What sets Liège-Bastogne-Liège apart from the Cobbled Classics? Simple: La Doyenne is made for the mountain specialists
The cobbled Classics have their secteurs pavé and their bergs. Paris-Roubaix has its gruelling cobbles and combative racing. However, the oldest classic of them all is set apart by the amount of climbing the riders must conquer if they are to have any hope of victory when they finally return to Liège.
Three-time Vuelta a España winner and former Hour Record holder Tony Rominger once added up all the changes in altitude in Liège and reckoned the total came to something like a solid Alpine stage of the Tour de France.
So, starting at the turn in Bastogne and counting down to the finish at Liège, here’s our climb-by-climb guide to the hills of the last Spring Classic, 253km long and barely a metre of flat on it.
10. Côte de La Roche-en Ardenne
Average gradient: 6.2 per cent
The first of the major tests on the route, it’ll be the only classified climb en route to Bastogne. Far from the toughest in the race, it remains a fairly steady gradient between 5.5 and 7 per cent throughout.
Winding up through the woods outside of La Roche-en Ardenne, the major challenge for the peloton will be navigating it’s narrow surface. At only 78.5km gone when they hit the climb, the emphasis will be placed on staying out of trouble and near the front for the contenders and their teams.
9. Côte de St Roch
Length: 800 metres
Average gradient: 12 per cent
The first hill on the way back to Liège from Bastogne, the second on the day’s menu – and where the racing starts to get really serious. At the foot of a long sweeping descent into the town of Houffalize, a sharp righthander from a central roundabout leads up a short, well-surfaced and largely straight climb.
The catch is the gradient – viciously steep throughout and after such a fast previous descent, sure to split the bunch.
8. Côte de Wanne
Average: 7 per cent
After 40km of undulating roads, the place where the first big splits tend to go. Narrow, badly surfaced and running through a farm at one point, this one drags on and on.
There’s a bit of a descent half way up, then the second half is much worse, with a real kick at the top. Some witty person has written Alpe d’Huez at the summit, and whilst it’s not that bad, after 170km it’ll do some damage for sure.
The descent is probably the most dangerous of the entire course – fast and narrow.
7. Côte de la Haute-Levée
Average: 6 per cent
If you thought there weren’t any cobbles in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, you thought wrong. This climb starts with about 500 metres of wheel-rattling pavé through the centre of a town, with lots of bars and outside terraces if you fancy a drink whilst the race roars past.
Then the climb continues as a smooth tarmac rise with a huge concrete barrier in the middle. After a bad hairpin it eases up just before a roundabout, then there’s a false flat that follows which drags on forever.
6. Col du Rosier
Average: 5.9 per cent
This climb should be more famous than it is. Just like almost every hill in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, it starts with a right-hander, then winds its way upwards with almost no breaks. Reasonable road surface, but lots of sharp bends, mud and sudden sharp kicks upwards. A really tough climb.
5. Col du Maquisard
Average gradient: 5 per cent
With a fairly decent road surface and some width to play with, this’ll be one of the less stressful climbs for the bunch, but could still see some attacks coming around 50km from the finish.
Winding out of the village of La Reid in the Wallonia countryside, this is more likely to just be another addition to the attrition rate of the pack rather than a deciding moment in the race.
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4. Côte de La Redoute
Average: 8.4 per cent
The most emblematic climb of the whole of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and when it finished in the city centre, the one which almost always decided the race.
Traditionally it’s where the big favourites know they have to be at the front and getting in the moves – and we’re not surprised. Starts off gently enough in the middle of a small town, underneath a motorway bridge then a right-hander is where it really begins to steepen.
Narrow and twisting, there are sudden major changes of gradient which make it really strength-sapping. The fans will be three or four deep on either side of the road here and there really is nowhere to hide. Lose the wheel of the guy in front on this climb and you’re gone. Probably forever.
3. Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons
Average: 9.9 per cent
Only added to Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2008, replacing the Côte de Sart Tilmont and is another pivotal moment for splits in the bunch.
This one is a monster. It starts by going over a level crossing and then kicks upwards with constant changes of gradient and corners galore. Narrow, twisting, there’s even a huge road drain running right across the middle (yes, the middle) of the road at one point. The surface isn’t as bad as La Redoute, but it’s getting there.
As if that weren’t enough, after the official summit, there’s another kilometre of a winding unclassified climb, not as difficult, following straight after a kilometre of fast descending and a short flat section. Then it’s onto a long, long descent into one of the grimiest suburbs of grimy Liège.
2. Côte de Saint-Nicolas
Average: 11.1 per cent
Where the race always – but always – splits apart and the final attacks come thick and fast. Except this time, it’s not the final climb, which could change how this one is approched.
Running through a grimy suburb of Liège, this is basically a succession of steep corners with nothing between. Known as little Italy because of the number of immigrants from that country who live on the street, it’s not the toughest of the Liège climbs in itself, but so steep it can leave you winded.
After almost 250km of racing, very hard to handle – except for a very few top names.
1. Côte de la Rue Naniot
Average: 10.5 per cent
The new climb for 2016, and a spanner in the works from organiser ASO. It’ll change-up the way the race has finished in recent years; all out on the Saint Nicolas to cause splits before the final attack on the climb to Ans.
Not only does it come at 250.5km, just 3km from the finish, but features some rough central Liège cobbles along its 600m, averaging 10 per cent.
Get over this in touching distance of the big guns, and your chances of a podium are looking good.