Your new favorite race: Liège-Bastogne-Liège
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Your new favorite race: Liège-Bastogne-Liège, April 23
Why should you care about this race? They call it “La Doyenne,” the “old lady,” and though Liège is six years younger than the August Paris-Tours race in … uh … August, it’s considered by most to be the oldest major one-day race. It’s also the final monument classic of the spring and a damn hard race, what with 10 notable climbs over 258km of racing in Belgium. This is the exclamation point at the end of Ardennes week, a race that can only be won by a climber with impeccable endurance and tactical savvy to play the final sprint perfectly, because Liège isn’t often won solo in the modern era.
Most dramatic edition in recent memory? Boy, 2014 was a good year for the Ardennes. Earlier this week, I recalled that year’s edition of Flèche Wallonne, but one might argue that 2014 Liège was even more exciting. Giampaolo Caruso and Domenico Pozzovivo attacked on the Côte de Saint-Nicholas, the final climb, 5 kilometers from the line. They dangled with about a 10-second advantage as the chasers bickered, but under the red kite, 1km to go, they were in sight. Defending champion Dan Martin attacked the peloton and quickly got a gap. He gobbled up Pozzovivo. Then he was on Caruso’s wheel. Then … NO!! He was on the ground. Stay on your bike, Danny! The field swept by the fallen Irishman, and Australian national champion Simon Gerrans sprinted past Alejandro Valverde to win. Caruso was fourth behind Michal Kwiatkowski, leaving us all to wonder if Martin could have held off Gerrans in those final few hundred meters after the fateful right-hand turn.
Your race’s defining feature: Before 2016, I might have suggested that Côte de Stockeu was Liège’s defining feature. Heck, it’s got a monument for Eddy Merckx at the top — who would question the race’s only five-time winner? Alas, this nasty climb near Stavelot is not in the route. So, I’ll name the next best climb: Côte de la Redoute, which is always lined by spectators, camper vans, beer tents, and cyclo-touristes who surrendered halfway up the 2km ascent that averages a tick less than nine percent. This is where the late Frank Vandenbroucke put in an unbelievable big-ring attack on the climb’s steepest double-digit grades and rode on to victory in 1999. It was a different era, but it sure made for good television.
Ladies first? Kudos to race organizer ASO for doubling-down on women’s racing in the Ardennes for 2017. In addition to its Wednesday Flèche Wallonne Féminine race, Liège-Bastogne-Liège will host a women’s race for the first time. The 135.5km route features the same run to the finish in Ans as the men’s race: La Redoute, then the 1.3km, 11-percent Roche-aux-Faucons, and finally the 1.2km, 8.6-percent Saint Nicholas. It’s a fitting climbers showcase for the final race of the three hilly classics.
Who are you betting your beer money on this year? Never ever bet against Movistar’s Valverde in a race like this — both due to his age-defying strength and climbing abilities as well as his tactical knowhow and experience that approach wizard status. In the women’s race, I like how aggressive Katarzyna Niewiadoma (WM3) has been riding lately, and she is one of the best climbers in the peloton.