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Liège - Bastogne - Liège
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Written by Wicky (2005-03-01 00:00)
Translated by Michiel (2006-02-14 00:00:00)

Liege-Bastogne-Liege is rightfully known as "La Doyenne", French for "the oldest" or "the senior". After all, it is the oldest of the cycling classics. Races have been organised in the Belgian Ardennes South of Liege as early as 1892. The Safety Club Liègois organised a race from Liege to Bastogne and back. It was meant as a test for the marathon race Liege-Paris-Liege, which was never held. Fortunately, L-B-L went on to become a great classic in it's own right.

On May 29, 1892, Léon Houa won the first edition. In 1893, Houa won La Doyenne again as an amateur. The next year, he returns to the start as a professional. He once again emerges victorious from this race where amateurs and professionals ride together for a single prize. He would not get a chance to add more victories to his list, since it took until 1908 for the 4th edition of Liege-Bastogne-Liege to be held. The organisation regularly changes dates and participation lists in these years.

After a lack of racing due to World War I, the organisation resumes their work in 1919. Up until 1924, La Doyenne is purely aimed at professionals. This is partly because of the emerging cycling fanaticism in Belgium, due to the popular Tour of Flanders. Between 1925 and 1930, independent riders are again allowed to participate, but from 1931 to now the organisation stuck to the view again that only professionals should entertain themselves with La Doyenne.

When in 1948 the classification Desgange-Colombo is founded, Liege-Bastogne-Liege is, unlike the younger race Fleche Wallone, not included. Three years and many protests later, La Doyenne is included after all and gains status as an international classic. During the 1950s and 1960s there is even a special Ardennes Weekend classification, consisting of La Doyenne and the Fleche Wallonne. Many greats have climbed the hills of the Ardennes in the past with the goal of being first at the finish line in Liege. Among these names is Eddy Merckx, “the cannibal”, who won La Doyenne 5 times. Other greats like Anquetil, Kübler and Bartoli have also been victorious in Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

The race includes many hills: 18 official Côtes need to be conquered. On paper, the most difficult one is the Côte de Stockeu. This hill which occurs after 170 kilometers of racing covers an elevation of 218 meters in 2.4 kilometers, an average gradient of 9.6%. While the last kilometer is relatively easy, keep in mind that you have just climed 1.4 kilometers with gradients of 12, 13 or even 15 percent! The bad road quality and the narrow path are also not particularly helpful. While this is in theory the toughest climb of the day, most cyclists will experience the Côte de la Redoute as the most difficult. This climb comes 50 kilometers later, is 1.7 kilometers long and includes a part with a 17 percent gradient. In the past, the race was often decided here. Nowadays, the decision does not occur until later on, when the peleton reaches the Côte de Saint Nicholas. This is a short climb (just 1.1 kilometer), but has an average gradient of 11%. This variety of hills offers chances for everyone...but victory only goes to the true allrounder.

Aside from the many hills, the weather and the riders cause enough trouble. Because this classic is traditionally held in April, you can expect stormforce winds, downpoors or even a nice comfortable sunny day at La Doyenne. With a tough course, tough weather and usually extremely tough opponents, Liege-Bastogne-Liege is a true classic race.

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