Liège-Bastogne-Liège preview

Liege logo

Known as ‘La Doyenne’ or ‘The Oldest,’ Liège-Bastogne-Liège isn’t just the hardest of the three Ardennes classics, it’s also the most prestigious. With this, the 99th edition of a race which was first run in 1892, it has had a few alterations to the circuit that ensure its unpredictability.

What kind of race is it?

Maxim Iglinsky Liege 2012

Iglinskiy powers to victory in 2012 (Image: Astana)

As the name would suggest, Liège-Bastogne-Liège starts in the Belgian city of Liège before the riders head south towards (you’ll never guess!) … Bastogne. It’s here where they’ll turn around and head back towards Liège, with the race finishing just north of where it started, in the suburb of Ans.

The parcours gets progressively harder, with the majority of the serious climbs all over the back end of the course, giving the riders very little respite in between. Its difficulty and vintage combine to make this race very prestigious, and it is telling that Eddy Merckx has won here more times than anyone else.

One of its quirks is that – despite the climbs throughout the race – there is no notably difficult ascent to the finish, unlike the other two Ardennes races we’ve already seen. The race kicks up with around 1.5km to go, though the road is wide and the 50m ascent is far from as punishing as the likes of the Mur de Huy or the Cauberg.

2008: Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne)

2009: Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank)

2010: Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana)

2011: Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)

2012: Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana)

What happened last year?

It was one of the most exciting finishes of the season, as Astana’s Maxim Iglinskiy took the biggest win of his career. He timed a late attack to perfection, agonisingly catching Liquigas’ Vincenzo Nibali, who had made his move earlier on the Côte de la Redoute. The Kazakh passed Nibali with a kilometre to go, with the Italian seeming to grind to a halt. Over that final kilometre he lost an incredible 21 seconds, with Enrico Gasparotto (Astana) completing the podium, finishing over half-a-minute down on the eventual winner.

1. Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana) 6:43:52

2. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) +0:21

3. Enrico Gasparotto (Astana) +0:36

4. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) same time

5. Daniel Martin (Garmin-Barracuda) s/t

6. Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) s/t

7. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) s/t

8. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) s/t

9. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) s/t

10. Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Belisol) s/t

Click here for our full review of last year’s race.

This year’s race

The major alteration to this year’s parcours is the dropping of the Côte de Roche aux Faucons, the tough climb from which Nibali made his almost-winning attack in 2012. Roadworks and other issues have meant that it has been dropped and replaced with the Côte de Colonster, which isn’t nearly as difficult.

The Faucons climb is almost half the length of the Colonster, though with an average gradient of 10% compared to under 6%, the true puncheurs won’t be appreciative of the move to drop it. The result is that we will see a larger group of riders at the foot of the final categorised climb (the Côte de Saint Nicolas) and the chances of a daring solo breakaway breakaway move paying off are slimmer.

Liege profile 2013

Who to watch

PhilGil is still chasing his maiden win in the rainbow jersey (image: Davide Calabresi)

PhilGil is still chasing his maiden win in the rainbow jersey (Image: Davide Calabresi)

Home favourite Philippe Gilbert (BMC) mistimed his attack at La Flèche Wallonne in midweek, and ended up rolling over the line way down on the eventual winner. He still doesn’t seem to be in peak condition, though having improved over recent weeks, he can’t be completely discounted. Wanting to make amends for a disappointing classics campaign that has seen him winless in the rainbow jersey, of the finish the world champion has said, “I will be there.”

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) is now riding for the team of the rider who narrowly passed him in the closing kilometre last year. Looking to make amends, Nibali will miss the Côte de la Redoute, though shouldn’t be counted out.

The Spanish duo of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) will lead their respective teams, with the former looking in particularly mean shape. For the latter, he hasn’t been on his best form recently, though as was shown at La Flèche Wallonne, his teammate Daniel Moreno is a more than adequate stand-in.

Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) is in unquestionably excellent form, having already won the Volta a Catalunya this spring. He battled from near the back of the peloton to finish in fourth place, and he could well better the fifth place finish he managed at this race last year.

Liège-Bastogne-Liège takes place on Sunday 21st April. Live coverage will be shown on Eurosport. For other options check Follow @velovoices for race coverage if you’re out and about.

Link: Official website

The Musette: Cassoulet

Last week’s recipe would have fed four hungry cyclists, but I only had two to feed. So, what to do with the leftovers? I made that French classic cassoulet. Now, there are a million and one recipes for this dish  – named after its cooking vessel – but my version leans towards the one from Toulouse which uses cold roast shoulder of lamb. In essence, the dish mixes cold roast meats and sausages with tomatoey cannellini or haricot beans and is topped with breadcrumbs. Continue reading

Giro del Trentino: Astana trumps Sky again

Giro del Trentino logoVincenzo Nibali triumphed once more on Italian soil in the 37th edition of this race, which serves as an amuse-bouche for next month’s Giro d’Italia. Nibali’s Astana team nearly made a clean sweep of the final podium with Nibali taking both the overall and King of the Mountains, Astana was named best team and 2013 recruit Fabio Aru won the Best Young Rider competition. The wonderfully named Jarlinson Pantano  took the points jersey for Team Colombia.

The Shark sinks is teeth into stage and overall (image: Giro del Trentino site)

A man who’s accustomed to opening the bubbly, Vincenzo Nibali, Giro del Trentino winner 2013 (image: Giro del Trentino site)

Race summary

Maxime Bouet (Ag2r) outsprinted Josef Cerny (CCC Polsat) and Michael Rodriguez (Colombia) to claim victory as the day’s eight-man breakaway survived on Stage 1a’s 128km benign sortie around Lienz, Austria. Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani) led home the main bunch at 6:51 down, saving their legs for the afternoon’s 14.1km team time trial. This was the Frenchman’s first victory since 2010 when he won Stage 3 of the Tour de l’Ain. Bouet dedicated his victory to his unborn baby, due in August.

