Riding is Life


Classics-inspired amateur races you can enter this spring

Not all of us can be in Belgium this spring, so here are some closer options.

Caley Fretz
by Caley Fretz 29.02.2024 Photography by
Joe Depaemelaere | Boulder Roubaix or courtesy race organizers
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Back in the good old days, before gravel bikes, when races were uphill both ways and we rode them on 23 mm tubulars and we liked it, races like Boulder Roubaix were an exciting and sometimes terrifying split from the norm. We charged across the rolling dirt hills northeast of town, part pavement, part packed dirt, hard and fast and wild. 

Gravel racing’s rise may have made such events slightly less unique, but the lure is still there. Particularly this time of year, as we watch the biggest names in the sport take on their own mixed-surface challenges in Europe. Racing on “bad” surfaces is a hoot. You likely have one of these types of races nearby. 

So, we put out a call for suggestions. This is a crowdsourced list of mixed-surface races inspired by the cobbled classics. Some of them trend more toward the gravel race end of the spectrum, some are still pure road races with a bit of dirt or gravel. I’m absolutely sure we’ve missed some great ones – drop them into the comments.


Boulder Roubaix | Boulder County, Colorado | April 6

Held the day before men’s Paris-Roubaix, this one is a personal favorite, and a race many of the Colorado-based EC staff have participated in. It features a 19 km loop through a mix of dirt and pavement north of Boulder, Colorado. Conditions on the day can vary massively, from glass-smooth packed dirt to horribly rutted and nasty. Race lengths vary from one lap to five, depending on category. This is a road race, first and foremost; you’ll see a few gravel bikes but the roads are commonly ridden on 28 mm tires (or far smaller, as I alluded to in the intro here).

The event doesn’t run every year, so jump on it. It’s run by longtime Colorado promoter Chris Grealish with help from the University of Colorado collegiate cycling team. Bonus: Because this isn’t a gravel race, you don’t pay gravel race prices. An entry is a very reasonable $65, or $30 for the collegiate categories.

Rouge Roubaix | St. Francisville, Louisiana | March 9

Rouge Roubaix started as a group ride and morphed into a race in the early 2000s. It’s a 93-mile race through the the back roads of West Feliciana Parish and Wilkinson County, Mississippi with every road surface you can imagine. Chip seal, sand, gravel, lovely asphalt, and nasty, gravelly dirt are all on the menu.

There’s a short-course option at 50 miles. The front of the field will be on road bikes but gravel bikes with fast tires are a decent choice too.

Road Apple Roubaix | Garrettsville, Ohio | March 2

Less race-oriented than Boulder Roubaix and Rouge Roubaix, Road Apple Roubaix is a gravel ride through the Amish country of Garrettsville, Ohio, with 27- and 47-mile options. This year is its 10th anniversary and sure to be a good one. Everyone gets a free t-shirt, pint glass, free drink, and, most importantly, a free bowl of chili. Registration is $50.

Barry-Roubaix | Hastings, Michigan | April 20

Unfortunately, this excellent event is already sold out for 2024. You can jump on the waitlist, though.

Barry-Roubaix has four different distances, from 18 to 100 miles, and riders will encounter roughly 80% off-road surfaces, including a mile of rough two-track. Given the location, mud and even snow are a distinct possibility in late April. The longest route features over 7,000 feet of climbing.

Juniors under 18 race free, and there’s a very cool youth team competition.

Dairy Roubaix | Wisconsin | April 27

More gravel ride than Roubaix homage race, this is a one-day, unsupported off-pavement jaunt through the fantastic riding country of Southwest Wisconsin. There are three loops, the longest of which is 111 miles with over 8,000 feet of climbing. You’ll tackle farm roads, gravel, even a bit of singletrack, and a big party at the end.

Plus, it’s free! Well, you’ll need $10 to get into the state park, but otherwise it’s free. The organizers recommend making a donation to Vernon Trails.

Heck of the North | Two Harbors, Minnesota | September 28

No potty mouths here, but the event is heckin hard. Heck of the North is a 16-year-old event on the Eastern edge of Minnesota. The three routes – 105, 56, and 18 miles – all feature a hefty dose of off-road riding and organizers recommend tires in the 35-40 mm range. A course highlight is the final two miles of doubletrack dubbed the Alger Grade Forest, an homage to the Arenberg Forest.

Europe + UK

Those of you in cycling’s traditional heartland are spoiled for choice, and of course, have the actual Classics courses nearby. 

Paris-Roubaix Challenge | Roubaix, France | April 6

Having done this one a few times, I can say that doing it once is enough, but everybody should do it once. Like the race itself, it’s miserable and beautiful and punishingly hard. Raging onto the Arenberg with your buddies and turning right into the velodrome are sublime experiences. It takes place the day before the men’s race, on the same day as the women’s race, so you can watch the women finish too.

The pro’s tires have gotten bigger and bigger, and so should yours. Pull out the gravel bike, run some plush, fat tires (I think a 35 is probably the sweet spot), and enjoy.

