The town of Liège bears the marks of its heritage as Belgium’s oldest and largest industrial centre, clearly evident from the large dormant factories that line the autoroute into the heart of town, where we were heading for the start of “La Doyenne”—third of five monuments on the World Tour calendar.
Liège- Bastogne- Liège is the grande dame of the three Ardennes classics, the hillier cousins of Europe’s cobbled classics. Its undulating parkour provides an opportunity for the Grand Tour contenders to test early season fitness on the rolling roads of the Ardennes; eleven classified climbs and dozens of strength-sapping unclassified gradients make it a real war of attrition.
Because the race runs over such a large distance it’s a bit of a slow burner on the action front; the usual break goes up the road with the peloton keeping them at arm’s length whilst trying to conserve as much energy as possible before the more lumpy second half of the race, where the inevitable attacks begin to happen as the main contenders come to the fore.
As the race heads into the southern Ardennes the normally industrial Belgian scenery changes to leafy lanes and lush rolling hills, a welcome shift from much of what we see during the spring classics. Blue skies and temperatures in the mid-twenties brought the Belgian crowds out in force, and every climb was lined with cheering fans eager to see some of the biggest names in the sport at close quarters.
As expected, the latter stages of the race become hectic, with the strongest teams fighting to get their man in the right position for the (quite frankly) brutal final few kilometres. As if the previous few hundred km hadn’t been tough enough, the riders are subject to a final leg-bursting climb to the finish; it looks deceptively shallow on TV, but this really is a sting in the tail, making the solo victory by Luxembourg’s Bob Jungles a cherished addition to Team Quick-Step’s already stellar season.
Words & Images: Chris Auld
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