Iconic Places: Cote de Stockeu
Where: Stavelot, Belgium
Average gradient: 10.5 percent
Maximum gradient: 21 percent
Elevation gain: 378 feet
Though it’s quite far from the finish line, the Stockeu was used by Eddy Merckx as a launching pad for numerous victories at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
History: During the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, Stavelot was the scene of intense fighting. War memorials can be found in fields, on bridges, and across hilltops in the region.
During stage 2 of the 2010 Tour de France, from Brussels to Spa, a TV motorcycle crashed on the descent of the Stockeu, spilling oil on the road, setting off a dangerous domino effect that saw over 60 riders sliding across the road, including Alberto Contador, Lance Armstrong, Fränk and Andy Schleck, Cadel Evans, and Bradley Wiggins.
Cities: In Wallonia, the predominantly Frenchspeaking southern region of Belgium. The closest major cities include Liège, Belgium (62km); Maastricht, The Netherlands (77km); and Cologne, Germany (134km).
Travel: The closest major international airport is in Brussels (149km). The base of the climb is just south of the Stavelot town square, past an old monastery and near the town’s main bridge. Looking up the climb, the descent from the Côte de Wanne is to your right, and the descent off of the Côte du Somagne is to your left.
Ride: The road itself, which is largely in the woods, is in rough shape, fi lled with potholes and painted with the remnants of racers’ names. At fi rst, the climb doesn’t seem all that hard, but after about 500 meters, the gradient kicks up, and the party really gets started. As the climb progresses, the road steepens to a precipitous 21 percent. Expect to use the easiest gear on your bike, no matter what the gearing. Just past the steepest section, on the right-hand side of the road at the intersection of the Côte de Stockeu and the Route de Somagne, stands a monument to Merckx. The memorial consists of a granite likeness of the rider and a plaque highlighting the greatest of his 525 pro victories, which included fi ve wins at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. If you can make it to the statue in less than five minutes, well done.
Lodging: Closest to the Stockeu is the B&B Villa Stavelot, where a nice Dutch couple rents rooms. Other spots in the area include the centrally located Hasselt, population 75,000, or the much smaller town of Spa, the famed site of healing cold springs and a casino. Liège isn’t the most charming of cities, and is to be avoided. Another option, closer to Brussels and just 30 minutes from the Mur de Huy of Flèche Wallonne, is Hostellerie Aulnenhof Walshoutemstraat in Walshoutem, a renovated farmhouse about an hour northeast of Stavelot.
Food: French fries from a real frituur are a must. The Liège waffle is a rich, dense, chewy delicacy native to the region, often covered in berries and/or chocolate. For your thirst, try La Chouffe, a golden blonde ale brewed 45km from the Stockeu near Houffalize, home of the annual mountain bike World Cup.