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PEZ Preview: Liège-Bastogne-Liège ’17
Liège-Bastogne-Liège Preview: The old lady of the spring Classics will roll out of Liège on Sunday morning for a grueling six hours plus of constant ups and downs. A hard man's race that always has a tough rider cross the line first. Ed Hood previews 'La Doyenne' in our build-up to Sunday's oldest Classic.

Luik – Bastanaken – Luik they call it up in Flanders; Liege – Bastogne – Liege down in French speaking Wallonia – ‘La Doyenne’ is her Sunday name, afforded to the most senior and respected lady in the Monuments Salon. Milan – San Remo is longer; Flanders has the most cobbles, Paris – Roubaix is crazier and Lombardy is more beautiful, but Liège is the oldest – first run as an amateur race in 1892 - and arguably, the toughest.

Hoogvliet - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - archief - archive - stock - Eddy Merckx - foto /Cor Vos ©2008
Five-time winner in Liège

The route does as it says on the tin; south out of Liege (main town of the province which bears its name) to Bastogne (rather confusingly situated in the Belgian province of Luxembourg) and back again to finish at a disappointing and drab retail park in the Liège suburb of Ans – which happens to be at the top of an endless drag past defunct factories, mine workers’ houses, shops and garages.

Luik - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - illustration - sfeer - illustratie pictured during Liege - Bastogne - Liege 2016 - photo Dion Kerckhoffs/Davy Rietbergen/Cor Vos © 2016
Not all industrial grime in the area

The parcours have changed over the years with no early categorized climbs; the first major joust with gravity is the Cote de la Roche-en-Ardenne which doesn’t come ‘til 70 kilometers in. The second is the Cote de Sant Roch at 116 K with the final eight categorized climbs coming between 168k and the finish at 258K – that’s one around every 11 kilometers. This has the effect of making the tail end of the race profile look like an advert for high quality timber hand saws; if there’s a ‘flat bit’ on this course, then it's hiding somewhere in the 258 kilometers of lumps and bumps which make up the 103rd edition of the last classic of the Spring season.

Ans - Belgium- wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Illustration picture of the peloton with Fans and Supporters in the climb of Saint-Roch in Houffalize pictured during Liege - Bastogne - Liege 2015 (1.UWT) - photo JB/VK/PN/Cor Vos © 2015
The crazy climbs of Liège-Bastogne-Liège

The names of the climbs are familiar:
• Km 70.0 - Côte de La Roche en Ardenne, 2.8 kilometer-long climb at 6.2%
• Km 116.0 - Côte de Saint-Roch one kilometer-long climb at 11.2%
• Km 168.0 - Côte de Pont one kilometer-long climb at 10.5%
• Km 172.0 - Côte de Bellevaux 1.1 kilometer-long climb at 6.8%
• Km 180.0 - Côte de la Ferme Libert 1.2 kilometer-long climb at 12.1%
• Km 198.0 - Col du Rosier 4.4 kilometer-long climb at 5.9%
• Km 211.0 - Col du Maquisard 2.5 kilometer-long climb at 5%
• Km 222.5 - Côte de La Redoute two kilometer-long climb at 8.9%
• Km 239.0 - Côte de La Roche-aux-Faucons 1.3 kilometer-long climb at 11%
• Km 252.5 - Côte de Saint-Nicolas 1.2 kilometer-long climb at 8.6%
There are 10 classified in all but little of the parcours is flat – and in there is the legendary La Redoute, of course.

La Redoute used to be where the winner would make his move; but in these days of riders peaking for just one or two races each in a season and the difference in the top rider’s conditions minimal, it’s no longer decisive albeit it’s still a great place to watch the race with huge crowds, giant screen TV, bars and barbecues. All told there’s more than 4,000 meters of climbing in the race – as much as a Grand Tour mountain stage.

Ans - Belgium- wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Illustration picture of the peloton in Stavelot Blancs Moussis Blancs-Moussis pictured during Liege - Bastogne - Liege 2015 (1.UWT) - photo JB/VK/PN/Cor Vos © 2015
Different fans on the Walloon road

‘Back in the day’ L-B-L used to run back to back with the Flèche Wallone, the two races were known as the ‘Weekend Ardennais.’

Only the best riders of their respective generations have won both races in the same season; Ferdi Kubler (Switzerland) twice 1951 & 1952, Stan Ockers (Belgium) 1855, Eddy Merckx (Belgium) 1972, Moreno Argentin (Italy) 1991, Davide Rebellin (Italy) 2004, Philippe Gilbert 2011 and Alejandro Valverde twice 2006 and 2015.

Ferdi Kubler, foto Cor Vos ©
Ferdi Kubler

Unsurprisingly, ‘Big Ted’ – as we named Baron Merckx back then – is the ‘record man’ on five wins with the classy Argentin on four. The Belgian also holds the record for top 10 finishes, a feat he achieved on 10 occasions. The fact that four of the ‘doubles’ were completed in the last few years says much about the changes in pro cycling. Merckx would charge through the early season from Milan – San Remo (which he won seven times) to the Amstel - which closed the Classics season back then and which the Belgian won twice - without missing a beat. In this millennium, such a thing would be out of the question as riders specialize in cobbled, sprinters’ or Ardennes Classics – but very good to see the likes of Gilbert and GVA ‘crossing over’ and riding all of the big early races.

