There are some rides that remain etched in your memory. Sunday 25 April 2010 – the day of Liège – Bastogne – Liège.
Emma Pooley and I escaped the confines of our Cervelo team hotel to ride with Graeme Brown (then Rabobank) and some of his mates, who weren’t racing. We set off from Maastricht and headed for the Ardennes hills. It was my first year as a pro. I had intervals to do and was a bit intimidated to do them in front of the pro guys so, whilst they stopped for coffee, I did my hill repeats before joining them for the ride home. I was nervous as to whether I’d make it back with the group. I got rescued by Mathew Hayman, when I got caught up descending among a load of sportive riders, but finally we arrived at the hotel – 200km and 6 1/2hrs later. An Epic ride. I’d also learnt that Belgium was certainly not flat. There was, of course, no race for the women then but, as they say, ‘all good things come to those who wait’. After 102 editions of the men’s race there is finally a Liège – Bastogne – Liège for women on 23rd April 2017.
The men’s Liège – Bastogne – Liège was first held in 1892, making it the oldest Classic in the UCI World Tour. For this reason it is also known as ‘La Doyenne’ (the old lady). The race completes the ‘Ardennes week’, which also included Amstel Gold and la Flèche Wallonne. This week of classics has been long standing in the men’s calendar but a welcome edition to the Women’s World Tour this year.
RACE IN SHORT
- THE CLIMBS
- Km 82.5 – Côte de la Vecquée 6.7 kilometre-long climb at 4.9%
- Km 100.0 – Côte de la Redoute 2 kilometre-long climb at 8.9%
- Km 116.0 – Côte de La Roche-aux-Faucons 1.3 kilometre-long climb at 11%
- Km 130.0 – Côte de Saint Nicolas 1.2 kilometre-long climb at 8.6%
The women’s 135.5km races starts in Bastogne. Although the first categorized climb, the Côte de la Vecquée, comes well over half way into the race (at 82.5km) the route is up and down the whole way. The race then enters the same route as the men, with the last 45km being exactly the same. The renown Côtes de la Redoute is reached at 100km and is especially tough; a 2km climb with an average gradient of 8.4% but pitches of greater than 20%. This is followed by the Roche-aux-Faucons (at a 116km), a 1.3km climb with an average of 11% and the Côtes de Saint-Nicolas, the final categorized climb (1.2km at an average of 8.6%), 6km from the finish in Ans.
- Check out the website: www.letour.fr/liege-bastogne-liege-femmes
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT?
Boels-Dolmans have dominated both Amstel Gold and la Flèche Wallonne Femmes with Anna van der Breggen and Lizzie Deignan taking first and second respectively in both races. In Amstel Gold, Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica–Scott) and Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling) tied on 3rd place. At Flèche Wallonne, Niewiadoma rounded out the podium, ahead of van Vleuten who finished fourth. These four riders are clearly ‘in form’ and no doubt will be the ones to watch. Unlike the previous two races Liège – Bastogne – Liège doesn’t finish on a climb so, if van Vleuten can survive the climbs, she could upset a Boels clean sweep. With this being the third race in a week the riders will be tired. Strong teams will be at an advantage; they have more cards to play and don’t have to rely on a sole individual. My money is on Lizzie Deignan to take the victory.
Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) won’t be defending the World Tour Leaders jersey opting instead to take a break. I think there is a good chance we will see van Vleuten or Niewiadoma (who are lying second and third respectively) move into the jersey after Sunday’s race.
I asked a few of the Sports Directors for their thoughts ahead of Sunday’s race. Manel Lacambra (Cylance Pro Cycling) thinks that Liège is probably the hardest race of the three Ardennes. ‘The course is more technical, with longer climbs and steeper. The last 40km will make a lot of pain and big natural selection. Only a top rider or a top climber rider can win there. If the climbers have a good tactic, the race will be decide by them’.
