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?
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
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.
Who to watch
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.
Link: Official website