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The Most Challenging Ultra-Distance Races You Must Try

By Martin Atanasov

There is a fine line between riding your bike and going on an ultra-distance race. Well, sure, it’s not that fine but who doesn’t dream of joining such an event? On paper, everything sounds amazing but once you start pedalling, it turns out that going several hundred or even a thousand kilometres is not that easy. To finish such a race, there are several requirements. Firstly, you need dedication. Preparation for the event is a huge deal. The more important requirement, however, is knowing about the races and choosing the one that will suit your riding style. So, today, let’s have a look at 5 of the most daring ultra-distance races you must try.

1. Dragon Devil

Let’s start with something a bit shorter just so we can get your heart pumping. Dragon Devil is one of the UK’s most pristine and iconic sportives. It’s also the longest and most gruelling challenge of the Dragon series. This epic cycling event is not for the faint of heart or those with a penchant for comfort.

Setting off from Port Talbot, there are 296 kilometres ahead, waiting to test your resolve, strength and stamina. The entire race is within the Brecon Beacons National Park, known for its dramatic landscape and challenging climbs. The route will take you through some gorgeous scenery but to get there, you will have to climb a total of 4,614 metres. A piece of cake, right? Riders will face a series of gruelling climbs up Pen y Fan, the highest peak in South Wales, as well as several other challenging ascents.

Unlike most of today’s entries, the Dragon Devil is a single-day event, so no lounging around. This is a day of torture on two wheels, a day when you test your endurance, resolve and strength.

Yet, there’s something irresistible about the Dragon Devil. It’s like trying to tame a dragon—wild, unpredictable, and awe-inspiring. If you complete this epic journey, you’ll earn a Dragon Devil medal as a badge of honour and a lifetime’s worth of stories.

2. Swiss Epic

Perhaps you’re up for something more… mountain bike-ish? How do 340 kilometres of steep mountain trails sound? Perfect, I know. So, the Swiss Epic is precisely what you need.

The Swiss Epic is an annual 8-day mountain bike stage race held in the Grisons Canton of Switzerland. As part of the Legendary tier of Epic Series events, you know this race is not just for anyone. It’s only for the best, and with nearly 13,000 metres of elevation gain in just eight days, it seems you need more than mere legs to pull through.

The best part is that the Swiss Epic is not only for professional riders. Everyone is welcome but entering the event is at your own discretion. Challenging is the least that could be said about this Epic ride.

The stages are not quite as long as other events on this list, as the average is about 70 km per stage. Still, every day, there are at least 2,000 m of climb, which is hard enough. But the task becomes almost impossible when you have to account for the rough Alpe terrain. Well, there’s only one way to find out if you are epic enough of the East Swiss Alpes. Just join the fun. The next event is between 20-24 August 2024. So, pin that day in your calendar.

3. Highland Trail

After a quick detour to the Swiss Alps and the Balkans, let’s get back to Great Britain. More particularly, the North. The Highland Trail 550 is a self-supported ultra-distance mountain bike race that will take you across the Scottish Highlands. Rarely will you find yourself riding in a more serene and picturesque place, but that’s only the added value. What you should be impressed by is the vast distance you will have to cover in a mere ten days. Actually, the fastest riders cover the 890-kilometre distance in just under four days. Now, you may think you can beat the clock and finish it in under three days, and we say good luck. The distance is not the biggest problem here. The 18,500 metres of climbing are.

The route will take you to some of the most gorgeous and picturesque parts of Great Britain. There is a mix of terrain, including singletrack, double track, gravel roads, and remote trails. You will enjoy rugged mountains, dense forests and picturesque lakes, most of them without a prehistoric dinosaur-like creature inside.

This sounds like heaven, no doubt, but this is one race that you can’t underestimate. It’s entirely self-supported, so you will have to take everything you’d need for the 4-10-day ride with you.

But the most enticing feature of this race is the element of navigation. All participants must navigate the route themselves, using GPS and maps only. There are no markings on the route, and participants must find their own way along the route. Now, that’s what I call real fun.

4. Haute Route Alps

If joining the Tour de France has never been an option due to lack of support from a major brand or just your abilities, you can go for the next best thing – Haute Route Alps. Naturally, this is a road-cycling event, and it mimics the Tour’s most thrilling stages. To top it all off, last year’s final was in Nice where the Tour will finish for the very first time next year.

The entire race is 755 km, divided into seven stages. Each stage has at least one HC-category climb but most actually feature at least two of them. In the 2023 event, to show they mean business, the third stage went through Alpe D’Huez twice. Now, that’s how you flex with your route. The combined elevation gain for the entire race was a staggering 20,100 metres.

Naturally, this event is not for beginners. The time limits are truly for semi-professionals, and riding seven days on such steep and demanding routes will take a toll on more than your physical strength.

Still, if you are up for the challenge, follow the organiser’s website closely, as the 2024 events are yet to be announced.

5. Škoda Titan Desert Morocco

Finally, the one event that could make any cyclist tremble with anticipation and respect: the Škoda Titan Desert Morocco. This event is the crème-de-la-crème of cross-country cycling. It’s one of the most challenging experiences you will ever face, yet finishing each of the 6 stages will be so satisfying.

The 600 km route will take you through small towns, vast deserts and rocky valleys. But most importantly, you will experience the genuine lifestyle of the locals. The 6,000+ elevation gain and going through the Atlas Mountains is just a small additional benefit. Without a doubt, the highlight of the event is the marathon stages where you must carry everything you might need.

The Titan Desert is definitely the ground to prove yourself as a true ultra-distance rider. You may go to the Balkans, Great Britain or the Alps but if you have never tried to beat the 37-degree scorching heat in the Moroccan desserts, you can never be a Titan. The 2024 race is yet to be announced, so follow the website closely and act fast. The slots get taken pretty fast.

Some final words

Of course, there are a thousand other ultra-distance races. The 45-Southwest, the TransContinental, and a tonne of others. And, of course, if you are up for a bigger challenge, go straight ahead. Still, before you go on these 4,000+ km long rides, try beating any of the above first. The ultra-distance challenges we suggested might not be the longest but they are undoubtedly the most challenging among them all. So, let’s get pedalling.