2022 Liège-Bastogne-Liège Preview: The peloton will battle over the last ‘Monument’ of the spring season on Sunday on the hilly roads between Liège and Bastogne. Ed Hood takes us through the ‘Flemish Ardennes’ for the history, parcours and contenders for ‘La Doyenne’.

‘La Doyenne?’

Why do they call the race, ‘La Doyenne?’
‘La Doyenne’ is French meaning, ‘the longest serving, most experienced lady,’ the race is the oldest of all the Monuments with the first edition won by Leon Houa in 1892 as an amateur event with Houa also winning the first professional event in 1894. This will be the 108th running of the race – bear that in mind when suggesting that the Strade Bianche should be branded a ‘Monument,’ after just 16 editions.

The climb of the San Roche – More fans this year

How come the race and the Flèche Wallonne are called, ‘Ardennes Classics’ – I thought that the Ardennes were around Oudenaarde in Flanders?
It’s a little confusing, yes but the ridge at Oudenaarde is the ‘Flemish Ardennes,’ the Flèche Wallone and Liège-Bastogne-Liège races take place further to the south in the French speaking Wallonia region.

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Probably no snow this Sunday – Liege 1980

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I’ll borrow from Wiki to elaborate:
The Ardennes is a region in southeast Belgium that extends into Luxembourg, Germany and France, the rugged terrain encompasses rolling valleys, meandering rivers, extensive caves and dense forests crisscrossed with hiking paths.

Liège-Bastogne-Liège 2022 – Discover the route

Liège – Bastogne – Liège, does it really do that?
Yes, indeed, it leaves the former ‘coal and steel town’ of Liège and heads south to Bastogne at 100 kilometres before, as Super Tramp might say, ‘Taking the Long Way Home’ back to Liège to complete 250 plus kilometres.

Liege’22 map and profile

‘Bastogne,’ weren’t there big battles there in World Two?
Yes, the ‘Battle of the Bulge,’ and the parcours is dotted with reminders of those dark days; tanks, memorials, defence works. The German’s launched a desperate but eventually abortive counter-attack against allied forces in December 1944 aimed at reaching the port of Antwerp and driving a wedge between US and British forces; it lasted four weeks with 20,000 US serviceman losing their lives in freezing conditions. The US defence of Bastogne is now the stuff of military legend; on 22nd December Major-General Anthony McAuliffe, holding the besieged city was called upon by the Germans to surrender. He replied ‘Nuts!’ and when asked for clarification responded ‘Go to hell!’

Major-General Anthony McAuliffe
Major-General Anthony McAuliffe in Bastogne

Pundits say it’s the hardest of all the Monuments but Milano-Sanremo is longer and Flanders and Roubaix have all those cobbles?
All very true but the second half of this race is unrelenting with one tough climb on gnarly roads, after another, La Roche-en-Ardenne climb comes around 75K in then the Cote de Saint-Roch at 122K but inside the final 100 kilometres there are a further eight categorised climbs; and whilst these aren’t Alpine passes neither are they ‘bergs’ to be climbed purely on power. The Col du Rosier for instance at 199K is some 4.4 kilometres long – with a total of some 4,400 metres of climbing, if you can’t climb then you can’t win, it’s that simple.

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World champ, Johan Museeuw on La Redoute in Liège 1997

Isn’t La Redoute the decisive climb, though?
Not so much now, albeit used to be. There’s still a climb after La Redoute, the tough Roche-au-Faucons where Jakob Fuglsang sparked his winning move in 2019.

The finish is no longer next to the bus station

Doesn’t it finish in that horrible retail park anymore?
Thankfully, no. Outside a bus garage was an incongruous finish to a great race; taking the race back into the city rests much easier with traditionalists – including me.

Hoogvliet - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - archief - archive - stock - Eddy Merckx - foto /Cor Vos ©2008
Merckx – Five time winner in Liège

Give us some statistics then. . .
As said above, the race goes way back to 1892. ‘Recordman’ on five victories is, unsurprisingly, Eddy Merckx, he also took a second and third place in the race to give him seven podium finishes. Another man with seven podium finishes is still pushing those pedals – Alejandro Valverde has four wins, two second places and a third to his credit. Sharing four wins is dapper Italian, Moreno Argentin, a man who was virtually unbeatable in an uphill sprint at the end of a hard race.

Pogačar had the sprint in 2021

Are there any previous winners on the start list, can any of them win again?
There are six previous winners lining up and ‘yes,’ one can potentially, ‘repeat.’ Tadej Pogačar [UAE & Slovenia] won in 2021 and has had sparkling form this season but will be keen to make amends for his misjudged finishing effort which threw away a Monument podium place in de Ronde. He’s backed by a very strong team which includes Rafa Majka, Diego Ulissi and Marc Hirschi. ‘Pog’ is my choice for the day. Primoz Roglič – another of those pesky Slovenians won in 2020. The three time Vuelta winner and Paris-Nice winner this season wasn’t his usual dominant self in the Pays Basque and won’t line up in Liège due to a knee injury. “I had some problems in the muscle behind my knee before coming here, and it clearly didn’t get better during the week,” Roglič said after the Basque Country. “First I have to get myself right, feel good on the bike. We really have to look closely at what it is, to treat it in the best way so I don’t get into more trouble.”

