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Our overseas PRO tipster, Chris D’Amelio, racing for Cinelli gives us the inside scoop for Sunday’s classic – Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Well the early season classics are truly into full swing! The cobblestone battles produced some exciting racing and amazingly we saw the same names itched onto the trophies as in the previous editions of both Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders. Here in Belgium, the fans go a little crazy for their lycra-clad heroes and with the local ProTour outfit Quickstep taking out both victories, you can be assured there were a few extra Duvel’s going round late into the night. This week, it’s the more slender riders who get their turn as the riders fight it out for glory in the Ardenne classics. The most prestigious of these races is Liege-Bastogne-Liege, a race that in 1999 was taken out by fellow team mate Frank Vandenbroucke, when he stormed to glory up the final climb. It was on one of the early climbs however, where the race really took its form and acted as the launch pad for victory. Frank’s brutal attack here was all the more impressive, as he had said on television the day before that this was the exact place he would make his move. This climb is the mystical Côte de la Redoute.
Out of the town of Aywaille, the climb curves it way round and runs parallel to the highway. The local government had to make special modifications to highway as traffic jams were frequent occurrence from fans stopping on the road to watch the race come through. From here the road heads left and as the gradient increases. On the road the names of all the stars, past and current, are painted in the classic white… Merckx, VDB, Valverde. But the rider who takes the cake for the most markings is by far Philippe Gilbert who lives in the area. For almost the entire length of the climb his name is inscribed in capital letters on the road. PHIL PHIL PHIL…
The official race stats unfortunately, do not do the climb justice. At a length of just 2.1km, it has an average gradient of a mere 8.4% although in its steepest sections it ramps up to just under 20% and coming at 226.5km into this gruelling race you can be sure that the riders will be feeling the burn as they head for the heavens. When out training on the climb, I usually find myself pedalling a gear in the vicinity of 39×23 whilst attempting to snap the gear lever into magically finding something easier. For the contenders however, a 42 tooth chain ring is a common upgrade to make sure they maximize their gears ratios. Rumour has it, when Frank attacked on the climb and successfully dropped race favourite Michele Bartoli, he was pedalling no lower than the 42×16 up the steepest sections of the climb.
The climb was once of even greater importance in the race, as it came in the last 15km before the run into Liege. In more recent years though an extra 15km has been added to the parcours meaning that it is now usually a bigger selection of riders that make it over the climb before the penultimate deciding move is made closer to the finish. That said, the climb is an extremely popular place for fans to flock to on the day of the race.
So who is going to win on Sunday? Although I’d love to see an Aussie up on the top of the podium, and namely Cadel Evans as he is our best chance, I think on the day he may just be outclassed. My tip is the Italian Damiano Cunego.