1973 Liège - Eddy Merckx

The Contenders
And on the subject of riders, here’s our top ten – sadly not included in our punditry: Phil Gil (Quick-Step Floors & Belgium) who damaged his kidney in a seemingly innocuous crash en route his Amstel triumph; Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors & France) and last year’s winner, Wout Poels (Team Sky & The Netherlands) both out with knee injuries.

Luik - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Wout Poels Wout (Netherlands / Team Sky) pictured during Liege - Bastogne - Liege 2016 - photo Dion Kerckhoffs/Davy Rietbergen/Cor Vos © 2016
No return to Liège for 2016 winner Wout Poels

Michael Albasini (Orica-Scott & Switzerland): the way he sits on a bike isn’t the most stylish but he just keeps on getting better – third in the Amstel and a stage win in the Pais Vasco say everything we need to know about his form – and he was second to Poels here last year.

Valkenburg - Netherlands - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Michael ALBASINI (Swiss / Team Orica Scott) - Philippe GILBERT (Belgium / Team Quick Step - Floors) - Sergio Luis HENAO MONTOYA (Columbia / Team Sky) pictured during the Amstel Gold Race 2017 - foto Pool/BC/Cor Vos © 2017

Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale & France): was sixth in 2015 and 13th last year; this year hasn’t been amazing and that DQ in Paris-Nice won’t have helped morale but he’s been close to the cigar in Catalunya and the Pais Vasco.

Giro dell'Emilia 2016

Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates & Portugal): was perhaps primed by his team to be at his best for his ‘home’ races in the sand – he hit the ground running with a stage in San Juan then was second on GC in Oman and then won in Abu Dhabi. Too much too soon? Probably.

Sergio Henao (Team Sky & Colombia): He won his national champs then Paris-Nice, was strong in the Pais Vasco – and was top ten here two years ago, so he knows all about that never ending finish climb.

Ion Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida & Spain): top ten in the Amstel, third in the Pais Vasco and seventh in Paris-Nice – that’s nice form. And as an ex-Movistar and Euskaltel man there’s little he need to learn about going up hills.

Col de la Couillole - France - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - IZAGIRRE Jon Ander (ESP) Rider of UAE Abu Dhabi Team pictured during stage 7 of Paris - Nice UCI World Tour from Nice - Col de la Couillole, 177.00 km - foto NV/PN/Cor Vos © 2017

Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky & Poland): Strade Bianche, Primavera and second to Gilbert in The Netherlands Sunday past. Little more needs said – he could well win this.

Valkenburg - Netherlands - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Michal KWIATKOWSKI (Poland / Team Sky) pictured during the Amstel Gold Race 2017 - foto Anton Vos/Cor Vos © 2017

Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors & Ireland – via Birmingham): won here in 2013 and was on the cusp of winning the following year when he went down on the last bend. He’s been strong all this year, from Valenciana through the Algarve – where he won a stage – the podium in Paris-Nice and close to a stage win in Catalunya. And he has the mighty Quick-Step Legion behind him. . .

Fóia - Portugal - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Daniel Martin (IRL - QuickStep - Floors)†- Primoz Roglic (SLO - LottoNL - Jumbo) pictured during the Volta ao Algarve em Bicicleta 2017 stage 2 from Lagoa - Foia, 189.30 km - photo LB/RB/Cor Vos © 2017

Greg Van Avermaet (BMC & Belgium): ‘Man of the Spring’ for sure with wins in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, E3-Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, and Paris-Roubaix, and runner-up at the Tour of Flanders.
But was he running out of puff in the Amstel? – form like that can’t last forever.

Roubaix - France - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Greg VAN AVERMAET (Belgium / BMC Racing Team) pictured during the 115th Paris-Roubaix (1.UWT) - foto NV/PN/Cor Vos © 017

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar & Spain): has won here three times, been second twice and third once – that would be ‘enough said’ except he’s won eight races this year already, that’s more than most win in a whole career. He didn’t sparkle in the Amstel but The Flèche will give us good clues on the retention – or otherwise – of his form.

Valkenburg - Netherlands - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Alejandro VALVERDE BELMONTE (Spain / Team Movistar) - Fabio FELLINE (Italy / Team Trek Segafredo) pictured during the Amstel Gold Race 2017 - foto Pool/BC/Cor Vos © 2017

Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin & Russia): second in the Abu Dhabi Tour on GC and strong in Paris-Nice but no scintillating results – however, he rises to the occasion on the big day and was fifth here last year.

Col de la Couillole - France - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - ZAKARIN Ilnur (RUS) Rider of Team Katusha - Alpecin pictured during stage 7 of Paris - Nice UCI World Tour from Nice - Col de la Couillole, 177.00 km - foto NV/PN/Cor Vos © 2017

# As with all of the Monuments PEZ will be bringing you the best in race reportage and photography – so don’t touch that dial and for live action get over to #

Best of Liège-Bastogne-Liège 2016:

It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he's covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,500 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself - many years and kilograms ago - and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site where more of his musings on our sport can be found.


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