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5 European 2022 Cycling Challenges to Start Getting Ready For

By Martin Atanasov

Summer is at its end and although cycling is a year-round activity, some rides are specifically meant to be in the summer, during the longest days when the weather is most likely to behave. These are the long rides that truly challenge your physical and mental capabilities. Some are daily round trips, and others may take more. For those kinds of adventures, one needs to prepare in advance. So, if you haven’t planned your next year’s big challenges, let us share some of the best trips you can do in Europe.

Paris to London

Riding from London to Paris in just 24 hours sounds like an insane idea, right? Well, every year, hundreds of enthusiasts take this challenge and make the 300-km pilgrimage in one day. The best part is you don’t need to persuade anyone else to go on this adventure. All you need to do is enter the organized event, which will take place on March 30th, 2022. On the other hand, if you are more of a lone rider and prefer not to mix and mingle during this pandemic, you can do the challenge independently. The london2paris website has all the information you will need.

Note that this challenge is definitely not for beginners. It’s best if you have already done a century before you try the London to Paris challenge. Also, if you are doing the ride on your own, make sure you bring enough food, energy gels, drinks, and some appropriate clothes. You will have to spend at least one night in Paris, so booking a hotel or an Airbnb where you can keep your bike safe is a good idea.

Most importantly, don’t forget to take a picture in front of Big Ben at the start and in front of the Eiffel Tower at the end. After finishing, you will need them to brag about your achievement properly.

Alpe d’Huez and Mont Ventoux

If you are a fan of Tour de France (and you probably are, if you are reading this website), then you most likely dream of testing your skills against Tadej Pogačar. Although we can guarantee you won’t get close to the Slovenian, who we strongly suspect is actually a mountain goat who learned how to ride a bike, you should definitely try some (if not all) of Tour de France’s categorized climbs. We suggest either Mont Ventoux or Alpe d’Huez. Or why not both. Alpe d’Huez is probably the most famous climb in the world. With its legendary 21 hairpin turns and 7.9% average gradient, the 13.8 km distance is a challenge for any rider.

Mont Ventoux is a bit longer and a bit steeper. Even though the 21.8-km stretch is only with a 7.43% average gradient, its last 16 km are actually more like a 9% gradient, making it one of the toughest things you will ever do on two wheels. Needless to say, you will have to prepare intensely for these two, especially if you want to do them in one weekend. So if you are up for this challenge in 2022, you should start your preparation right away. Gradually increase your load and start riding in higher altitudes. Remember that the air up there is thinner, and you will have to get used to that.

Mont Ventoux
View of the summit station on Mont Ventoux seen from the western summit road. © Profimedia, AFP

The best part about this challenge is the stunning views, which, unfortunately, you won’t see because you will be too busy staring at your front wheel trying not to throw up your lungs. However, once at the top, you will enjoy not just the magnificent French Alps but also the nature, the views, and, most importantly, the long and well-deserved descent.

Tour du Mont Blanc

If Alpe d’Huez and Mont Ventoux seem to you more like a detour your 3-year-old daughter takes while commuting to the kindergarten or if by any chance you are actually Tadej Pogačar, then you might want to try the Tour du Mont Blanc challenge. People that took the challenge are adamant it’s the single most difficult, lung-busting, leg-destroying ride one could take. The 338-km route has about 8,500 m of positive denivelation. Typically, fit riders do this for two days but that’s not the real challenge now, is it? You are up for something big, for something brutal. So the Tour du Mont Blanc Cyclo race is what you should go after. It will take place on July 16th, 2022, when at 4:58 AM, while you are at the starting line, you will rightfully ask yourself, “what is wrong with me?” In a little less than 24 hours, you will finish the 330-km race and the pain you will feel, although intense, will be nothing compared to the pride and joy of completing the most formidable cycling challenge Europe can offer.

The race crosses through the picturesque mountain slopes of Italy, France, and Switzerland and climbs several peaks that will take your breath away literally and figuratively.

Achieving this challenge is reserved only for the best of the best. Many have tried and failed because there is nothing like this anywhere. It takes years to prepare and if you haven’t made any long-distance mountain trips, better leave this challenge for 2025 at least. However, if you are a passionate roadie and climbing mountain roads is just a formality for you, this race is the thrill you are looking for. Increase your training in the mountains and your muscle load. Try some longer distances in 24 hours and intensify your rides. See how much energy you will need and try to perfect your climbing technique. You will need it if you want to finish the Tour du Mont Blanc Cyclo.

