When you think of the Algarve, you probably think of stunning beaches and luxurious holidays. But it’s also a fantastic place to cycle.
The Algarve is host to a number of cycling events throughout the year. The highlights are the annual Volta ao Algarve professional race as well as two amateur events - the Algarve Granfondo and Algarve Bike Challenge. These events really showcase the region’s wonderfully diverse landscapes.
In this article we speak with Marco Fernandes, a race organiser, former pro rider and former coordinator for the Algarve and Alentejo regions at the Portuguese Cycling Federation. Marco lives in the Algarve and has provided us with an insight into cycling in the Algarve and the three key events for cyclists: the Tour of the Algarve, the Algarve Granfondo and Algarve Bike Challenge.
If you’re considering where to go on your next cycling trip, how about a cycling holiday to the Algarve timed to coincide with one of these awesome cycling events?
Looking for an in-depth guide to cycling the Algarve? Read this.
Banner photo credit: Federação Portuguesa de Ciclismo
1. Set the scene: what’s it like to cycle in the Algarve?
Located at the most southern point of Portugal, the Algarve is known for its diverse landscape.
The coastal region is more densely populated, but you are rewarded with stunning vistas of the cliffs when cycling the Algarve coast. The altitude here is around 100 metres, with climbs reaching 300 metres.
Further inland is where cycling in the Algarve comes into its own. The area features some of Portugal’s best cycling - there is a reason the Tour of Algarve returns here every year!
The Mount Fóia climb near Monchique regularly features in the race, as the region’s most famous climb. At 7.3km in length and an average of 5.9%, it’s not the most challenging (although there are some steep kick ups) but that’s not what road cycling in the Algarve is about.
1.2 Villages and cuisine
Cycling in the Algarve is all about enjoying small country roads, beautiful villages, friendly locals and plentiful cafés.
Naturally, the cuisine is also a highlight of cycling holidays in Portugal, with a fine choice of wine to accompany your meals.
2. Give us an overview of the Algarve’s cycling calendar
The Algarve is a diverse place, with plenty of different types of terrain to offer a varied challenge. As a result, there are lots of cycling events in and around the Algarve, from road to gravel to mountain biking.
You can access the full Portuguese cycling calendar here.
The big three events that are popular with tourists from English speaking countries are the Tour of the Algarve, the Algarve Granfondo and Algarve Bike Challenge. We will get into the detail of these below.
But first let’s set the scene with an overview of the range of cycling events in the Algarve and when they’re held:
2.1 Gravel Challenge Albufeira: 12-13 February 2022 (gravel)
For those who prefer to ride off the beaten track, the Gravel Challenge Albufeira is a great choice. The event is held on 12-13 February 2022 with riders taking on two stages, one at 90 kilometres and the second at 80 kilometres.
2.2 Ride Across Algarve (15-20 February 2022) (road)
This new event is due to start the day before the first stage of the Volta ao Algarve professional race. It includes five stages, featuring terrain that's rolling to hilly, and between 90 to 120 kilometres each day.
The exact routes are yet to be announced but are stated to be a shorter version of the relevant Volta ao Algarve stage, so the expectation is that they will take in some of the best roads the Algarve has to offer.
The event is billed as an opportunity to ride like a pro for a week and uses the same hotels and organisation as the pro race.
It is designed to be a mix between a cycling event (there are timed sections on the stages) and a holiday (the event uses 4 and 5 star hotels and says it offers the perfect mix between sport, local culture and gastronomy).
2.3 Volta ao Algarve: 16-20 February 2022 (road)
More details below.
2.4 Algarve Bike Challenge: 4-6 March 2022 (MTB)
More details below.
2.5 Tavira Granfondo: 9 October 2022 (road)
The Tavira Granfondo offers a choice of 140km or 80km of the Algarve by road bikes. It attracts up to 2,000 riders each year, and with the last two editions being cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic, the 9 October 2022 edition is expected to be a popular choice for road cyclists.
2.6 Algarve Granfondo: October 2022 (but usually February) (road)
More details below.
3. Volta ao Algarve
The Volta ao Algarve, or Tour of the Algarve, is the most recognisable cycling race in Portugal.
Held every year in the third week of February (16-20 February 2022), it attracts some of the top professional riders from across the world. Previous winners include Alberto Contador and Geraint Thomas.
2022 will be the 48th edition of the race. The five one-day stages offer all types of rider the chance to shine, with a time trial stage and mountainous climbs featuring in the race. 25 teams including WorldTour and ProTeams have already been announced for 2022, although the full list of riders is yet to be confirmed.
3.1 Tour Algarve cycling routes
The routes remain relatively similar each year, taking in some of the cities like Lagos and Portimao, while also heading inland to test the rider’s legs on some climbs. It’s a great opportunity to get up close and watch some of the fastest racers on the planet.
The Malhao climb is a great place to watch the action. It’s the final climb on the last day of the race and there’s always a fantastic atmosphere. It’s best to get there early so you can cycle to the top and watch the race pass by twice on the climb below. The locals often get into the spirit of the race and take picnics while they wait for the peloton.
