Last year I rode my first Spring Classic sportive at the Paris Roubaix.
It was a fantastic experience in which amongst other things I learnt about riding on cobbles. After recovering from Paris Roubaix (swollen fingers for 7 days), I was wondering which other of the Spring Classics I should be riding next.
It was between Flanders and Liege-Bastogne-Liege (LBL) and I decided on Liege-Bastogne-Liege the oldest of the classics “La Doyenne”.
Preparation had not been ideal due to a niggling knee injury so I decided to swap from the 273km as originally intended and ride the 156km distance instead.
I drove to Belgium on Friday in time to pre-register at Liege to save time and hassle on Saturday morning the registration process was very efficient. Unfortunately due to my original Liege accommodation being double booked I ended up in a hotel 30 minutes drive away (note: accommodation does get booked up early).
The route card I was given at registration showed six categorised climbs for the 167km route. As we left Liege we began a climb, but this wasn’t one of the categorised climbs, in fact we’d climbed over 800m before we hit the first “official” climb. For the first 40kms or so I rode with a fast group of 12 and we were picking up lots of large groups along the way at time we had 100+ riders behind us in the group.
Once the road split for the long distance several riders peeled off and the tempo went up the original 12 was now 6 with a few followers the road continued on an undulating route with a climb to the first feed station at 42km.
After a very brief stop I continued with one other rider form Luxembourg, we rode together in the pouring rain and spray for approximately 50 km and passed and dropped several riders along the way, considering nearly 8000 riders started it seemed strange to be riding with just one other rider. It was very hard doing turns into the wind and rain.
The first hard climb L’ancienne came just after the feed at around 50K followed by undulating roads then a steep wet cobbled descent to the next feed at 67k after another brief 5 minute stop we climbed the Côte de la Haute-Levée, which is 3.5km at an average grade of 6% and a maximum of 12% This climb starts with about 500 metres pave through the centre of a town then the climb continues as a smooth tarmac rise with a concrete barrier in the middle. After a hairpin it eases up just before a roundabout, then there’s a false flat that follows which drags on forever.
Not long after that was the Côte du Rosier which has a gradient at 5.7% a maximum of 12% and a kilometre longer at 4.5km. Rosier is just that bit steeper and is harder to maintain pace on but it’s still a very picturesque climb through the trees on a quiet road although we were riding in low cloud so unfortunately no views today.
From the Rosier there was around 25km of mostly riding downhill. During that there was also a wonderful section along a river where we all rode together at about 35kmh, which was a good way to tick off a few of miles.
The next climb to come was the famous Côte de la Redoute 2k average 8.4% and 20% maximum. The climbs were now getting hard especially with 100km in the legs, it’s another tough one but it’s fantastic too – lots of painted names on the road (mostly for Philippe Gilbert and he had a party tent half way up for his fans with a big screen outside). It was also my first time riding through all the camper vans like you see during the Tour. Redoute had dozens of them on the climb up.
Only a short time to recover before the next timed climb that was the Côte de la Roche Faucons at 126km 1.5k and 16% maximum this was nearly a disaster as a rider in-front of me couldn’t continue on one of the steep sections and she fell of pretty much stationary and fell right in front of me and I just managed to avoid riding into her head ! – On with the climb.
The last climb of the day was another of those iconic ones from the pro race, the Côte de Saint Nicolas at 141km– which winds its way up through a poor neighbourhood in Liege. The climb is only 1000m long but averages 11.1% and tops out at 17% and that’s not easy with 140 in your legs.
One more draggy climb (another non-categorised) followed by a fast wet cobbled descent towards the finish.
Through the finish area 156km and place my bike in the secure bike lot and have a sit down in the dry with a hot sandwich before driving back to the hotel for a well-earned Belgium beer or two.
My timed climbs placed me in the top 800 out of approximately 8000 so pleased with my climbing considering I was not giving it 100% with my knee injury.
The roads for the sportive had a lot more cars on them than the Paris Roubaix and the standard of Belgium driving was dreadful and at times scary.
If you like the idea of doing a spring classics ride but aren’t so keen on cobbles – do put Liege Bastogne Liege on your list – it’s a fantastic ride. If you want a really big challenge – do the full 279 in a day and climb the best part of 5,000m.
On the Sunday I drove around and watched a very good professional race and managed to see the riders at five different view-points including:
Côte Saint-Roch and
Côte de la Redoute