLondon is an excellent choice for rubbing shoulders with the pros and riding on closed roads.

🏁🏁🏁 #RideLondon

A post shared by Prudential RideLondon (@ridelondon) on

South west sportives

The Cotswolds Classic  

Location:  

Moreton in Marsh, Gloucester

date:  

6 March 2021

Distance:

20, 50, 80 and 120 km

Where to stay:

Fire Service College (book here)

Cost:

£10-40


Our view:

There aren’t many destinations in the UK that beat the Cotswolds in the spring, and one of the benefits of this event is that the four routes barely leave this area of natural beauty as they meander through the undulating terrain.

 

The event is designed to be a perfect warm up for the summer ahead and with the offer of four different routes to cater for all abilities.

 

The event has a chipped timing system, mechanical and medical support and post ride goodies.


Conclusion:

The event is the first of the Classic series and will no doubt prove to be popular with those wanting to make an early start to the season. 

Dartmoor Legend Ultra Sportive

Location:  

Dartmoor

date:  

10 July 2021

Distance:

200 miles

Where to stay:

Duchy House, Princetown (book here)

Cost:

£100

Our view:

A new breed of sportive that is already popular on the continent has started to make its way into the UK sportives calendar: the ultra endurance sportive.

 

The Dartmoor Legend Ultra is certainly not for the faint hearted, with 200 miles, 5,500 metres of elevation and gradients of 25% on some climbs. This event is for extremely fit and competent riders who are comfortable with a very long day in the saddle.

 

Not only is this an ultra-endurance challenge it is also against the clock, with riders who don’t maintain a certain average speed being asked to retire. You can start between 4am and 5am and are required to finish before midnight.

 

The field is limited to just 200 riders who must pre-book in advance of the event. The route includes geo tracking, five feed stations and mechanical support.


Conclusion: 

This event offers a severe test in stunning countryside and is not for the faint-hearted!

Midlands sportives

Tour of the Peak

Location:  

Bakewell, Derbyshire

date:  

23 May 2021

Distance:

99 and 185 kilometres

Where to stay:

Rutland Arms Hotel, Bakewell (book here)

Cost:

£35

Our view:

One of the best Midland sportives around, this classic event was named after the Tour of the Peak Road race which took place between 1943 and 2005 and is steeped in history. It’s in the Peak District so you know it’s going to be tough and have an idea of what to expect before you turn a wheel on those grippy roads!

 

Starting and finishing in the small market town of Bakewell, the long 115 mile route has 3,000 metres of elevation, including the killer climb of Winnats Pass, and not to mention Holme Moss and the Cat and Fiddle!

 

The ascent of Winnats Pass, on the edge of the beautiful village of Castleton includes the ‘killer mile challenge’ which is a timed section on a fully closed road. You will not be able to speak as you cross the cattle grid at the top – trust me!

 

As the organisers state – only the brave should choose the long route!


Conclusion: 

Choose this event for the killer climbs and closed road hill climb.

Rutland Cicle Tour Sportive

Location:  

Oakham, Leicester

date:  

24 April 2021

Distance:

65 and 126 km

where to stay:

Wisteria hotel, Oakham (Book here)

Cost:

£35

Our view:

The CiCLE Classic elite race is known as ‘Britain’s Belgium Classic’ and the sportive is your opportunity to ride much of the same route, including the pavé sectors (but just once, unlike in the elite race).


The event starts at Giant's Rutland store and the route takes you around Rutland Water and the small villages heading to Melton Mowbray. It's great countryside and you're supported by mechanics, medics, feed stations and signage.


The long route includes four different "pave" (rough terrain) sectors including the renowned Barleyberg and Somerberg.


The organisers promise that it will "soon become a must-do in the calendar" - if you live in the area, it could be a good one to try this year.


Conclusion: 

One to test yourself against for the novelty of cobbles alone!

Yorkshire sportives

Etape du Dales

Location:  

Grassington, Yorkshire

date:  

16 May 2021 (awaiting final confirmation)

Distance:

family route, 60 and 110 miles

Where to stay:

Ashfield House, Grassington (book here)

Cost:

Awaiting information

Our view:

The Etape du Dales is a classic sportive that passes through some of the most remote and scenic countryside in the country. The long route covers many of the county's well-known climbs as well as allowing the rider to explore the dales of Wharfedale, Littondale, Wensleydale, Swaledale, Arkengarthdale, Birkdale, Garsdale, Dentdale and Ribblesdale.

 

The climbs of Fleet Moss, Buttertubs and the ascent of Tan Hill to the highest pub in the UK, the Tan Hill Inn, make this one of the cycling sportives to enter.

 

The event supports the Dave Rayner Foundation which is a charity that provides financial assistance to promising young riders to compete in Europe.

 

There are some really challenging climbs on the 110-mile route with 3500 metres of elevation and is not for the novice cyclist. Those looking for something more family friendly should consider the specific family friendly route that the organisers have recently introduced to encourage participation from youngsters and to introduce others to the delights of the Yorkshire Dales.

 

More information: 

Check out our guide to the Etape du Dales route, here.


Conclusion:

An iconic sportive in stunning, traffic light/free countryside.

