After Thursday’s chilly transfer ride to Creppe, Belgium, just outside of Spa, we set up camp in the simply delicious Manoir de Lebioles, a 100 year old chateau tucked away in the Ardennes countryside. This would be our HQ as we set about the the Friday and Saturday rides that would take us over the key climbs of the Liege course, rubbing shoulders with the pro teams as they did their own recon. When you travel with Velo Classic Tours you have all the bases covered, from good food to great hotels to excellent opportunities to ride with the pros.
Friday had us departing under wonderfully sunny skies to traverse the early climbs of the race. One thing is for sure – the winner of this race has to have amazing legs on a good day. There’s only up or down, and very little flat. Our day started with the alpine-feeling climb of the Cote de Wanne at 2.7km with an average gradient of 7%. A nice little wake up climb, right out of the gate.
Good morning, sunshine.
By the top of the climb our group had again splintered and I regrouped for a map check with Peter and Lisa Easton, owners of Velo Classic Tours. For some reason on this day, more than at Amstel and Fleche, we kept getting hounded by the pros out training. We tried to tell them to leave us alone, but the started at the top of the Cote de Wanne, and kept coming all day.
Who is this guy?
And why do these guys keep following us?
Yes, that’s a fit looking Bjarne riding with his charges.
The sun climbed higher into the sky to bathe us in warmth as we meandered through the descent of the Wanne, and eventually into the town of Houffalize, where we’d meet the junkyard dog equivalent of a climb, the famous Cote de St. Roche , a nasty little bugger which rises only 1km but packing an average wallop of 12% but holding a few bits well into the 20% range on the way to Stavelot. This one grabs you by the boo-boo, and twists. Hard. I was too badly on the rivet to snap a pic of this bad, bad mofo during the climb. But I’d be remiss not to mention the awe-inspiring monuments that dot the whole course remembering the sacrifices made by Allied forces in WWII. Almost every few k’s you see some remembrance of the fight for freedom against the Nazis. In Houffalize there’s a few tanks. At the top of the Wanne there’s an old mortar shell gun. And all around the countryside there are flags and small monuments. Respect and reverence are two palpable emotions you feel when you see these things.
The rest stop right before the climb of the Cote de St. Roche.
We made our way to next to the infamous Cote de Stockeu climb, another knife fight of a hill, rising again about a kilometer, but also again in double-digit steepness, and again rolling up into the 20% range here and there.
Barely hanging on.
We rolled onward, each kilometer taking a little more of the fight out of us, rounding curves and amazing scenery towards the Cote de Rosier, a nice long climb, not too steep, full of small farms and surrounded by dense forest. 5.6km at 6%. Compared to what we had already rolled over, this seemed like a welcome mat to the second rest stop. However, during the race, it’s steep enough and long enough, if it is underestimated, some riders could be surprised.
We blasted to the Manoir after that, but not before seeing a different kind of welcome mat, for two riders in particular. Hey, if these two dudes get tired, at least they know they have a friendly place to stop for a chat and some tea (or Jupiler) if need be.
Immediately after the ride at the Manoir, I was rewarded for being a good dude to draft behind. Being a veritable giant has its drawbacks, but also its perks.
We finished off the night after yet another amazing dinner as only the Velo Classic Tours crew knows how.
Saturday we again woke to beautiful sunny skies and even warmer temperatures. The great weather was to be offset by the pain ahead, as the final series of deathblows the Liege-Bastogne-Liege course had to offer were upon us. The infamous Cote de La Redoute was first on the menu. Fans had already begun lining up at the foot of the climb, marking out their spot for the RV’s and campers, and having a good laugh at the expense of riders like me. At least some folks were good enough to wave as we began the climb.
And this being Philipe Gilbert’s home region, there’s no doubt who the crowd favorite is. Tour leader Peter counted something near 330 of these paintings on the climb.
For your humbled author, it was now a matter of survival. I was in the meat grinder, 100%. It was all I could do to turn the pedals and not fall over and to keep my breakfast inside my stomach. Saturday packed the Redoute, the Cote de Sprimont, and the vicious nasty Cote de la Roche aux Faucons, all of these little bastards in the 1km range, but again – all double digits. Just pain, pain, and more pain. But, you know I love it like you do, so I am more than happy to drag my ponderous bulk up each one – albeit slowly – to bring you what it’s like to be on the roads. Riding it is hard enough, I simply cannot imagine racing it.
Somewhere along the way we had our lunch support stop, and enjoyed drinks and snacks under the watchful eye of none other than Stan Ockers himself. The things you see on a Velo Classic Tour, if a fan of cycling, will be things you never ever forget.
We’re back in Maastricht now, and we’ll be on the ground to catch every moment of Liege-Bastogne-Liege for you tomorrow. Our van, the Silver Bullet, is all dolled up with her press caravan stickers and we’ll jump in the insanity to make sure you get all the sights and sounds you need to feel like you’re there.
Dave is currently in the Ardennes with Peter and Lisa Easton of Velo Classic Tours. Peter is an expert on the Spring Classics. You can catch up with him and all the Classics on the roads of Belgium and Holland with Velo Classic Tours. www.veloclassic.com.
And you’re encouraged to write me as I am here for 10 days, covering Ardennes week with Amstel Gold, La Fleche Wallonne, and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, so drop a line! Are you here? Have a suggestion of a sight to see? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.