This week, the peloton tackles the last of the Spring Classics, Liege-Bastogne-Liege. The race begins (you guessed it!) in Liege, heads to Bastogne, and then concludes in a flurry on an uphill finish in Ans. It’s one of the cycling calendar’s most consistently entertaining races, delivering nail-biting finishes year in and year out. The race also wraps up the Spring Classics for 2017, giving way to the Grand Tours. So, how will it shake out? Let’s take a look.
History of La Doyenne
LBL is the oldest monument, having first been run in 1892. In this first iteration, the race traveled over 250km from Spa to Bastogne and back. The winner that year, Leon Houa, finished the race on a singlespeed bicycle in 10 hours and 48 minutes. Just 17 of the 33 starters made it back to Spa to finish the race.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, La Doyenne (the Old Lady), as the race is affectionately known, became Eddy Merckx’s playground. The Cannibal dominated the era, winning the race five times in total, including three races on the trot.
One of the most memorable editions of the race took place in 2009, when Andy Schleck (remember him?) went on a solo charge late in the race to take the title in thrilling style. If you want to see what it was like to watch Brother Andy ride with fire in his belly, check it.
In recent years, Alejandro Valverde has made the race his own, winning it on three occasions. Indeed, Valverde returns to the race as one of the clear favorites after having a stunning spring so far. He won’t have it all his own way in 2017, with an exceptionally strong line-up of the world’s best climbers and opportunists ready to take part.
The route is a series of short, steep climbs that wind through the farmlands between Liege and Bastogne. There’s hardly a single meter of flat roads over the 255km route, with a slew of now-famous climbs offering the leg-sapping separation in the finale. The Stockeu, La Redoute, Roche-aux-Faucons and the final ascent, the Col du Saint-Nicholas.
Some riders will be conspicuous in their absence, most notably Philippe Gilbert. After winning Flanders and then Amstel Gold, Gilbert has appeared to return to his 2013 form of being the pick of the litter in the Ardennes. However, a kidney issue after Amstel has ruled him out of not only LBL, but also the Giro in May. The World Champion, Peter Sagan, has already started his recovery after his spring campaign, before making his familiar trip to the U.S. for the Tour of California next month.
One fixture of the spring calendar has signed up for the race, that guy being Greg van Avermaet. The 2017 Paris-Roubaix winner will attempt to carry on with his stellar spring form to see if he can take on the skinnier guys on the climbs. After his romp at Paris-Roubaix, it’s tough to pick against GvA, even if this isn’t the most favorable of terrain for the Belgian.
One rider who is likely chomping at the bit for LBL is former World Champion Michal Kwiatkowski. After launching his sprint just a touch too soon and being overtaken by Gilbert at Amstel Gold, Kwiatkowski will look to capture a monument to go with his impressive win at Strade Bianche earlier this season.
Two dark horses to keep in mind are Dan Martin and Nathan Haas. A revelation at Amstel Gold, Haas is Dimension Data’s best hopes for winning this weekend and will likely have plenty of freedom for the rest of the season after his performances this spring. Dan Martin will represent Quick-Step’s best shot at victory with Julian Alaphilippe sidelined with a knee injury.