Le Petit Depart Sportive

Location:  

Skipton, North Yorkshire

date:  

6 June 2021

Distance:

38, 49, 80 and 100 miles

Where to stay:

The coach House, Skipton (book here)

Cost:

£25-37

Our view:

A sportive which is very much part of the legacy of the Tour de France stages held in the county back in 2014.


Showcasing the very best the Yorkshire Dales has to offer there are four different routes available to suit all abilities with the opportunity to ride the very roads that were used in the Tour de France, the Tour of Yorkshire and the 2019 World Championships.


On the 100 mile route there is some very undulating terrain to negotiate including the ascents of both Buttertubs and Kidstones passes.


Conclusion:

Set amidst some of the best scenery in the country this is a popular event and certainly the longer route will be a challenge to say the least!

North east/west sportives

Fred Whitton Challenge

Location:  

Grasmere, Cumbria

date:  

 9 May 2021

Distance:

114 miles

Where to stay:

Lake view Country House, Grasmere (book here)

Cost:

Awaiting information - will know how many spaces available for 2021 after 20th december 2020, so limited new registrations should open soon 

Our view: 

Probably the most famous and popular UK sportive, which is spoken about in the same esteem as the legendary Marmotte Cyclosportive in France.

 

With a 114-mile journey around the Lake District incorporating the now infamous climbs of Kirkstone, Honister, Newlands, Whinlatter, Hardknott and Wrynose passes and almost 4,000 metres of elevation this is an epic test for both mind and body.

 

There is a 30% gradient on parts of Hardknott Pass with the incline on some of the hairpin bends even harsher. Given the severity of the climbs, the organisers have applied a generous time limit of roughly 10mph to allow as many people as possible to complete the course.

 

Gaining entry to this event is probably harder thought than the sportive itself, so make sure you don’t miss the ballot deadline!


Conclusion: 

This ultimate cycling test is packed full of killer climbs.  

Stockton Sportive

Location:  

Stockton, County Durham

date:  

17 July 2021

Distance:

59, 80, 116 and 170 kilometres

Where to stay:

Hampton by hilton, Stockton on Tees (book here)

Cost:

£25-40

Our view:

With the current penchant for sportive organisers to make their route as severe as possible to attract the pain loving cyclists, the Stockton Sportive proudly presents Le Tour de Moor.

 

There is almost 3,400 metres of climbing to be found in the 105-mile route so make no mistake this is a serious test. Starting and finishing near Middlesbrough, your journey takes you into the North Yorkshire Moors with a string of really tough climbs including an ascent of the super steep Rosedale Chimney as well as the steep ascents of Egton Cliff and Blakey Bank.

 

A ‘family friendly’ route is offered for youngsters, inexperienced riders and those new to this type of event. One of the July sportives to take a serious look at for 2021.


Conclusion:

If you're after a severe test, this is for you!

Scotland sportives

Etape Loch Ness

Location:  

Inverness / Loch Ness, Scottish Highlands

date:  

25 April 2021

Distance:

106 kilometres

Where to stay:

Best Western Inverness Palace Hotel and spa, Inverness (Book here)

Cost:

£65

Our view:

When looking for cycling events in Scotland, there is arguably no finer setting then the iconic Loch Ness. Add that to that the fact that this is a circular closed road sportive then you can probably see why the Etape Loch Ness is so popular and that you may have to rely on a charity place to gain access.

 

Starting and finishing in Inverness the route of 106 kilometres includes a timed 9 kilometre King of the Mountain section (maximum gradient 12%) and has a total elevation of around 1,400 metres.

 

The event offers electronic timing, mechanical support, a finishers medal and the chance to see Nessie!


Conclusion:

One of the best closed road sportives in the UK.

Etape Caledonia

Location:  

Pitlochry, Perthshire

date:  

16 May 2021

Distance:

40 and 85 miles

Where to stay:

The Old Mill Inn, Pitlochry (book here)

Cost:

£45-80

Our view:

Another Scottish cycling event definitely worth some serious consideration is the Etape Caledonian which again is so popular that you may have to gain entry with a charity ticket to have the opportunity to take part in this breath-taking ride through the spectacular Scottish Highlands.

 

The longer 85 mile route which begins and ends in Pitlochry will take you through rolling hills and forest land as you ride by the lochs of both Tummel and Rannoch as well as negotiating a challenging 2 kilometre climb up Mount Schiehallion, which tops out at 1,083 metres above sea level.

 

This is a fully timed event, and includes a finishers medal, but beware it also includes a broom wagon to pick up the slow coaches!


Conclusion: 

A closed road sportive with awesome scenery.

Wales sportives

Wales in a Day

Location:  

Caernarfon, Gwynedd

date:  

17 July 2021

Distance:

185 miles

Where to stay:

Ty Castell, Caernarfon (Book here)

Cost:

£100

Our view:

Cycling events in Wales don’t come much tougher than this event. Riding 185 miles in one day from the top to the bottom of Wales with 4,500 metres of climbing thrown in for good measure!

 

Starting in Caernarfon in the north and ending in Chepstow to the south the route takes in the Llanberis and Gospel Pass as you wind your way by the Snowdonia National Park and the Cambrian and Black Mountains.