Cycle the Danube

If you are looking for some not-so-mountainous experience and are looking to challenge not your knees, lungs, and muscles but rather your capacity to ride long distances, then the Cycle the Danube should definitely be on your radar. Nearly 3,000 km on the banks of the mighty river, crossing eight countries. Needless to say, this is not something you will do in one day, although if you ride with an average speed of 125 km/h for 24 hours straight, you can do it. However, getting back to reality, this journey will take at least a month if you want to complete the whole challenge. That’s why many choose to ride just a part of it. Generally, the track consists of 4 major divisions: the German part, the Austrian part, the Slovakian/Hungarian part, and the Eastern European part. All of them have one thing in common: flat terrain, which is gradually descending. This makes this challenge perfect even for beginners since taking the path from Donaueschingen where the rivers of Brigach, Breg, Stille Musel, and Riedgraben combine to form the mighty Danube, to Budapest in Hungary is very comfortable and clear. It rarely has any confrontation with other traffic and is filled with picturesque villages, cycling-friendly hotels and cafes, and a lot of comfort for enthusiasts.

On the other hand, if you want to make your trip a bit more challenging, you should continue after Budapest. Keep in mind that although the rest of Hungary might have some cycling commodities around the river, you will have 140 km in Croatia, 380 km in Serbia, and around 870 km in Romania and Bulgaria. These places are not that bike-friendly, and you will have to go through old roads and even some dirt roads. For the Romania-Bulgaria part, keep in mind that there are only two bridges about 400 km apart. So if you decide to ride in Bulgaria, you won’t be able to cross that easily to Romania although there are several ferries on the way. So choose your path carefully and plan ahead.

Staying in bigger cities during the Eastern-European part is recommended. People there are used to foreigners and generally speak at least one foreign language. In the villages, the situation might be different. So plan your stops in Osijek, Novi Sad, Belgrade, Drobeta Turnu Severin, Vidin, Rouse, Calarasi or Silistra, Braila, and other such cities. This trip along the Dunabe is a test of your willpower and a test of your endurance to ride 100 km every single day for a month. If you want to plan this fantastic trip, the Danube Cycle Path website has a lot of critical information you would like to see.

Lisbon to Istanbul

This Pan-European tour is not simply a challenge. This is a lifetime experience only a few have endured. While most challenges are for a day or a weekend and some, like the Danube challenge, are for a month, this one is for a quarter of a year. The Lisbon to Istanbul challenge needs dedication, preparation, and a lot of love for biking. Indeed, only a handful of people have managed to finish this 5,000-km tour. This challenge will take you through 12 countries and 7 European capitals. The total ascent is 13,620 m as you will pass through the heart of the Pyrenees, parts of the Alps, and the Balkan mountains. The most challenging climbs, though, are at the beginning, between Spain and Andorra.

Your journey will start at the Atlantic Ocean near Lisbon. From there, you will head through country roads to Madrid after which you will head northeast to Andorra la Vella. The beautiful French Mediterranean city of Montpellier is your next target from where you will continue along the coast through Marseille, Nice, Monaco, and Genova. Then you will cross the stunning sights of the Emilia-Romagna province in Italy and feast your eyes on the crown jewel that is Venezia.

The route will take you through the beautiful Venezia.

Until this point, your journey will be relatively safe and comfortable. However, once you enter the Balkans, prepare for some more challenging roads even though people there are friendly and always ready to help. Ljubljana and Zagreb are your next goal. Both capitals are lovely places with friendly people, delicious food and have a lot to offer. Once you reach the Danube river on the border between Croatia and Serbia, you are only a month away from your goal.

Belgrade, Rouse, and if you want to make a slight deviation from the main road, you should definitely visit Bucharesti and Veliko Turnovo on your way to Istanbul. Make sure to stay at least one night in Edirne and enjoy the local cuisine. Your journey will end in front of the Hagia Sophia in the centre of Istanbul, right on the edge of Europe.

The journey is not one to be taken lightly. Anyone who dares start it must be prepared to ride for weeks and ultimately sleep in tents, sleeping bags, and generally under the stars. Your bike should be in perfect condition, and you will have to bring a lot with you. This is not a day trip. This is something you will do for at least two months. If you manage to finish this trip, though, you will be one of the very few that did. It’s a pilgrimage and the perfect challenge to put on your bucket list.