Ag2r are having a cracking season as Maxime Bouet wins stage 1a from a break! (image: Ag2r La Mondiale)

Ag2r are having a cracking season as Maxime Bouet wins stage 1a from a break (image: Ag2r La Mondiale)

However, Boeut wasn’t to wear the jersey for long. In the afternoon’s straightforward team time trial, his Ag2r team finished 15th and he ceded the jersey to Cerny. Sky won in a time of 15:20, with second-placed Astana 13 seconds back.

These boys get plenty of practice opening bottles of my favourite tipple! (image: Sky)

These boys get plenty of practice opening bottles of my favourite tipple! (image: Sky)

Illustrating the depth and strength of the Sky squad, Kanstantsin Siutsou resisted Mauro Santambrogio’s (Vini Fantini) late charge to win Stage 2 atop Vetriolo Terme after he’d counter-attacked off the front of the bunch with less than 10km to the summit. Initially, the Belarusian had the company of Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani) and Pierre Rolland (Europcar) but they were unable to resist as he ratcheted up the pace. Bouet moved back into the leader’s cyclamen jersey as Cerny lost time on the final climb. However it was the duel between Sky’s Bradley Wiggins and Vincenzo Nibali that was most keenly observed, with the pair matching one another’s moves and crossing the line together.

The Honey Baer is back! (image: Sky)

The Honey Bear is back! (Image: Sky)

Ivan Santaromita (BMC) beat his breakaway companions Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) and Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) to the line on a lumpy Stage 3 to Condino. The trio had been part of the day’s early 11-man break but had dropped the others, on Scarponi’s initiative, on the final climb of the Daone.

It was yet another day when the GC contenders were content to mark one another, all arriving together with race leader Bouet over a  minute down on the Italian, who recorded his first win since taking the overall in the 2010 Settimana Coppi e Bartali. Bouet retained his 3:19 advantage over Siutsou but the team lost defending champion Domenico Pozzovivo, who crashed out early in the stage.

Early birthday present for Ivan Santaromita (image: BMC)

Early birthday present for Ivan Santaromita, he’s 29 at the end of the month          (Image: BMC)

Stage 4 was supposed to be the eagerly awaited Clash of the Titans, with Giro hopefuls Nibali and Wiggins battling it out for supremacy. However, Nibali triumphed atop the final stage to take overall victory ahead of fellow Italian Santambrogio after Wiggins’s challenge was derailed by problems with his electronic gearing at the base of the final climb: cue Pinarello toss.

Astana set out their stall early on with Tiralongo and Aru setting a Sky-like tempo up the lower slopes to take back the remnants of the day’s 10-man break, distance race leader Bouet and whittle the leading group down to a dozen. Tantalisingly, just as Wiggins had almost worked his way back to the leading group, Nibali lit the turquoise-blue touchpaper, with only Santambrogio able to cling for dear life onto his rear wheel. Three kilometres later, The Shark kicked again, soloing across the finish line eight seconds clear of Santambrogio, 44 seconds up on Aru and Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida) and, crucially, 4:42 ahead of Bouet.

The Shark sinks is teeth into stage and overall (image: Giro del Trentino site)

The Shark sinks his teeth into Stage 4 and overall (Image: Giro del Trentino site)

After the race, Nibali commented:

Winning on a climb like this is for me the most important reward at this time. From here there is still time until the Giro, Wiggins is the main rival, but I have seen progress in both Evans and Basso. As for me, it’s comforting to know we can count on a very competitive team that here, as earlier in Tirreno-Adriatico, we’ve done nothing wrong tactically. We’ll have to see about Liege on Sunday, I made a major effort today,  the opponents are strong and numerous. We’ll see.

Analysis & opinion

This race has provided us with a snapshot of what it’s going to be like in next month’s Giro d’Italia. Think last year’s Vuelta, but with bells on it! Although we didn’t have an Astana v Sky showdown and Astana has already triumphed twice, at Sky’s expense, on Italian soil this year, May could be an entirely different story. Apart from today’s understandable tantrum, Wiggins has looked tranquillo all week, ridden well within himself and the team were dominant in the team time trial. Astana look to have taken a leaf out of Sky’s book but they also have Alexandre Vinokourov at the helm, which has intensified the team’s attacking instincts.

What of the other Giro contenders at the race? Cadel Evans (BMC) looks to be finding form while Ivan Basso still looked a bit off the pace, but there’s time. There’s probably not enough time for Pozzovivo to get back to form after broken ribs, however AG2R will be delighted with Maxime Bouet’s performance.

Elsewhere it was great to see riders who don’t often get an opportunity to win seizing the moment. Take a bow Messrs Bouet, Santaromito and Siutsou not, of course, forgetting the ProConti teams who animated the race, especially Messrs Santambrogio and Pirazzi.


1. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) 17:49:11

2. Mauro Santambrogio (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia) +00:21

3. Maxime Bouet (Ag2r La Mondiale) +00:55

4. Fabio Aru (Astana) +01:16

5. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) +01:40

6. Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida) +01:45

7. Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani Valvole CSF Inox) +02:15

8. Cadel Evans (BMC) +02:18

9. Stefano Locatelli(Bardiani Valvole CSF Inox) +03:05

10.Pierre Rolland (Europcar) +03:22

Links: Official website