Liège-Bastogne-Liège, also called La Doyenne, is the oldest classic race in the European cycling history. Like many other bike races, the race was started to promote a newspaper. As the newspaper, L’Expresse, was in French language, the route of the race stayed in southern, French-speaking Walloon region of Belgium.
The first race was held in 1892 for amateurs which took them from Spa to Bastogne and back. Since 1894, professional riders have participated in the race. Belgian cyclists have won 59 of 98 editions of Liege-Bastogne-Liege, including the record of five victories by Eddy Merckx.
The race is also famous for it’s 1980 edition where Bernard Hinault overcame raging snow storm to win the race. Out of 174 riders, only 21 managed to finish the race. Hinault covered the last 80kms on his own in biting cold and pelting snow to win the race by a devastating margin of 9’24” ahead of second placed Hennie Kuiper. In Slaying the Badger, Hinault recalls it took three weeks for proper movement to return to two fingers of his right hand and that he still suffers from the scars of that race.
Until 1991 the race finished in Liege city centre, with a flat run in to the finish. From 1992, the finish was moved to the suburb of Ans, on the northern side of the city. Côte de Saint Nicolas was also added to the final kilometres, along with a final climb to the finish in Ans.
The climbs in La Doyenne are longer than Amstel Gold Race and are equally steep. In this year’s edition, the riders will tackle the following ascents.
Km 70.0 – Côte de La Roche-en-Ardenne – 2.8 km climb to 6.2 %
Km 116.5 – Côte de Saint-Roch – 1.0 km climb to 11 %
Km 160.0 – Côte de Wanne – 2.7 km climb to 7.3 %
Km 166.5 – Côte de Stockeu (Stèle Eddy Merckx) – 1.0 km climb to 12.2 %
Km 172.5 – Côte de la Haute-Levée – 3.6 km climb to 5.7 %
Km 185.0 – Col du Rosier – 4.4 km climb to 5.9 %
Km 197.5 – Côte du Maquisard – 2.5 km climb to 5 %
Km 208.0 – Mont-Theux – 2.7 km climb to 5.9 %
Km 223.0 – Côte de La Redoute – 2.0 km climb to 8.8 %
Km 244.5 – Côte de Colonster – 2.4 km climb to 6 %
Km 256.0 – Côte de Saint-Nicolas – 1.2 km climb to 8.6 %
La Redoute is very much like the Mur de Huy of La Flèche Wallonne in that it comes after 220 kilometers and has a gradient of 14-15% at places.
The final climb of Saint-Nicolas is equally crucial and it could hurt the chances of a tiring rider. La Doyenne is a race of trial by elimination, and it requires a strong and a clever rider – who can optimize his efforts and the timing of final attack.
The weather forecast is slightly on the colder side with 12 degrees. With some rain forecasted before Sunday, it could be chillier than other Ardennes Classics.
This is Philippe Gilbert’s home race (he’s from town of Remouchamps where La Redoute starts) and will be his last chance to encash his form at the Ardennes Classics. He showed his strength at Amstel Gold Race and Fleche Wallonne but misjudged the race. He will be desperate to put up a winning show on Sunday. Another rider who will be equally rueing the missed chances is Maxim Iglinskiy of Astana. He has been in solid form this spring and would look to repeat the result from last year. Last year’s runners-up Vincenzo Nibali is now Iglinskiy’s teammate and it will be interesting to see who will be the team leader on Sunday. Not so much the surprise of Ardennes Classics but Daniel Martin showed at Fleche Wallonne that he means business. With the climbs of La Doyenne more suited to his abilities, he will fancy at least a podium finish in a race where he finished fifth last year.
Colombian duo of Carlos Betancur and Segio Henao have been in scintillating form. They made the podium on Wednesday and will certainly look to disrupt World Champion’s home party. Alejandro Valverde and Simon Gerrans could once again go head to head on the climbs of Liege. Both the riders are in great shape and will be eager to deliver the result for their team.
Team Sky has thrown the kitchen sink at the problem of failed Classics season, with Richie Porte and Chris Froome pencilled to start the race. It will be interesting to see how they perform outside the much more controlled environment of stage racing. The dark horse of the race will certainly be Michal Kwiatkowski. The young Pole has been in amazing form since the beginning of this season and with some good results already under his belt, he could go all out for glory.
Click here to see the provisional startlist for 2013 Liège-Bastogne-Liège.