His views are shared by Donna Rae Szalinski (Wiggle High5). ‘It is HARD! Harder than Amstel and Flèche in my opinion. There are several uncategorised climbs which are hard, as well as the categorised climbs. Although the first half of the course does not have significant climbs there are very few flat sections. And obviously the last section will be brutal. Our expectations are to present our climbers in the best position – obviously Elisa has been in stellar form this year, Claudia is a proven climber and Audrey has also been performing well on the hilly courses this spring’.
Bob Varney (Drops Cycling Team) agrees. ‘We think that Sunday could be one of the hardest women’s races ever. The parcours is much tougher than it appears, truly up and down, on heavy roads, all the way until the ‘climbing’ really starts over halfway to Liege. With the increasing length of the WWT races, stronger teams, more sophisticated tactics, this one could be an epic’.
The riders also expect the race to be tough and the hardest. Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans) said ‘I have seen the course, granted I rode it the day after Flanders so I was tired, but the route is incredibly hard. It has a good shot at being the toughest one day race on the women’s calendar.’
Carlee Taylor (Alé Cipollini) shares Lacambra’s view ‘I think Liège will be the hardest race out of the three Ardennes classics we have this week. It is just up and down the whole day. The first classified climb isn’t until approximately km 80 but before that it’s not flat. The final 3 climbs are really quite steep. I think the peloton is just going to get smaller and smaller due to the nature of the course. The winning move will be made on those final climbs’.
So what are some of the favourites expecting?
Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling) said ‘I want to approach every race with no expectations or any hopes for amazing result because I am bit afraid or I am trying to avoid feelings of disappointment afterwards! So as always I want to do my best during the race. Be in right place and with a good position before important key moments! I feel ready, strong focused and super motivated for hard battle so we will see where my place in peloton is. What I only hope is to have safe race without any bad luck.’
Anna van de Breggan (Boels-Dolmans) ‘If the team is strong and able to do it, we can make the race really hard. Liege is a hard race We’ll see. We’ll try. If it works out like today, it’s really great – like today. If not, it doesn’t. That’s racing. Have fun in the race and do your best. You can’t do more. The whole team is strong and working very hard. I already have two nice victories. I think it would be nice if one of my teammates would win the race. Winning all three races this week as a team would be really special’.
Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott) ‘I expect the podium of today will be strong again. However there is no uphill finish so, for me, I hope it will be a super hard race on every climb then I am at my best!’
Shara Gillow FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope, finished 5th at Flèche Wallonne and 6th at Strade Bianche. She is my outside pick for a podium on Sunday. ‘I want to do well in this race naturally. The course looks hard, which really suits me. Tomorrow we will do a bit of a recon of the course as a team. I’m really looking forward to racing Sunday, being WT makes it exciting and because it’s the first addition for the women at this level I think we will make it a great race!’
I asked her who will be the riders to watch and she said ‘you only have to look at races like Strada and see who is up there – and yesterday’s race was good to see again. But the course in Liège I think is different to anything we have raced so far, so it makes it exciting with the unknown!’
Flavia Oliveira, Lares-Waowdeals Women Cycling team, finished 10th at Flèche Wallonne and I expect her to do well on the hilly Liège course. She thinks ‘we are going to continue to see that Dolmans have hit their stride as a team. Last year was my first season doing the classics, and Liège will be a first time for all of us, which is incredible. It’s pretty cool to see our sport taking strides in the right direction. Expect the fireworks at the race …just like the previous races!’
HOW TO FOLLOW
Voxwomen (@Voxwomen) will be live-tweeting the race, offering unique insight from our team’s expertise in both riding the race and covering women’s cycling.
Twitter: @LiegeBastogneL #LBLwomen
About Sharon Laws
Sharon worked for over 10 years as a conservation advisor for a range or organisations before becoming a professional bike rider. She is a former road, time trial and mountain bike marathon National champion and World Champion bronze medalist in the team time trial. Sharon represented Great Britain on the road at five World Championships, the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games and, on the mountain bike, at the European Championships. Sharon retired in 2017 and is currently undergoing intensive treatment for cancer. (Photo credit: C M Muller)