Liège–Bastogne–Liège, often called La Doyenne (“The Old Lady”), is a one-day classic cycling race in Belgium. First run in 1892, it is the oldest major one-day race and it’s this Sunday, April 23rd. It’s also the final of the five Monuments of the European professional road cycling calendar and it’s a damn hard race. In fact, it is widely considered one of the most arduous one-day races in the world thanks to its length and demanding course.
Liège–Bastogne–Liège sees riders cover 258km (160 miles) with 10 notable climbs racing in Belgium. This is the exclamation point at the end of Ardennes week, it’s also a delight to watch. Only a climber with tactical savvy and bulletproof legs can win this race because in modern times solo wins are no longer the norm, you’ve got to climb and fast but leave enough in the reserves to sprint to the finish.
The most successful rider with five victories is Belgian rider Eddy Merckx, trailed by Italian Moreno Argentin who won four times in the 1980s. In recent times Spaniard Alejandro Valverde won the race three times. Only one American has won the race, Tyler Hamilton in 2003 where he won with a very strong solo win. Speaking of Tyler, I highly recommend you read his book, I used to bump into the guy riding around Denver and he couldn’t be a nicer dude, truly got eaten up by the machine, used and dumped hard.
The defining feature of the Liège–Bastogne–Liège? Arguably, Côte de Stockeu. It’s got a monument for Eddy Merckx at the top after all and who could question the race’s only five-time winner? But, Côte de Stockeu is no longer in the route. So, I’ll go with the next best climb: Côte de la Redoute, it’s a 2km ascent that averages nearly nine percent. The late great Frank Vandenbroucke put in a legendary attack on the climb and rode on to victory in 1999.
The 2014 Liège-Bastogne-Liège was truly something spectacular. Giampaolo Caruso and Domenico Pozzovivo attacked on the Côte de Saint-Nicholas which was 5km from the finish. They built up a 10-second advantage quickly, but by the time they hit the red kit, 1km to go, they were back in the peloton’s sights. Defending champ Dan Martin, sprinted out of the peloton on the attack and quickly passed Pozzovivo and caught Caruso’s wheel. Then he found the ground. The peloton swept past Martin and Australian national champion Simon Gerrans sprinted for the win. I’ve always wondered if Martin had the legs to hold the peloton off had he not fallen.
If I had to pick a winner this year, I wouldn’t bet against Movistar’s Valverde. The guy is on fire and has apparently found the cure to aging on the bike. His climbing abilities are fantastic and he has the most seasoned tactical know-how in the peloton.