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Why La Doyenne Is Different

Lbl_mediumIf you look at the other Big Classics Week, it's quite easy to tell one race from another. Yes, the similarities outnumber the differences, but each race has its own Classics plague as its signature. Tour of Flanders: sharp little climbs. Gent-Wevelgem: wind. Paris-Roubaix: ___ [It'll come to you...]

Can you break down Ardennes Week this way? Let's try. I'll name the races and you write down the first thing that pops in your head.

1. Amstel Gold Race

2. Fleche-Wallonne

3. Liège-Bastogne-Liège

What popped into your head? On the flip...


1. Beer. OK, maybe the Cauberg. Or the number 31, as in total of climbs.

2. The Mur. You know it, I know it, they know it.

3. Le Cote de la Redoute? Bernard Hinault in the snow? Italian climbers? Alejandro Valverde?

For me, the defining image of Liège-Bastogne-Liège is 3km. The signature of the race is fewer, longer, harder climbs, including five ascents coming in just under or over 3km, all of which will put a dent in your legs. Here's your list:

  • Km 57.5 - Côte de Ny - 1.8 km climb to 5.7 %
  • Km 82.0 - Côte de la Roche-en-Ardenne - 2.8 km climb to 4.9 %
  • Km 128.0 - Côte de Saint Roch - 0.8 km climb to 12 %
  • Km 172.0 - Côte de Wanne - 2.7 km climb to 7 %
  • Km 178.5 - Côte de Stockeu - 1.1 km climb to 10.5 %
  • Km 184.0 - Côte de la Haute-Levée - 3.4 km climb to 6 %
  • Km 196.5 - Côte du Rosier - 4.0 km climb to 5.9 %
  • Km 209.0 - Côte de la Vecquée - 3.1 km climb to 5.9 %
  • Km 226.5 - Côte de la Redoute - 2.1 km climb to 8.4 %
  • Km 241.5 - Côte de la Roche aux Faucons - 1.5 km climb to 9.9 %
  • Km 255.5 - Côte de Saint-Nicolas - 1.0 km climb to 11.1 %

By contrast, in Amstel Gold the toughest climbs are sharp little monsters, but all in the 1km-ish range. The race features a handful (five??) of climbs roughly at or over 2.5km, but none averages more than a 4% gradient. In La Flèche, the Côte de Peu d'Eau is the longest at 2.7km, averaging but 3.9%.

Like La Flèche, L-B-L counts a mere eleven ascents, but they are brutes. Three climbs in the 1km range, the easiest of which averages 10.5%. Five more in the 1-3km range, all but one in the 6-7% range. Three mega-climbs between km 184-209, none under 5.9%.

But this is only part of the story: you could just as easily count 23 climbs on the course, though for whatever reason where the AGR organizers would do so, the L-B-L team does not. Côte de Sprimont? 1.5km at 5%... not counted. [An unpleasant surprise coming just after La Redoute.] Finish in Ans, a rise of 65 meters in the last km (ergo an average 6.5% grade)? Not counted. Look at the profile generally and tell me where the easy spots are in the last 100km:


This is a hard race. Yes, Amstel and La Fleche are hard, but this is hard.