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TOP 5: Hilliest UK Sportives

by Holly Blades

GB Flag

For those who want to push their legs to the limit, here are some of the five hilliest sportives in the UK, as suggested by our Cyclosport Reviewers. See what the organisers and our writers have to say about some of the biggest tests on the sportive calendar.


Etape Xtrem

The organisers say: "226 miles, over 4,000 meters of climb, three routes, 18 hours! The Snowdonia Etape Xtrem will push all your limits. This will be the longest, toughest one day cycle sportive in the UK and possibly the World!"

The Etape Xtrem is one of the routes of the Snowdonia Etape Eryri, an event that saw 1,500 cyclists take part in the four available routes. But it's the Etape Xtrem here that we're interested in. Riders have between 4am and 10pm to finish the 226 miles with cut off times set at an average speed of 13mph.

Our reviewer Caven O'Hara said, of the 2015 event, "Crossing the line as a tremendous relief and sense of satisfaction. At 226 miles, over 5,000m of climbing and 17 hrs in the saddle this was by far my longest day out on the bike. It certainly is one of the longest organised day rides on offer. 200 signed up for the Xtrem, 128 rolled over the start line, 78 finished - whether it is the toughest of all, I'll let you be the judge of that."


Ronde van Calderdale

The organisers say: "This is the 5th running of the Ronde Van Calderdale (RVC) and after riding the 2013 event, a representative from British Cycling asked if the Ronde Van Calderdale is the toughest sportive in Britain? If you want to find out, enter the event."

A relatively new sportive, beginning in 2012, this love song to the spring classic features cobbled climbs. When our reviewer Emma Osenton rode the event in 2013 she said "Hidden behind Shibden Park is Lee Lane, affectionately known as Shibden Wall, it's like a yellow brick road dancing up into the sky, twisting and turning as it does so. Just under a kilometre of cobbled climb, steeper and steeper it winds, the gappy cobbles leave you with little choice but to just keep on climbing (I hear some boys took an easy line up the pavement, chickens!). It's brilliant. I loved it." With a new 72 mile route in 2016, this could be one to watch for 2017.


Bealach Mor

The organisers say: "The Bealach is the UK's biggest road climb at 2053ft (626m) from sea level in just 6 miles (10k). It is set in a fabulous unspoilt landscape with outstanding views of the sea and the hills. The Applecross Peninsula is renowned as a gem in Scotland's croen of natural wonders."

Scotland's Bealach Mor Sportive features Bealach-na-Ba (Cattle Pass) which is the UK's biggest road climb at 626m above sea level in just 10km, and the sportive itself covers 3000m of climbing in 143km. Blogger Fiona Outdoors once said of the climb, "It is so steep in places that my front wheel lifted off the ground as I pushed down hard on my pedals."


Dragon Devil

The organisers say: "The Dragon Devil will certainly not be for the faint hearted. There will be a very limited numbers of places available for this option, so those who are keen will need to get in quickly. Those lucky enough to get a place will be well rewarded with an incredibly stunning cycling route which will take in the 'Rhigos', 'Black Mountain' and the 'Devil's Elbow' - the Dragon ride's signature climbs - with the addition of the 'Devil's Staircase', a climb with a 15% gradient and elevation of 480m."

Cyclosport's Caven O'Hara says "As one of the established sportives in the calendar you have to ride this at least once to appreciate the glory of riding in Wales, and this features such iconic climbs such as the Bwlch, Rhigos, the Devil's Elbow and the Devil's Staircase - spot the theme! It's an evil route through some stunning scenery."


The Saddleback Fred Whitton Challenge

The organisers say: "The ride is a real challenge and everyone who completes it has a true sense of achievement. The Saddleback Fred Whitton Challenge is a charity event in honour of the late Fred Whitton. It is with respect to Fred and his ideals that the event remains just that, 'a challenge' - a test of man and machine."

All of our writer/reviews agreed that the climbs and weather combined to make The Saddleback Fred Whitton Challenge the hardest hilly sportive in the UK. Reviewer Jonathan Cook said of the event, "Riding up Hard Knott (usually in the rain) after 100 miles is a complete killer followed shortly by Wrynose just to finish you off completely."

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