It’s about time the men’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège got a little love.
La Doyenne is the race everyone loves to hate. “Too long” … “too predictable” … “too tame” chime the naysayers.
Time to say “nay” to those sayers.
Liège was once resigned to the dustbin of doped-up dust-ups in gloomy downtown dives, with the brutal cobblestones of Flanders replaced with endless, nameless steep hills of dreary Wallonne.
But the modern-day men’s Doyenne couldn’t be much further from that.
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A reconfigured route, a vibrant new breed of racers, and the unfading allure of the hardest monument of them all make “LBL” one of the most spectacular shows of the spring.
Think about it, how can a race that most recently finished with a Tadej Pogačar, Julian Alaphilippe, Alejandro Valverde, Michael Woods and David Gaudu five-up sprint be considered a snoozer?
Here’s why this Ardennes race is ace:
The pick ‘n’ mix of multi-talents
It’s not often you see a race where riders as wide-ranging as Alejandro Valverde, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Julian Alaphilippe and Tadej Pogačar line up as favorites.
Liège-Bastone-Liège is one of the few days of the year that draws riders from every corner of the pro peloton, whether they be one-day specialists, mid-summer mountain goats, or Tour de France contenders.
If a grand tour winner is going to try to win a monument, it’s Liège.
Il Lombardia is too late in the season for a three-week racer to commit to, Milano-Sanremo is a marathon-length lottery, and, unless you’re Mr. Pogačar, a grand tour champion doesn’t have a hope of winning Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix any time soon.
Liège has always drawn out GC riders, and now more so than ever.
The increasingly bombastic bunch of modern grand tour racers like Pogačar, Primož Roglič and Richard Carapaz increasingly make monuments a part of their season roadmap.
The result? Liège is a melting pot of puncheurs, climbers, cobble-bashers and everything in between, and riders of every single skillset could see victory.
“LBL” offers a route that could see victory via an Evenepoel-esque long-ranger, a Roglič-certified small bunch sprint, or a Pogačar closing kilometer powerplay. It’s an open book that so many riders have a hope of writing history into.
And just like so many types of rider can win Liège, every type of rider wants to win it too.
With a 130-year history and roll-call as illustrious as Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Sean Kelly and Philippe Gilbert, who wouldn’t want La Doyenne, the hardest race on the calendar, on their palmarès?
A parcours that packs new punch
Unlike the other hilly classics, Liege-Bastogne-Liege has a storyline that lures you in for the long-haul.
Amstel Gold Race looks like spaghetti slapped on a plate. For anyone but the most ardent Dutch fans, the Limbug route means nothing. If you want a “journey” out of Amstel, you’ll need GoogleMaps, a guide book and a compass.
Brabantse Pijl is circuits of similar roads.
And Flèche Wallonne …. we all know the playbook for that parcours.
With La Doyenne, you can luxuriate in the leafy rolling hills of the Ardennes over morning coffee and croissants as the race heads south. Then when the bunch hits Bastogne, the race tilts on its head, and it’s time for the beers to come out.
The hills get steeper and keep coming faster in the slog back northward. The racing gets more intense and the contenders get crunched. It all builds to a perfect day-long crescendo.
And the recently redesigned finale is a masterstroke.
The decision to switch the closing kilometers from the grim, grinding climb into Ans to the modern-era dash into downtown Liège reinvented the race.
The finish in Ans was a grim, grey grind to get the race done rather than a mission for monument glory.
The new route lets the fireworks fly on the closing Roche aux Faucons climb before a small-group slugfest in the dazzling drive into Liège. It couldn’t be more different.
From Matej Mohorič’s late comeback and that Alaphilippe embarrassment in 2020 to the all-star sprint of last year, the new look last-leg of Liège is one for the ages.
But who knows? With today’s ultra-aggressive, against-the-grain style of racing (you were watching Roubaix, right?), the action could start way before the new finish even becomes a factor.
Either way, Liège is likely to serve up a scorcher Sunday.
Liège-Bastogne-Liège draws the spring to a close and ushers in the entry of grand tour season.
The “opening weekend” is a hazy memory, Matej Mohorič’s San Remo dropper post is gathering dust, and who was it that won Tour of Flanders again?
For spectators, Liège is the last opportunity to get a fix of one-day thrills before the classics close down until the fall.
For racers, La Doyenne is the final chance to salvage or seal a spring season. It’s a last-chance saloon of strong Belgian beers and mayo-laden frites.
A Quick-Step win Sunday would restore the Wolfpack’s pride. A successful title defense for Pogačar would rubberstamp a barnstorming spring and set the Slovenian on the fast-track to the Tour de France.
And after Liège, we may not see Tour de France-bound ballers like Pogačar until June. La Doyenne offers one last opportunity to watch for sizzling surges, snapped elastics or tactical miscues that can sow the seeds of speculation before racers go off-grid and up to thin air for months at a time.
So, what will you be watching Sunday?