The hundredth !
The Oldest still for the boldest
When they planned their race in 1892, the officials of Pesant Club Liegeois (P.C.L.) and Liège Cyclist’s Union (L.C.U.) were dreaming of a Paris-Liège-Paris. Instead they opted for Bastogne, the furthermost railway station they could reach by train on time for the time checks. More than 120 years later, Bastogne remains the turning point of the Doyenne, or the Oldest, changed after 100 editions into a venerable cycling monument cherished by the riders, who single it out as one of their favourite classics.
All agree that it is far less of a specialist matter than Paris-Roubaix, less erratic than the Tour of Flanders. That it is a wearing-down process only attainable by the most versatile riders in the bunch. Its roll of honour is a striking homage. Take the French, who never did too well on the roads of the Ardennes. In the past 60 years, only two of them managed to win in Liege, Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault. The "Badger"’s victory in the snow in 1980 remains one of the highlights of the Spring classic sometimes stretching the rigours of winter into May. It was the case in 1919, when only nine riders finished after ten hours on the saddle or in 1957 when Louison Bobet admitted having been through the hardest ordeal in his career. La Doyenne kills slowly along its legendary ascents, from the Stockeu, dear to Eddy Merckx, to La Redoute and Les Forges, which were the deciders of most races in the 1980s, and the latest final test, St Nicolas. Liège, as the English speakers shorten it, is renowned for its hills, denying Belgium’s reputation as a flat country and turning climbers into real contenders, but also for the men who made its history. And it is a race in which only the strong survive. Among them was, of course, “the Cannibal”, Eddy Merckx, a record five-times winner honoured by a plaque on the Stockeu, but also his fellow-Belgians bewitched by the Old Lady, like three-time winners Léon Houa or Fred De Bruyne, as well as local heroes Joseph Bruyère and Philippe Gilbert. Not to mention Raymond Impanis, who won all the major classics except this, finishing second four times. Or the Italians, so closely linked to the Province of Liege and who paid homage to this welcoming land by winning 12 times. It is also impossible not to mention such strong characters as Swiss Ferdi Kübler, twice crowned in the 1950s, or Ireland’s Sean Kelly, who inspired last year’s winner Daniel Martin. A fine collection of memories for such an old lady.
Jean-François Pescheux (Amaury Sport Organisation) :
« A nod to the historical climbs »
« For the 100th edition, we vowed to retain a modern course with a nod at all the great climbs in the history of Liège-Bastogne- Liège. This is why we reintroduced Cote des Forges, first climbed in 1960, and so crucial in the 1980s when it was the last hill before Liege and a place of attacks or regroupings. We also put back Haute-Levée, which was part of the classic trio inserted in 1952 with Cote de Wanne and Rosier. Of course we kept the Stockeu, which became the playground of Eddy Merckx. Then there is La Redoute, which is not so important since the race no longer finishes in Liege but in Ans. Yet La Redoute – since 1974 – is La Redoute. It’s a monument and a rallying spot for the crowd. Since 1998, St Nicolas, the last climb before the finish, has made the difference because modern cycling is so competitive that you still have 70 riders at the foot of that last hill. Even though in 2009, for Andy Schleck’s victory, Roche-aux-Faucons, introduced the previous year, had been decisive. This is also the history of Liège-Bastogne-Liège – an almost entirely flat course in 1892 and climbs added in the course of time. »
Côte de la Roche-en-Ardenne
2.8 kilometre-long climb at 6.2%
Côte de Saint-Roch
1 kilometre-long climb at 11.1%
Côte de Wanne
2.8 kilometre-long climb at 7.2%
Côte de Stockeu
1 kilometre-long climb at 12.4%
Côte de la Haute-Levée
3.6 kilometre-long climb at 5.6%
Col de la Vecquée
3.1 kilometre-long climb at 6.4%
Côte de La Redoute
2 kilometre-long climb at 8.9%
Côte des Forges
1.9 kilometre-long climb at 5.9%
Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons
1.5 kilometre-long climb at 9.3%
Côte de Saint-Nicolas
1.2 kilometre-long climb at 8.6%
1892 - Léon Houa (Bel)
The inaugural winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège,a member of one of the founding clubs, kept his crown three years in succession. Like Merckx and Argentin, he is one of only three riders with Merckx and Argentin to have achieved a hat trick in la Doyenne. He had become the first official Belgian professional when he clinched his third victory in 1894.
1952 - Ferdi Kübler (Sui)
Soon after the creation of Flèche Wallonne, the Ardennes weekend became a Swiss specialty. In 1951 and 1952, Kübler, the 1950 Tour de France winner and 1951 world champion, won both races. The Eagle of Adliswil is still the only rider to have won both Flèche and Liège twice in succession.
