To think that it is still referred to as the flat country! Riders who have participated in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, following an intensely packed week of steep hills and climbs of every variety, do not remember Belgium as a flat country. The ultimate event in the Ardennes series of Classics is also the most gruelling, the most nerve-racking, the steepest and the longest. With close to 261 km on the programme, the riders face a seven hour stint in the saddle: the best scenario is a relaxed mood on the outward trip; the onslaught of the ruthless fight for final victory makes the round trip tenser.
The climbs scattered along the course rarely serve as a springboard, unless an intrepid adventurer manages to follow in the wake of Bernard Hinault’s epic performance through the snow in 1980: they operate according to a much more subtle selection procedure. In the thick of the action on the Stockeu climb then on the Haute-Levée, keeping up the pace in the ascent of the Vecquée, should the attack be launched in the climbing of the Redoute? Or is it better to wait for the Saint-Nicolas?
Will this year’s modification to the route – the steeper Roche aux Faucons will replace the Tilff – provide a further opportunity to strike a winning blow in the last 15 kilometres?
Analysis of previous race scenarios inscribed in the long history of the Oldest of the Classics throws no light on any miracle winning formula: certain riders are betrayed by their emotions; others underestimate the opposition, and then later learn from their mistakes. The only clear-cut certainty: in the presence of a revered personage humility is the winning virtue.
Director of the Tour de France