Fuglsang solo in 2019

Jakob Fuglsang [Israel Premier Tech & Denmark] won in 2019 but he’s given us no clues thus far in 2022 that he can be in contention in a race as tough as this one.

Ans - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Bob JUNGELS (Luxembourg / Team Quick - Step Floors) pictured during the 104th Liège - Bastogne - Liège - world tour - a one day race between Liege and Ans in Belgium (258KM) - photo Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2018
Luxembourg champ Bob Jungels – Liège 2018

Bob Jungels [AG2R Citroen & Luxembourg] won in 2018 and whilst we’re not saying his best days are behind him at 29 years-of-age, he’s no longer displaying the talent he did when with Patrick Lefevere.

Cosnefroy’s non-win in the Amstel Gold Race

Jungels 26 years-old French team mate, Benoit Cosnefroy is a much better bet for the team with the diagonal writing on the maillot; second places in the Amstel Gold and Flèche Brabançonne in recent days confirms that.

Valverde won his first Liège way back in 2006 – Here he is on the way to his second in 2008

Alejandro Valverde [Movistar & Spain] who we mentioned above has won this race four times; but despite his recent strong showings in the Strade Bianche and Gran Camino it’s unlikely he can win again; there are too many ‘Young Turks’ – and those pesky Slovenians. His most recent win, 2017 at 36 years 363 days makes him the race’s oldest winner.

2016 win for Wout Poels

Wout Poels [Bahrain Victorious & The Netherlands] won in 2016 and is still a very capable rider – witnessed by his win in the Ruta del Sol, this year – however, see comments above re. ‘Young Turks’ and ‘Pesky Slovenians.’

Philippe Gilbert in 2011, the second oldest rider on the start line

Philippe Gilbert [Lotto Soudal & Belgium] won in 2011 and has five top 10 finishes off 16 participations to his name but at 38 years-of-age it’s difficult to see him usurping Valverde as the oldest winner.

The other Slovenian – Matej Mohorič

Are there any other ‘Pesky Slovenians to consider?’
No ‘Rog’, but there will be ‘Pog’ and there’s Primavera winner and one of the ‘men of the match’ in the recent Paris-Roubaix, Matej Mohorič [Bahrain Victorious & you know where] he was top 10 here last year but is a year stronger and wiser not to mention a man who excels in long, hard races.

The two hopes for Quick-Step Alaphilippe and Evenepoel

And the Young Guns?
Remco Evenepoel [Quick-Step & Belgium] at 22 years-of-age makes his Liege debut and carries the weight of huge expectation from the Belgian Media and public on his young shoulders; that pressure seems to be getting to him, however he’s still a hugely talented young man. And should he falter then his French team mate and World Champion, Julian Alaphilippe will be there to try and make amends for twice being right where he should be at the end of this race and ‘blowing’ it on both occasions, with a sprint irregularity and premature victory salute two years ago and by misjudging his sprint last year. His boss, Patrick Lefevere it hardly needs said requires a big win, BADLY and soon.

Could it be Tom Pidcock’s day?

Then there’s that other small but perfectly formed gentleman, Tom Pidcock [INEOS Grenadiers & GB] who is also 22 years-old and making his Liege debut, he’s a man whose limits we don’t yet know. What we do know is that INEOS morale is sky high, they’re on 18 wins this season with a royal flush of Basque Country, Amstel, Brabantse Pijl and Paris Roubaix just throw down on the card table. Pidcock has no media pressure on him from a British press who give the Monuments around two column inches each. His even younger team mate, Spain’s 21 years-old Carlos Rodriguez is also a man we feel is destined for great things and is worth watching here.

INEOS second choice – Carlos Rodriguez

What about Wout?
Yes, Wout van Aert [Jumbo Visma & Belgium] is on the start sheet, denied a ride in his beloved Ronde by illness he was a little ‘short’ at Roubaix but will be smarting for another big win and with another week of recovery and the right training has to be considered a potential winner.

Wout is always on form

Where can we get additional form clues?
Watch the Flèche Wallone on Wednesday – but if you’re busy you really only need to tune in for the last five minutes. . .

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Remember to watch the finish of Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday

The race tiple?
It can only be Jupiler, brewed at Piedboeuf Brewery in the Jupille-sur-Meuse neighbourhood of Liège; the highest selling beer in Belgium, with around 40 percent market share by volume.

Ed’s beer choice for Liège

# Stay PEZ for the ‘Liège Race Report’ on Sunday and all the news in EUROTRASH Monday. #

Liège’21 highlights

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