1966 - Jacques Anquetil (Fra)
Anquetil was hardly a classics specialist having only won Ghent-Wevelgem when he reluctantly decided to take part in la Doyenne in 1966 to challenge the up-and-coming Poulidor and Gimondi. Helped by the heat, which he relished, he surged in Mont-Theux to score his major classics victory.
1975 - Eddy Merckx (Bel)
In Liège like everywhere else, the master’s name is Eddy. He is the only five times winner of la Doyenne. Legend has it that he would have won a sixth one had he not been trapped by the De Vlaeminck brothers in a tunnel shortly before the finale of the 1970 edition. His fifth victory was a last gap effort as he only caught Bernard Thévenet in the last 300 metres.
1980 - Bernard Hinault (Fra)
Bernard Hinault’s second victory in Liège is one of the masterpieces in his career. In the freezing cold and the snow, the Frenchman rode on his own for 80 kms before winning a classic edition of the race: only 21 out of 174 starters crossed the line, the second of them, Hennie Kuiper, nine minutes behind "the Badger".
1991 - Moreno Argentin (Ita)
The aggressive Italian rider turned Liège-Bastogne- Liège into an Italian specialty, winning four times, at the expense of worthy contenders like Claude Criquielion or Stephen Roche. A specialist of the Ardennes classics, Argentin also won Flèche Wallonne three times.
2009 - Andy Schleck (Lux)
His elder brother Frank had shown the way by twice finishing on the podium. In 2009, it was another brotherly affair, which Andy crowned with his first major laurels. The younger Schleck attacked in La Roche-aux-Faucons to seal victory in his favourite event. Between 2008 and 2011, he finished four times in the top five.
2011 - Philippe Gilbert (Bel)
Unbeatable in the one-day races since the start of the season, the local hero achieved a historical Grand Slam by winning the race of his dreams, after Brabantse Pijl, Amstel Gold and Fleche Wallonne. He became, after the Italian Rebellin, the second rider to snatch the three legs of the Ardennes triptych. His only regret that year was the world title, which he eventually won in 2012.
Jacques Anquetil (winner 1966)
« I rode into the suburbs of Liege knowing I had it, my exemplary victory in the most beautiful classic - me, the stage race rider… »
Eddy Merckx (winner 1969, 1971, 1972, 1973 et 1975)
« The first one was the greatest of the five, even though the last, with the world champion jersey on, is a great memory because I beat Thévenet. »
Joseph Bruyère (winner 1976 et 1978)
« I have a sort of an affective relationship with the Doyenne. Every time I was riding it, it was in front of my home crowd on roads I had ridden as a child. The two victories I won in it remain my fondest memories. »
Bernard Hinault (winner 1977 et 1980)
« Snow? Of course it was snowing, of course it was cold. But I was paid to pedal. »
Sean Kelly (winner 1984 et 1989)
« It’s one of the monuments of the season. It’s definitely a fantastic race to win and to win it twice is very special to me. »
Andy Schleck (winner 2009)
« To me, it’s the best race. It’s my favourite race in the season. Even when I check the course I enjoy it immensely. »
Philippe Gilbert (winner 2011)
« In the past, Liège-Bastogne-Liège was the race of my dreams, now I won it. To win Liège-Bastogne-Liège is extraordinary, but I would not mind winning it twice. This race still makes me dream. »
Celebrating the 100th…
La Doyenne is a spoiled old lady with many celebrations held before, during and even after the 100th edition of the race taking place on Sunday, April 27:
■ Launching on January 17 of a countdown «100 days before the 100th» in Bastogne and in Liege.
■ Retrospectives and a video clip on the history of the race starring Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault will be broadcast from Friday, January 17 until Sunday, April 27 on Belgian TV RTBF.
■ A special 100th edition tee-shirt will go on sale from the start of April.
■ An exhibition on the history of the race will be organised by the Museum of Walloon Life in the Espace Atrium of SPI from Tuesday, April 15 to Thursday, May 15..
■ Jean-Francois Pescheux, director of competitions at Amaury Sport Organisation, will take part in the under- 23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège on April 19. He will act as a race director on board an official A.S.O. car.
■ Flèche Wallonne will start from Bastogne on Wednesday, April 23.
■ Cycle ride Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Saturday, April 26.
■ A vintage publicity Caravan will lead the race on Sunday, April 27.
■ A Trial exhibition will take place on the finish line in Ans on Sunday, April 27.
■ A sprint will be held at kilometre 100 in front of the Bastogne Town Hall. A bonus of 5,000 euros will be awarded to the winner.
■ Publishing of a book on the history of Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
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