10 Bucket-List Cycling Races in the U.S.

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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10 Bucket-List Cycling Races in the U.S.

While you might not be able to head overseas to tackle the historic climbs of the Tour de France, the good news is there are still plenty of bucket-list cycling races to conquer domestically.

To experience an unforgettable day on the bike, give one of these 10 must-do races in the U.S. a try.

tour of california

Photo courtesy of: Scott

Tour of California Race Experience
Where: California
When: Mid to late May

If you’ve ever dreamed of experiencing what the pros go through in a stage race, this is your chance. Put on by Carmichael Training Systems, you’ll race the entire Tour of California state race hours before the pro peloton comes through. If you go too slowly, you’ll be pulled off the course to allow the pros to pass, which makes this a true race against the world’s best. The ride is fully supported with professional mechanics, team cars and feed zones. You’ll also be put up in the same hotels as the pros, so you may be able to rub elbows at the dinner table. This is a true one-of-a-kind experience.

Dirty Kanza 200

Photo courtesy of: Adventure Monkey

Dirty Kanza 200
Where: Flint Hills region of Kansas
When: May (first Saturday after Memorial Day)

With only 34 participants in the 2006 inaugural event, the race has swelled to over 1,500 riders seeking to challenge themselves in one of the premier ultraendurance gravel races in the world. The terrain makes this race unique. This remote, rugged region is truly unforgiving and is one of only two remaining tallgrass prairies on the planet. If the 200-mile race is a bit too tough of a challenge, you can also attempt the half-pint, which is a slightly more manageable 100-mile adventure.

Tour of Battenkill
Where: Greenwich, New York
When: Late May

Dubbed America’s Queen of the Classics, this backcountry challenge will take you through beautiful rural villages, family farms and plenty of the region’s historic bridges. It’s also one of the largest competitive pro/amateur cycling races in the country, though a noncompetitive 68-mile Gran Fondo is also an option if you prefer slower speeds.

Race Across America
Where: Oceanside, California, to Annapolis, Maryland
When: June

No bucket list will ever be complete without the Race Across America. This ultraendurance event conquers 3,000 miles, 12 states and over 170,000 feet of vertical terrain. It’s also 30% longer than the Tour de France. Does that sound hard? Did we mention that if you tackle the event solo, you’ll only have 12 days to make it to the finish line? For those lucky few who do make it all the way to Annapolis, it no doubt will be one of the pinnacles of achievement you’ll experience in your lifetime.

Mt. Tam

Photo courtesy of: DSC_0201

Mt. Tam Century Ride
Where: Marin County, California
When: Early August

Long regarded as one of the most beautiful rides in northern California, this event will take you from the coast up to some of the most epic climbs in the region. You’ll also be rewarded with a descent through the redwoods, views of inland lakes and lots of twists and turns to the Alpine Dam. The 100-mile ride features plenty of climbing that you’ll need to be in shape for, but the breathtaking region can only be truly experienced in the saddle. Note: For 2016, the century and double century races have been canceled, but the other events are still planned.

Tour of Utah Ultimate Challenge
Where: Utah (exact location varies)
When: Early August

To check this event off your list, you’re going to need plenty of fitness. Claiming to be one of the hardest single-day cycling events in the country, this epic race lets participants tackle the most grueling stage (it changes each year) of the Tour of Utah — known for being one of the most difficult and scenic events on the professional circuit. The severity of the climbs promise to make your legs and lungs scream for mercy, but all that suffering only makes the views at the top all that more stunning. Course details are usually announced each year in May or June.

Leadville 100 MTB
Where: Leadville, Colorado
When: Mid August

One of the most famous and grueling mountain bike races in the world, the Leadville 100 tackles the daunting terrain of the Rocky Mountains. You’ll climb as high as 13,000 feet and have to deal with a 12-hour cutoff that will ultimately be harder to avoid than you might think. Each year only about 65% of participants end up finishing the entire 100 miles, making this race a rewarding, epic day on the bike if you happen to become one of the lucky few.

Crater Lake Century
Where: Crater Lake, Oregon
When: Late August

Whoever decided to build a road surrounding Crater Lake definitely deserves our applause. Formed by a volcanic eruption over 7,000 years ago, the lake is the seventh deepest in the world and is one of those places that will leave you in awe. The century ride begins at the Klamath County Museum, where you’ll have to climb 3,000 feet to reach the rim of the crater. From there, you’ll witness the beauty of the Cascade Range with constant views of the lake and steep cliffs below.

Where: Hastings, Michigan
When: Late March

The largest gravel bike race in the world belongs to Hastings, Michigan. The attraction of this race is the competition and the difficulty of the conditions. Over $32,000 in prize money is offered to the winners of the 62-mile race, which features just about every type of terrain you can image — from rolling gravel to sections of mud or snow. While it won’t take you through the cobbles of Belgium like its namesake Paris-Roubaix, you can expect a race that will be just as memorable.

Sea Otter Cycling Classic
Where: Monterey, California
When: Mid April

If you love cycling, attending the Sea Otter Classic is a must. The weekend-long event features everything from downhill mountain biking to one of the most popular Gran Fondos in the country. All totaled there are over 10,000 competitors and 65,000 roadside fans to cheer you on. The festivities also include plenty of pro events and one of the largest cycling exhibitions in the world, making this weekend a celebration of cycling unlike any other.

About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for Active.com.


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