Liège–Bastogne–Liège is known as La Doyenne, or ‘the oldest’, having been first run in 1892. Not only is it the oldest, but it’s also arguably the toughest of the three Ardennes Classics, with a series of punishing climbs on the ride back towards Liège leaving only the strongest riders at the finish. Add in the prospect of wet weather, and you’ve got quite a race on your hands!
What kind of race is it?
Like the two previous Ardennes Classics – and perhaps even more so – Liège–Bastogne–Liège is a race which favours the GC riders as well as the puncheurs. The sheer number and difficulty of the climbs have meant that the likes of Andy Schleck and Alejandro Valverde have taken victory in the past.
The race starts in Liège’s Saint-Lambert square, before heading south to Bastogne, and back up to the suburb of Ans on the northern side of Liège, where the race has finished since 1992. The race boasts 11 steep, frequent climbs, with the majority coming in the latter half of the 257.5km course.
The most famous climb is without doubt La Redoute (which comes with 35km to go), 2km long with an average gradient of 8.8%, on which the race has been decided numerous times in the past. However, since the course was tweaked in 2008 the ascent of La Roche aux Faucons, 20km from the finish, 238km into the race, has proven to be equally crucial. It’s the penultimate climb, with a punishing 1.5km at 9.3%. Unlike at Amstel Gold or Flèche Wallonne, there’s no notable climb at the finish.
Winners in the last five years:
2007: Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas)
2008: Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne)
2009: Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank)
2010: Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana)
2011: Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)
What happened last year?
Omega Pharma-Lotto’s Philippe Gilbert completed his Ardennes triple, with a win on home soil at Liège–Bastogne–Liège. He was brought up just a few kilometres away from La Redoute, making this race all the more important for the Walloon, who held off the Schleck brothers to take the win.
Gilbert, the Schlecks and Greg Van Avermaet were together on the final climb of the Côte de Saint Nicolas, with the former attacking with around 6km to the finish. It was Frank who stayed locked on to Gilbert’s wheel, while Andy appeared to fall away with Van Avermaet.
But, with the course flattening out towards the finish, Andy managed to claw his way back, leaving Gilbert in the middle of a Schleck sandwich. Not known as the best riders tactically, the Schlecks contrived to throw away this hugely advantageous situation, with Andy giving Gilbert a handy tow up to the line, where he could open his sprint and take the victory. Frank finished second, with Andy third.
1. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 6:13:18
2. Frank Schleck (Leopard-Trek) same time
3. Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek) s/t
4. Roman Kreuziger (Astana) +0:24
5. Rigoberto Uran (Sky) s/t
6. Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo Bank-Sungard) s/t
7. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) +0:27
8. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) +0:29
9. Bjorn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM) +0:39
10. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) s/t
Who to watch
Philippe Gilbert (BMC) has had a disappointing spring so far, but his form has gradually been improving and he comes into this race as the favourite.
He’ll face stiff competition from Lampre’s Damiano Cunego, who won a stage at this week’s Giro del Trentino, and finished second overall. The Italian has never really delivered the promise he showed after winning the Giro d’Italia in 2004. Now 30, Il Piccolo Principe is in the form to improve on his career-best third at Liège–Bastogne–Liège.
The flat finish of L-B-L doesn’t really suit Flèche Wallonne winner Joaquim Rodriguez, but he finished second in this race in 2009. He’s in superb form, as demonstrated in his dominating victory mid-week, and will no doubt be in contention again come Sunday.
Both Schleck brothers are riding and can’t be counted out, with Vincenzo Nibali‘s form gradually improving. Like the Italian, the parcours of L-B-L suits the better climbers, such as Samuel Sanchez, who’s yet to win a Classic this spring.
If you fancy an outside bet, then either Michael Albasini or Jelle Vanendert would be good picks, as both have been on superb form so far this spring, finishing second in Flèche Wallonne and Amstel Gold respectively.
Link: Official website