Tour of the Battenkill
Cambridge, New York
Cobblestone. Mud. Crashes. These setbacks are synonymous with the Spring Classics, a string of grueling, one-day European races dating as far back as the 19th century. For years, Americans have yearned for their own version of these events. In 2005, that dream turned into reality with the Tour of the Battenkill. "While most road races were confined a few years ago to office-park circuits or downtown criteriums, very few offered the kinds of point-to-point courses we obtained with the Tour of the Battenkill," says Dieter Drake, the event's director. Drake says the race features 65 miles of "great crowds, challenging climbs, covered bridges, and dirt roads—all in settings that rival Europe's."
Tour of America's Dairyland
The Tour de France might be out of reach, but you can race with former Tour riders in the Midwest. Spanning 11 days in June, the Tour of America's Dairyland covers some of Wisconsin's most iconic routes, plus some of the largest, most competitive courses in the region. Racers can cherry-pick individual events or complete the entire series, enjoying a tour of the state in the process. In keeping with its regional nickname, the event treats riders to complimentary, ice-cold chocolate milk.
Tour of the Gila
Silver City, New Mexico
May through April
If you're looking for the toughest amateur race in the U.S., look no further than the Gila. Over the last 27 years, Silver City's premier cycling event has challenged professionals and amateurs alike. "Our five-day stage race, set in a historic and bike-friendly mining town, includes racing against fierce winds, mountains as steep as the most iconic climbs in the sport, and a dry climate at altitude," says Rebecca Reza, the tour's media director. "In recent years, we've become a launchpad for young professionals looking to make that jump overseas." In case you're not quite ready to go big time or land a pro contract, the event includes a four-day race for lower-category racers and four gran fondos with lengths ranging from 32 to 103 miles.
Joe Martin Stage Race
The 37-year-old Joe Martin Stage Race is one of the hardest road bike events in the country. More than 700 professional and amateur cyclists duke it out on about 200 miles of extremely hilly Arkansas roads for a chance to win a piece of the $50,000 pie. The four-day stage race is part of the National Race Calendar—USA Cycling's elite amateur and pro tour—ensuring the interest of some of the country's best athletes. "It was fun to be exposed to the hilly terrain of the Joe Martin Stage Race," says Category 1 cyclist Will Nowak, who competed in the event several years ago. "I crashed out of the race in the second stage, so I wasn't exposed to the even steeper portion, or to the brutal criterium, but staging the first road race in Wal-Mart's first location was a highlight anyway."
Memorial Day Races
http://www.memorialdayweekendbikeraces.com If you're a bike racer from the Midwest, you've likely spent the last few Memorial Day weekends toting your bike around Iowa and Illinois for the area's most celebrated bike-race series. The fun starts Friday with the Burlington Road Race—a 95-mile out-and-back course through flat country. Then there's the Snake Alley Criterium on Saturday. Arguably the best-known of the four races, the circuit includes a two-block-long sprint up a painfully steep, cobbled alley that's been called the Lombardi Street of the Midwest. "We love welcoming racers from around the world to the Snake Alley Criterium," says community leader Steve Frevert. "This is a big deal for a small city in Iowa, and the fact that 2014 will see our 32nd annual race shows we're respected in the cycling world. Certainly the uniqueness of Snake Alley itself is a big draw." If your quads are still functioning the next day, you can register for the Melon City Criterium in Muscatine, Iowa. This fast crit includes a large speed bump at the bottom of a twisty descent. The series wraps up on Monday with the Quad Cities Criterium in Rock Island, Illinois. Here's a fast, flat crit, so watch out for pileups in the last quarter-mile as teams jockey to get their sprinters in position.
Pescadero Coastal Classic
This spectacular event takes riders over sand dunes and through redwood groves along the coast of California. The race consists of a 28-mile loop that the top male riders will complete more than three times. There are 1,500 feet of climb per lap, so get ready for some leg-burning hills and long, twisty descents. If you're feeling strong, you can sprint for a prime or save your legs for the finish—this classic offers more than $2,600 in cash prizes.