Liege Bastogne Liege

The oldest Monument of the spring classics is Liege-Bastogne-Liege, also known as “The Old Lady” or La Doyenne.  Founded in 1892 it is held in late April the last of the five spring classics.

This is one of the most physically demanding of the one-day cycling routes because of the length and also because numerous grueling grades. 11 categorised climbs along the 256km this year with almost 4800m of climbing, Suffice to say, it’s not flat.

Being his usual cannibal self and crushing the rest of the peloton year after year, Eddy Merckx, holds the win record at Liege-Bastogne-Liege with 5 wins.  Moreno Argentin, during the 1980’s and Alejandro Valverde, Spain, during the 2000’s trail Merckx with four wins each.

La Doyenne, due to its length between 250 to 260 kilometers (it can fluctuate based on organiser preference) and the often dozen steep climbs, is a test of will and endurance.  Argentin, described the winners of Liege-Bastonge-Liege as “fondisti” - men with a superior level of endurance.

One of the brutes along the route is the La Redoute. It was compared by Argentin to the Mur De Huy for the sheer damage it does to the leg and the pain it inflicts on the peloton. This climb occurs around 220 to 230 kilometers of racing and is at a 14 to 15 per cent gradient. After the brutal pace and the previous ‘softener’ climbs, just getting over this is a feat.

La Redoute is only one of the 11 climbs featured in this years’ Liege-Bastogne-Liege,  there are 12 total and 2 earn the same degree of difficulty as La Redoute. They are:

Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons at 1.3 km, an average gradient of 11 percent and 10/10 difficulty

Cote de Saint-Nicolas at 1.2 km, an average gradient of 8.6 percent and 10/10 difficulty

Argentin says that the Liege is a race of elimination, a complete test of the cyclist from not only his strength but also intuition and creativity.  

Although the race is the last of the spring classics, scheduled for 28 April this year, the weather continues to play an important part with this race as with the earlier spring races. And as we saw, it was a cold one with. In previous years, severe snowfall provided another test to the riders along with distance in 1919, 1957, 1980 and recently in 2016.  

In 1980 Bernard Hinault, was the first of only 21 riders out of 174 starters to finish the race.  Hinault said it took three weeks for two fingers on his right hand to work properly. .  

One we were all watching for this year, was 2017 winner Alejandro Valverde to see if he could challenge Eddy Merckx, and win 5 times at Liege-Bastogne-Liege.  Much of Valverde success at the Ardennes Classics is due to his ability to combine three different road racing specialties. Valverde is a very good time-trialist, excellent sprinter and a strong climbing specialist.  

If you are looking for that last opportunity to watch an exciting and grueling test of equipment, team work, riders and strategy, suggest you go back and watch the highlights from the race and plan for next year.

So, tuck your bike safe and sound into its bike blanket. The blanket fits like a glove and only takes minutes to put on.  Grab your snow gear and head to Liege-Bastogne-Liege and try to stay on your bike…

Matt Franks