3.2 Where to stay
If you want to come and watch the race, the best places to stay include Albufeira and Salgados. These are coastal areas but you can easily get from here to all parts of the region.
If you arrive before the race, then cycling in Lagos is definitely recommended as you might see some of the professionals out training!
3.3 More information
4. Algarve Granfondo
The Algarve Tour cycling event doesn’t just include a professional race, there is also an amateur granfondo held alongside it. Unfortunately it hasn’t taken place during Covid, but it is back in October 2022. From 2023 it is expected that the event will take place in February, with the Volta Algarve, once again.
The information below is based on the 2020 event.
The granfondo usually occurs on the weekend of the pro race, and has been doing so for ten years. It attracts between 800-1,000 road cyclists from all over the world, and with partially closed roads and beautiful views, it’s not hard to see why.
4.1 Algarve Granfondo routes
The two route choices are
Both start and finish in Lagos, with the Granfondo taking in the Alto de Fóia, one of the biggest climbs in the region.
4.2 What’s special about it
The beauty of the Algarve Granfondo is that you get to ride the same roads as the professionals, albeit a different day than when they do!
You can ride the event in the morning and still have time to watch the finish of the professional race in the afternoon, which would make for a pretty special day.
The cycling Algarve routes for this event aren’t the most challenging, which makes them more accessible. You still need to train, however, but you won’t be spending as much time chasing the clock if you’re already relatively fit.
Both routes showcase some of the best road cycling Portugal has to offer, with smooth tarmac roads and gorgeous weather.
4.4 More information
5. Algarve Bike Challenge
Organised by Marco himself, the Algarve Bike Challenge is a departure from our usual road and gravel events! But it sounds fun and is super popular (plus Marco promises it isn’t overly technical) so we couldn’t resist including it here.
The Algarve Bike Challenge is a mountain bike event that runs over three days, with three stages including a night time time trial through Tavira.
By design it’s an amateur race but a handful of professionals and former pros get involved too.
The time trial prologue will take place over a 7 kilometre course. The first stage features 85.5 kilometres with 2,200 metres of climbing and the final stage is 76 kilometres with 1,450 metres of climbing.
The route explores Tavira and the surrounding Barrocal area further inland over some tough terrain, although expert mountain bike skills are not required for this event.
5.3 What makes this event special?
The Algarve Bike Challenge has been running since 2013 and attracts well over 1,000 entrants each year.
It’s a bit different to normal events as the entry includes accommodation and all the participants stay in the same hotel. That means a comfortable bedroom and a real sense of camaraderie as everyone is in the same place taking part in the same event.
The event typically takes place at the beginning of March. The 2022 event sold out within minutes. If you’re interested in taking part in 2023, our top tip is to make sure you get your finger on the buzzer when the 2023 tickets are released.
5.5 More information
6. Please share your tips for taking part in a cycling event in the Algarve
Nowadays, vaccination or Covid certificates are usually required to gain entry into most countries. Cycling trips in the Algarve are no exception to the rules, but hopefully 2022 will see a loosening of requirements! Make sure you check the current rules before you travel.
6.1 Insurance and medical certificates
You should also expect to take out event insurance to cover costs in case you cause damage to another rider or someone else’s property - this is often available via the event itself.
Unless the event you choose to participate in is particularly challenging, you are unlikely to need a specific medical certificate from your doctor - however, we recommend checking with the event organiser to be on the safe side.
The weather in Portugal is warm and wonderful for riding most of the year. Any time from March to June and September to November are great times to visit as the temperatures are warm without being overbearing. You’ll notice that these are the times of year that the events discussed above are held.
In case you’re thinking of coming in July and August, it's worth knowing cycling in the Algarve is possible at these times but you should be prepared for the heat. It often reaches 25°C by as early as 6 a.m.! Additionally, it is peak tourist season with families staying near the beaches, so you will want to head for the hills to avoid the crowds.
If you plan your cycling holiday in Portugal for the winter, expect some wind but not as much as Britain. You might also get a little rain. The temperatures are much milder than we’re used to in the UK, with high temps of 15°C.
6.3 Getting to the Algarve
The Algarve is well connected to Faro airport as well as Lisbon and Seville airports. The best airport for you will of course depend on where you are travelling from. This flight connections website might be useful for planning your trip.
A huge thank you to Marco for sharing these insights on the Algarve’s cycling events.
Have you taken part (or spectated) at any of the Algarve’s cycling events?
If you’ve been to the Algarve to spectate the Tour of Algarve or take part in any of the events, let us know in the comments below!
For more information on cycling in the Algarve, read our in-depth Algarve guide.
More About Marco
Marco Fernandes has been involved in cycling for most of his life, starting as a professional racer in his youth. After he finishes his degree, he worked with the Portuguese Cycling Federation and other companies that organise events and cycling tours in Portugal. He remains one of the authorities on cycling in Algarve Portugal.