Some people head abroad for pleasure, others for business. But there are a select few who travel to the farthest reaches of the planet to find the toughest cycling competitions known to man. Sound like something you’d be interested in? Then this article is for you.
From the harsh mountainous trek of La Ruta de los Conquistadores in Costa Rica; to the Tour Divide that spans from Colorado to New Mexico, these global events are perfect for the intrepid adventurer.
A quick warning before we begin though: the events below will test even the most seasoned rider. These races are not for the faint of heart, so be sure to attempt them at you’re your own risk.

The Tour de France – France

The classic and probably most prestigious competition on our list, the Tour de France is actually much more difficult than it may look. Cyclists travel 2,140 miles over 21 days at an average of 25 mph. This includes mountainous climbs, gruelling time trials and seemingly endless stretches- no wonder Lance Armstrong called it a “contest in purposeless suffering” in his first autobiography.

Tour de France - Purposeless Suffering!
Tour de France – Purposeless Suffering!

La Ruta de los Conquistadores – Costa Rica

Billed as “more of an adventure than a race” by its organisers, which no doubt refers to the event’s title ‘The Route of the Conquistadors’ (early Spanish explorers), this quest is one that should only be undertaken by the bravest of mountain bikers.

Ruta de Los Conquistadores - Costa Rica
Ruta de Los Conquistadores – Costa Rica

The organisers also call this event “the toughest race in the world”, and for good reason too. It’s the original three day fat-tyre stage race, during which cyclists will have to endure the tropical climate of the Costa Rican jungle over five separate mountainous regions, from the Pacific to the Atlantic coast. At least it finishes on a beach!

Race Across America – US

You thought the Tour de France was tough? Trust us when we say you haven’t seen anything yet!
Clocking in at nearly a thousand miles more than the aforementioned tour, Race Across America sees its competitors pass through 12 different states. It’s worth pointing out that this is a race, it isn’t broken up into different stages, this is one continuously gruelling challenge, with no pre-planned rest stops.
Because it’s a non-stop competition, riders must finish in a specific time, with teams having only nine days to finish the entire course, and solo riders receiving a slightly more generous 12. This means that in order to even have a chance of finishing you’ll need to ride up to 350 miles every day. Most solo riders end up only having 2 hours of sleep over the intense 12 day period, so it’s highly advisable to enter as a team if possible.
Registration is now open, so head on over to the RAAM site to take part if you think you’ve got what it takes.

Trans Pyr – Spain

The Alps may be Europe’s most popular mountain range, but it’s the Pyrenees where you’ll find the cyclists looking for a real challenge.
This coast to coast race allows brave mountain bikers to properly take in the charming Spanish scenery from amazing heights. During the eight days spent traversing the rough edges of the jagged mountains, cyclists will climb over a total of 66,600 feet; which in comparison is the same as ascending Mount Everest twice and still having nearly 9,000 feet to travel. If you’re an avid mountain biker looking to test your stamina, skill and resolve, then this race is for you.

Tour Divide – Canada/US

Two American races in one post? That’s outrageous! We hear you, but the reason the US features so prominently on this list is because of its sheer size and dynamic landscapes. This of course leads to some pretty outstanding bike routes; take the Great Divide for example.

The Great Continental Divide by Bike
The Great Continental Divide by Bike.

The world’s longest off-pavement cycling route takes rider over 2745 miles of beaten track, through the mountainous valleys of the Canadian Rockies all the way to the border of New Mexico. The fastest the grand tour has ever been officially completed in is 15 days; if you think you could beat that, you better be prepared to brave the American wilderness in all its glory, encountering forest fires, mountain lions and steep rocky outcrops. We recommend taking a team along with you, this is not one to go at alone.
That’s it for our selection, but what do you think? If you’ve competed in a tougher race before, or know of a competition more demanding than any of the above, sound off in the comments section below and let us know.
About The Author
This article was written on behalf of Merlin Cycles, one of the UK’s longest established online bike shops and mail order cycling specialists in operation today.