Intro - Climbs and Parcours - points of interest and sights - Weather - Favourites - Coverage
|The parcours - click to enlarge|
(for a zoombable .pdf, click here)
Some also call it the toughest Classic, tougher even than Paris-Roubaix. Moreno Argentin, who won four times, said, "Riders who win at Liège are what we call fondisti - men with a superior level of stamina. [The climb of] La Redoute is like the Mur de Huy in that it has to be tackled at pace, from the front of the peloton. The gradient is about 14 or 15 per cent, and it comes after 220 or 230 kilometers, so you don't have to be a genius to work out how tough it is. Liège is a race of trial by elimination, where it's very unlikely that a breakaway can go clear and decide the race before the final 100km. You need to be strong and at the same time clever and calculating - in this sense it's a complete test of a cyclist's ability."
The race follows its usual format this year with a relatively straight-forward 98km route south to Bastogne that has little in the way of challenging climbs, then a tough 159.5km with ten hard climbs on the way back to Liège. Riders start out from the Place Saint-Lambert in Liège before riding out into the Province of Luxembourg (not to be confused with the Grand Duchy, which it borders), the least-populated part of Belgium; reaching first climb the Côte de La Roche-en-Ardenne after 70km before arriving at the little village Ortho (which has a very interesting medieval church, incidentally). The parcours between La-Roche-en-Ardenne and over the hill to Ortho is around 9km with an average gradient of 5.2% but the steepest part, just before 72km into the race, reaches 17% and it hits 12.5% another half a kilometre up the road.
Climbs with official gradients (gradients in the text refer to absolute maximums, measured on the inside of bends, and are taken from Cycling.be)
With the first hill completed, it's only 27km to the turning point at 97km. The feed station is at 98km, then the riders head north on the much hillier return journey. They arrive at the Côte de Saint-Roch after 116.5km, a notoriously harsh climb with an average gradient of 11% and a maximum of 20%, then continue for 43.5km to the Côte de Wanne at 160km, average 7.5% and maximum 13% and into Wanne.
Km 70.0 - Côte de La Roche-en-Ardenne - 2.8 km climb to 6.2 %
Km 116.5 - Côte de Saint-Roch - 1.0 km climb to 11 %
Km 160.0 - Côte de Wanne - 2.7 km climb to 7.3 %
Km 166.5 - Côte de Stockeu (Stèle Eddy Merckx) - 1.0 km climb to 12.2 %
Km 172.0 - Côte de la Haute-Levée - 3.6 km climb to 5.7 %
Km 185.0 - Col du Rosier - 4.4 km climb to 5.9 %
Km 198.0 - Côte du Maquisard - 2.5 km climb to 5 %
Km 208.0 - Mont-Theux - 2.7 km climb to 5.9 %
Km 223.0 - Côte de La Redoute - 2.0 km climb to 8.8 %
Km 238.0 - Côte de La Roche aux Faucons - 1.5 km climb to 9.3 %
Km 252.0 - Côte de Saint-Nicolas - 1.2 km climb to 8.6 %
Côte de Stockeu, sometimes known as the Jewel of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. It's 2.3km in length with an average gradient of 9.9% and a maximum, halfway along, of 21%. Just past the steepest section stands a monument to Eddy Merckx, a likeness of the rider emerging from a rough-hewn lump of granite that also bears a plaque outlining his 525 professional victories - hence the Col's other name, Stèle Eddy Merckx. A cyclist formed from granite no doubt has artistic significance but, as great as he was, even Merckx experienced difficulties on Stockeau; which means there's no shame for those who abandon here.
Côte de la Haute-Levée lies 5.5km ahead, a comparatively easy climb with its average 5.6%; however, the steepest part is still hard-going at 12%. There's a welcome and much flatter 15km section - including the second feed stage at 175km - between it and the Col du Rosier (approached from the south) is by the standards of the Ardennes Classics an easy climb with an average gradient of 3.9% and a maximum 10%. Having passed Spa - hometown of Hercule Poirot and one of Europe's most beautiful cities - the race reaches the Côte du Maquisard at 198km, slightly steeper than the last climb with an average of 5.1% but an equal maximum.
Mont-Theux is 10km further on, average 5.3% and maximum 11%, then at 223km the legendary Côte de La Redoute with its average gradient of 9.7% and maximum 22%. The Côte de La Roche aux Faucons is 15km ahead at 238km - near enough to the finish and steep enough (average 9.9%, maximum 16%) to sometimes prove decisive to the race's outcome - if a strong climber can get a lead here, then keep it over the final climb and through the last 5km, he may take victory. There remain 14km to the Côte de Saint-Nicolas with a steep average of 7.6% and maximum of 13%, followed by the last 5km to Ans - the final 1.5km climbs 79m, which by my reckoning creates an average gradient of 5.5% with the steepest part rising to 13%.
Places of Interest
|Montagne de Bueren, Liège|
Bastogne (98km), a city of 14,000 people, is also famous for its role in the Battle of the Bulge. It was here that the Nazis, led by crack SS troops, briefly gained the upper hand over the Americans and, for three weeks, surrounded General McAuliffe's troops. The Nazis sent a negotiator to ask him to surrender, but the General replied "Nuts!" and ordered his men to keep fighting. There are several monuments to their eventual victory in the city, including a preserved Sherman tank on a plinth. There's another Panzer tank commemorating the meeting of Generals Patton and Montgomery during the Battle of the Bulge at Houffalize (114.5km), a town considered the centre of Belgian mountain biking - a round of the World Cup was hosted here in 2010.
Spa (192km), also known as the Water City, is the place that gave its name to all other places in the world that have water with supposedly health-promoting effects. The water here has been famous since Roman times and wealthy people from across Europe would come here to bathe in it, claiming various medicinal benefits. In the 18th C. the first casino opened up to give them something to do at night as well (aristocrats get up to all sorts of no good if you don't keep them amused, after all) and the rich began building chateaux, rapidly making the city very prosperous indeed. I have swum in the waters at Spa, which a guide said would relieve and possibly even cure my arthritis. It did not.
La Doyenne has seen some atrocious weather during its long history, most notably in 1980 when heavy snow fell along the entire parcours and commentators renamed it neige-Bastogne-neige ("snow-Bastogne-snow", which they probably thought extremely witty). It won't snow this year (probably; you never can tell in the Ardennes) but it's not going to be what anyone would call a nice day either. Temperatures at Liège as the riders set out won't be much above 6 or 7C and a 19kph south-westerly will take the edge off that, making it feel more like 1 or 2. There's a very high chance it'll be raining, too. It should be warmer when they get back, around 11C, but it'll still be raining. Bastogne is set to be at least a degree or two colder and rain look equally probable here.
British Eurosport are covering the race live between 14:00 and 16:00BST. Online feeds of varying legality will be up from around 13:00BST (14:00 local time/CEST) and as ever, Sports-Livez is a good place to look for them. The official race ticker will be available at the official race website; Eurosport, Sporza and Cycling News all have their own in English. Twitterers seem to have decided on #LBL as the hashtag of choice.