Friday, April 12, 2013

Liège-Bastogne-Liège U23 Preview: The Walloon Conundrum

While the grownup version of Liège-Bastogne-Liège is the oldest classic in cycling and has a storied history, the U23 version of La Doyenne has quite a different dynamic. Beginning only in 1986, the race did not really take shape as a targeted event until the mid-90's, when more international riders started to frequent the event. Just like many other U23 races, U23 L-B-L doesn't play out like it does with the pros.

 Firstly, there is the 6-man team factor, which mitigates the "SKY effect" where one team rides at the front until the finale. Second, this race doesn't finish on a long uphill drag like in the big race but instead on the Liège velodrome. Lastly, this race is 80 kilometers shorter and has a few less climbs than the pro version, most notably the Côte du Stockeau, with nine in total.

All of these factors put together lead to a different mix of winners, many of whom have had some unheralded professional careers. Raivis Belohvosciks won back-to-back editions in 1995 and 1996. Jurgen van Goolen won the 2000 edition over alcoholic Wim Vanhuffel and nearly no one else of note.  2001 saw Ruslan Gryshchenko win over Tom Boonen and Andrey Kashechkin. Let's stop there...Tom Boonen was 2nd in Liege-Bastogne-Liege? This is another race that tends to draw out guys with lots of talent rather than guys that will end up targeting the Ardennes classics when they graduate to the pro ranks. Other winners include Christophe Kern, Johan Vansummeren, Kai Reus, Grega Bole, Jan Bakelants, Ramunas Navardauskas and Tosh Van der Sande. Van der Sande and Bole are both names that aren't usually associated with the Ardennes and both benefitted from the shorter course and the flat finish. Even though Navardauskas is a bit of an unknown quantity in the pro ranks, he still benefitted from an incredibly high fitness level as his larger body is not what one would consider prime for the Ardennes.

The Course

The course essentially follows the return route of the pro route as the race starts in Bastogne and traces a squiggly route on its way up to Liège. The first 40 kilometers of the route are lumpy but nothing too serious until the race passes through Houffalize and goes up the Cote de Mormont. 

and quickly followed by the Côte de Mont, a climb which starts out in the village of Achouffe, home to the Brasserie d'Achouffe brewery

The race hits a lull and goes over some more lumpy terrain and it takes another 30 kilometers before they hit the next climb, the Côte de Wanne, which goes up for 2.2 kilometers and hits grades of 12%. Heading further up the road through Stoumont, the race hits two climbs: the Côte du Rosier and the Côte de la Vecquee. After this point is where the race hits some of the classic climbs of the region...

Côte de la Redoute is the home climb of superstar Philippe Gilbert and has featured in the finale of numerous L-B-L races. The climb itself is only 1.7km but averages a nasty 9.5% average with spots on the climb hitting 22%, a grade steep enough to cause an existential crisis. 

The final 24 kilometers features three tough climbs. The Côte de Tilff might only average 6 percent but it is a three kilometer climb, which will sap the legs ahead of piece de la resistance, the Côte de St. Nicolas. Only 1.4 kilometers long, the St. Nicolas is frequently where the race winner shows himself. The race takes in the last climb, the Côte d'Ans, a short climb but the summit sits only 6 kilometers from the line.

Michael Valgren wins the 2012 edition

The race finishes on the Liège velodrome...not the old famous one though. That was demolished in 1995. This is a asphalt velodrome but it still offers an interesting finish.


As it is a regular UCI 1.2U race, the organizers are free to invite any teams they wish. Well they did just that and invited a colossal 33 teams, which will mean nearly 200 riders will take the start in Bastogne. There is no positive startlist but there are a few names to watch...

Michael Valgren returns as the defending champion and looks to repeat as the winner on the velodrome. Dylan van Baarle will be here with his Rabobank Development squad and is always one to watch. Lawson Craddock will be racing his with Bontrager squad and along with teammates Jasper Stuyven, will be looking for a top result.

There is no startlist as of now so follow me on twitter, @Vlaanderen90, for updates.


  1. Usually directvelo-covered races have a startlist there a least the day before. But here - nothing. Such a shame.

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