Ronde van Vlaanderen Cyclo | Oudenaarde, Belgium | March 30

Total entrants for this event top 10,000, making for an often chaotic but always enjoyable day. The courses mimic the race route, and Flanders is in peak cycling fever just a day before the main event. The longest is 237 km, the shortest is 74. All take in the key iconic climbs, including the Muur, Paterberg, Kwaremont, and Koppenberg.

My top tip is to leave late unless you’re planning on racing with the front groups. The course stays closed all day and if you roll out an hour or more after the masses you have a better chance at a clear run at the iconic climbs. Getting stuck in a large group means a near 100% chance of getting stopped and walking up a few of them.

Rutland – Melton International CiCLE Classic | Rutland to Melton, UK  | April 28

This is no jaunty gravel ride. Luke Lamperti, now signed with Soudal-Quick Step, won the event last year. This is the premier one-day race on the UK calendar. The 180 km course is a mix of paved roads and farm tracks, quite similar to Tro Bro Leon across the pond in France.

There is a sportif version, for those not quite of Lamperti’s caliber. It takes place a day earlier, on the 27th, and costs just £15.

Galway Classic | Ryehill Demesne, Ireland | August 3-4

The Galway Classic is a two-day event with a sportive on Saturday and road race on Sunday. The race is serious stuff and is designed to be “a true Classics-style race,” according to organizers. It takes place on a mix of paved lanes and farm tracks, with equipment choice trending toward the road end of things.

The A1/A2 category race is 151 km and has twelve sectors of the nasty stuff.

Ronde Van Calderdale | Liversedge, UK | April 28

This might be the closest thing to racing the Tour of Flanders without going to Belgium. Designed to mimic the Flanders route, the event has fourteen cobbled climbs over 74 miles. That’s right, cobbled climbs. Not farm tracks or gravel, but cobbles. It was described to me as a “proper brutal day in the saddle, beer and pork pie for all finishers,” which sounds like the perfect day.

It’s run by the Kirklees Cycling Academy, a development program, and all proceeds go to the Academy, which uses those funds for everything from paying for quality coaching to buy rollers for juniors.

En forårsdag i Hell-singør (A spring day in Hell-singør”) | April 7

The prize for first place in this Danish event is a huge block of sandstone carved from the Kronberg Castle. The 79 km-long race is put on by local club CK Kronberg and features 18 km of gravel paths, 1 km of cobblestones, and 59 km of paved roads. The long version will set you back 380 DKK, roughly €50. That’s about all I can figure out because the site is in Danish – if anybody has raced this one, drop into the comments.


Paris-Ancaster | Paris and Ancaster, Ontario | April 28

This event calls itself “Canada’s Spring Classic,” and the name seems fitting. It’s been running since 1994 and covers a range of farm tracks, gravel roads, and trails over three different distances. Top competitors include the Canadian cyclocross champions Maghalie Rochette and Tyler Clark.

Gravel bikes are the equipment of choice these days. Most of the categories sell out, so get on it.

Almonte Paris-Roubaix | Almonte, Ontario

Put on by the Ottawa Bicycle Club, Almonte Paris-Roubaix offers 80 km or 40 km versions, both filled with a combination of “paved roads and abominations,” which is a great way to describe bad road surfaces. It’s a ride, not a race, with open roads and such, but usually fills its 200-rider max.

I can’t find any info on the 2024 version. Hopefully it’s still happening. Again, drop in the comments if you have info and I’ll update.

De Ronde Van Cowtown | Calgary

A less-formal (close to underground) ride through the Western side of Calgary, covering roughly 75 km, depending on the year. It starts at the Eau Claire market square and finishes at Fergus and Bix Pub, covering 18 climbs with varying surfaces in between.

Wolfville Roubaix | Port Williams | April 14 or 21

We have very little info on this event, other than a few Facebook posts, but it comes recommended. A post last weekend indicated that the event date hasn’t been set yet, but is likely to be either April 14 or 21. Somebody in the Nova Scotia cycling scene send us some details and we’ll add them.


Melburn Roobaix | Melbourne, Australia | June 30

An icon of Melbourne cycling, FYXO’s Melburn-Roobaix was initially formulated as an Australian take on the ‘alleycat’ races of bike courier culture. Over the almost two decades of its existence, it’s become a more all-encompassing thing: a scavenger hunt format with lots of costumes, lots of cobbles, and attracting a wide spread of riders on all kinds of bikes. The course is different each year, taking in a number of sectors of cobbles or rough terrain around the city’s inner suburbs, before finishing with a victory lap at the Brunswick Velodrome. There are no prizes for coming first, but everyone’s a winner.

Hell of the South | Cygnet, Tasmania | Date TBD

A 60 km race run by the Hobart Wheelers for over 20 years, the Hell of the South includes 8 km of gravel and plenty of climbing. It’s run as a handicapped race, meaning riders are put in groups based on predicted speed, with the fastest going off last. The race takes place in southern hemisphere spring and 2024 dates haven’t been set yet.

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