Change is in the air these days among race organizers.
Longtime course favorites and finishes are being ditched with relative ease in the eternal quest for innovation and relevance. First, it was the Tour of Flanders. and then Amstel Gold Race got into the act.
Three years ago, organizers of Liège-Bastogne-Liège joined the bandwagon.
ASO moved the finish line from the otherwise drab hilltop finale in the suburb of Ans, and returned it to the center of its namesake.
The jury is still out. Does the new course truly deliver on its purpose to liven up the race? Or was the former finale not as boring as some believed? Our editors debate the question:
Sadhbh O’Shea — New course does the lady right
The recent changes to the Liège-Bastogne-Liège course give “La Doyenne” a new lease of life.
After 26 years of finishing in the industrial suburb of Ans, the race was beginning to feel a bit tired and predictable. Though there was the odd edition where things did not go to script, such as Bob Jungels’ 2018 win, it had lost much of its flare.
With the new design, the course retains its “race of attrition” aspect, with much longer climbs to tackle compared to many of the other spring classics, but it has much more to it now. And it looks better, too.
Taking the race out of the suburbs and back into the city center changed the dynamic of the racing by opening it up to more riders and a wider range of tactics. The descent into the city adds an extra skillset needed to master the oldest of races.
As we have seen with the alterations to the Amstel Gold Race course, the change in finish line entices the riders to attack earlier than the previous incarnation of the route.
Last year, the key move in the men’s race went with just over 13km to go, and the women’s winner Lizzie Deignan went 30km out. In both races, we were treated to exciting chases through the outskirts of Liège and into the city, with the outcome never feeling certain.
It was the drama that Liège-Bastogne-Liège had been missing for so many years, and it was great to see the old lady shining again.
Andrew Hood — the former course was a truer finish
I cannot believe that I am saying I am missing Ans.
There’s not much good to say about the drab, hilltop suburb that became the finish line for a quarter of a century for one of the oldest races in cycling.
Except this — Ans did serve up a very fitting finale for one of cycling’s most prestigious races.
Seeing the finish line now back in downtown Liège certainly provides a more jolly setting, not to mention ending where it’s supposed to. Liège-Bastogne-Ans never did have much of a ring to it.
— Liège-Bastogne-Liège (@LiegeBastogneL) April 21, 2018
There’s no denying that the former finish line was becoming somewhat predictable. Every team knew that if they could deliver their star riders into the final 20km, they’d have a very good chance of fighting for the victory.
I can remember that the Côte de la Redoute used to be the launching pad for winning attacks. Adding the Roche de la Faucons with about 15km to go more than a decade helped spice things up a bit, but the teams soon worked out the kinks.
At Ans, Alejandro Valverde was the prototypical winner; a strong climber with a fast-finishing kick to win out a clutch of riders. It was no surprise that Anna van der Breggen won the first two editions of the women’s race, with the finish at Ans very similar to the Mur de Huy, where she’s won an unprecedented seven times in a row.
The jury is still out on the new finish in Liège.
It certainly opens the race to a wider skillset. Even riders like a very fit Peter Sagan or Mathieu van der Poel at the top of their game might win Liège under the right conditions. That was never the case with the line at Ans.
Could the new, easier run into Liège could see riders who hitch a wheel all the way to the end have a chance to win a monument? Time will tell.
To me, the harder finish at Ans delivered a truer winner.
A grand lady like Liège deserves nothing less.