Liege-Bastogne-Liege highlights are on ITV4
I always forget to tell you this stuff. If you’re in the UK, highlights of Liege-Bastogne-Liege are on ITV4 at 9pm on Sunday. You can also catch the programme on the ITV Player afterwards. The ITV Player still has a few of the other spring races available as well.
Cycling seems to be some way ahead of the seasons this year. Most of the Spring Classics were contested by riders in parkas and woolly hats and we now segue into summer even though few of us would have much difficulty estimating the total number of T-shirt days for the year so far.
I say this because while it may only be April, Liege-Bastogne-Liege marks a shift in focus from the Classics to the Grand Tours and there’s an appropriately mixed cast. Yes, it’s a day race, but suddenly you’ve got the likes of Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali and Alberto Contador competing for the win (even if our Albert does appear to be utterly shagged out at the minute).
The main reason the stage racers stand a chance is the amount of climbing involved – over 4,500m metres over the course of the race. Unlike a mountain stage, where you face a relatively steady gradient on which you can calibrate your effort, La Doyenne is an irregular sod. The last 100km feature a climb roughly every 10km with each being 1-2km long at an average gradient of 6-12 per cent. However, the shorter the climb, the more misleading the average gradient. These are witches and bitches and climbs out of ditches where the road kicks up and flattens out whenever it damn well pleases.
In short, it’s like cycling in the Peak District or the Lake District or Wales, Scotland or Yorkshire. It’s very British and if you cycle in these places, you’ll know what it’s like. What you almost certainly won’t know is what it’s like to tackle 260km of such beastliness in one go. This is a very tough race.
Who will win?
Christ, I don’t know. Just watch the highlights and find out. Nibali and Froome would appear to be in good form, although we haven’t seen Froome in a while and he’s never really done well in day races before, while Philippe Gilbert is well-suited to this type of riding and seems to be improving – although he’s been a little short in the other two Ardennes races.
Joaquim Rodriguez would usually be my pick, but he fell last week and didn’t do too well in La Fleche Wallonne on Wednesday. His team-mate Dan Moreno won, having been granted a rare opportunity to emerge from Rodriguez’s miniature shadow. You can watch the final kilometre of that race here. The commentator gives a really satisfying ‘voila’ when Moreno crosses the line.
If you’re pressing me on this, I’ll go for Alejandro Valverde. I don’t really like him, but he always fares well on steep climbs and he seems to be in good form. Don’t discount whatever Columbians happen to be riding though. Many of the early season stage races have been characterised by diminutive South Americans knocking many hues of merde out of everyone. Sergio Henao and Carlos Betancur have looked good, but their housemate Nairo Quintana has looked best of all. Even if he doesn’t race Liege-Bastogne-Liege, watch out for him in the Grand Tours this year.
Summer is almost here. I’m going out on my bike now.