The hilliest of the one day classics, Liège-Bastogne-Liège is comparable to an Alpine stage of the Tour or Giro in terms of vertical gain, although it needs 260km to achieve this. Glance at the race profile for Sunday and you’ll see the 10 climbs on the route. These are the côtes répertoriées, or “catalogued climbs”.
Only the race has many climbs that aren’t catalogued. Here’s one that is crucial as it is climbed with less than 20km to go.
Côte de la Roche aux Faucons
Since it was included in 2008 the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons (“Falcon Rock Ridge”) has become a strategic point in the race. With just 20km to go it is a make or break climb and in time past it’s been the place where Andy Schleck often put in a big attack. It’s tough, being 1.5km and over 9%. You start in Méry, climbing from Ourthe valley and go up to the the village of Hony where there’s a line to mark the top of the climb and the King of the Mountains cash prize (€500 per climb). But if you think you’re done with the Falcons, forget it.
Then follows a brief descent of 500 metres and then the road rears up again passing the limestone cliffs where the falcons nest, climbing up and up. In total it makes for a climb to the village of Gonhis, the top of the ridge, that is that is 1.6km long with a gradient of 5.5%. Only this climb isn’t mentioned.
Clearly you can’t “hide” a road, it’s not like Belgium is an unknown wilderness and the tarmac was laid wild. Instead the organisers want to list only the most identifiable steep ramps and consequently there’s a lot more to the race than the 10 designated climbs.
Labels ≠ Geography
The label of the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons does not mark the top of the climb, it is merely a staging post on the road that climbs up and away from the river valley. As such the identifiable climb is tough but anyone getting over the top needs plenty in the tank to turn a big gear on the climb to Gonhis which is just as long, although not as steep.
This is just one example from tomorrow’s route but it’s typical of the race. The steep ramps may serve as a launch pad for the most energetic riders and the specialist climbers but it is often on the exposed roads afterwards where the weakness of a tired rider is cruelly exposed.
You can see the 2011 race in the Youtube clip below just as they start the climb. Andy Schleck goes clear with his brother and Philippe Gilbert on the first ramps of the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons. But later (7m30s) watch as the road is rising to Gonhis and Enrico Gasparotto and Jérôme Pineau are dropped as Gilbert gives it some torque.
- Note this blog’s a retread from 2012 but as ever there are more and more readers so most of you will have missed it then. Plus the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons is back on the route for 2014 meaning this climb is more relevant than ever.