 

This is not a mass start sportive as competitors can start whenever they choose between 4am and 6am on the day and the organisers have included a generous cut off time to allow as many riders to finish this epic ride.


Conclusion: 

An epic challenge set in a spectacular landscape.

Dragon Ride

Location:  

Margam Park, Port Talbot

date:  

6 June 2021

Distance:

99, 157, 210 and 304 kilometres

Where to stay:

The Barn B&B, Margam (book here)

Cost:

As at 30 november 2020, already sold out for 2021!

Our view:

Another Welsh cycling event that is extremely popular, the Dragon Ride set in the stunning Brecon Beacons is now very well established in the UK sportive calendar and has acquired almost legendary status.

 

For 2020 the organisers made their long route known as the Dragon Devil harder than ever! With elevation of almost 5,000 metres over a mammoth distance of 297 kilometres this is probably the hardest sportive in the UK. The lesser challenge of the Gran Fondo version is hardly a walk in the park with 3,562 metres of elevation and a distance of 206 kilometres!

 

With climbs such as Devil’s Elbow, Devil’s Staircase and Black Mountain you get the impression that this is going to be an epic test of ability and character. Only the toughest will slay the dragon!


Conclusion:

This is a bucket list event - do it if you can!

Ireland sportives

Wicklow 200

Location:  

Bray, County Wicklow

date:  

13 June 2021

Distance:

100 and 200 miles

Where to stay:

Wilton Hotel, Bray (book here)

Cost:

€65-75

Our View:

The Wicklow 200 – and its partner event the Wicklow 100 Challenge, take in many of the most iconic climbs in Ireland’s ‘Garden County’ in an event that is among the most arduous and most revered annual cycling events on the world calendar.


Conclusion:

Considered by many to be Irelands premier cycling sportive the event attracts riders from all over the world.

Skoda Ring of Clare Sportive

Location:  

Ennis, County Clare

date:  

17 July 2021

Distance:

120 and 160 kilometres

Where to stay:

Hotel Woodstock, Ennis (book here)

Cost:

Awaiting information - 2020 registrations being rolled over and new registrations for 2021 haven't yet opened.

Our view:

Starting and finishing in Ennis the Skoda Ring of Clare is an Irish sportive that forms part of the international Skoda Celtic Cycle Series.

 

There are two routes on offer with the 160 kilometre route comprising of 1500 metres of elevation and the 120 kilometre version covering 1200 metres of vertical ascent. However whichever route you choose you are likely to be blown away with the stunning scenery on offer as you cycle through amazing coastal and estuary landscape on the west coast of Ireland including the world famous Wild Atlantic Way.

 

A medal and jersey is awarded to all finishers - who can also enjoy a post ride BBQ.


Conclusion:

A beautiful coastline route and a new jersey - what's not to love?!


Final tips

If you are interested in riding a sportive in 2021 remember that the popular events will sell out on general sale very quickly, especially as many people will have rolled their entries over from 2020, so there may well be few new places available. However, it is possible sometimes to gain entry with a charity place.

Want to know if a sportive is for you or know more about the general format of sportives? Check out our in-depth gran fondo/sportive guide, here - but in general, the beauty of cycle sportives is that generally speaking they cater for all levels of ability and for riders with different objectives. There are those who want to race round the course for the kudos of being the first rider home, others that just want to see if they can complete the circuit and some who will just want to better their  time from the previous year. 

Don't assume that you need to wait until summer to ride your sportive. A little like the professional scene the UK cycling sportive season seems to have no start or finish, as an abundance of winter sportives have suddenly appeared to fill the gap between September and March. A quick check at the jam-packed bike sportive 2021 calendar clearly indicates that this sector is in good health - despite Covid having done its best to interrupt things!


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.


What next?!

Feeling inspired by what you’ve read? Up for a challenge? Going to ride a sportive this year?

Don’t miss our in depth articles on Prudential Ride London and the Etape du Dales.

Let us know which sportives you’ve ridden and which were your favourites. Any tips and advice you would like to impart?

Please share your experiences (good and bad) in the comments section below.

And finally - for in-depth guides on cycling in various regions across the UK, head to our UK cycling page. You might also enjoy our pick of the best UK cycling holiday destinations.

If you want some ideas for cycling events further afield, take a look at our pick fo the best European sportives and world cycling challenges!


Related articles

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11 best cycling challenges in Europe 2021: sportives, gran fondos and more!
Our guide to 11 of the best cycling challenges in Europe for 2021, including top sportives, gran fondos and cycling events
16 of the best UK sportives 2021
We share 16 of the best sportives in the UK, and sort them by region to make it easy to find one close to you.



About John Vicars

Cycling up Buttertubs Pass from Hawes

John 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!

  • Enda says:

    Have ridden the Skoda tour of clare and its great. The Inishowen 100 run by Foyle Cycling club is a bigger challenge and a great ride for the scenery. Beware its 9000ft of climbing over 100 miles

    • Clare from Epic Road Rides says:

      Thanks for this – and great to know about the other event too. Best wishes, Clare

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