Liège should make you think of hills given it is host to the oldest classic on the calendar, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and its monts. But today’s prologue course is flat and for the time trial specialists.
Every day at 9.00am you will find a preview of the day’s stage with up-to-date information on the route, riders and more. In the first of a daily preview of each stage, let’s take a look at the route, the riders and plenty more.
Route: a 6.4km that gets more technical in the second half but this is one for the time trial specialists. There are several long straights where raw power is everything and some riders are using a 58T chainring.
Riders: this looks like a duel between Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin. These days Cancellara seems better suited to shorter courses whilst I think Tony Martin prefers a longer route with a climb or two so I think Cancellara is my pick for the day. Gustav Larsson of Vacansoleil-DCM), Patrick Gretsch (Argos Oil-Shimano) and Bert Grabsch (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) are other specialists but likely to be spectators to a duel between Cancellara and Martin.
Once upon a time Wiggins was a prologue specialist but he’s a lot more these days. He could be a winner today and with the weight of expectation anything outside the top-10 will be a worry. Evans will look for the top-10 too. The time gaps matter, first in the absolute as every second counts but also for mental advantage as being behind means worries for the race ahead although this is relative, for example some of the climbers will be happy to limit their losses to 45 seconds. Watch for Peter Sagan too, the bookies have him as a favourite but I think his prologue win in last month’s Tour of Switzerland owed itself to a big uphill effort and then wild skills downhill.
History Repeating? The Tour also started with a prologue in Liège in 2004 and a 23 year old Fabian Cancellara won, his breakthrough into the top of the sport. The course is almost identical except for an extra 400m at the end. He could repeat this again.
Weather: this is crucial. 23°C (73°F) and a moderate south-westerly breeze but showers and even a thunderstorms are expected for later in the day. Rain is mixed for the riders, obviously the course becomes more slippery and the GC riders will back off a bit. But rolling resistance drops and the increase in humidity makes the air less dense, making for faster riding. But if there’s a storm the wind will pick up too and this will cost riders time.
TV: live coverage should begin from 3.00pm Euro time and certainly by 3.30pm. The first rider is off at 2.00pm and Cadel Evans is the last rider to start at 5.17pm.
Local Riders: Maxime Monfort (Radioshack-Nissan) and Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) will get a big cheer from the crowd. Liège is not far from the Dutch border and several Dutch riders have moved over the border for tax reasons. But local advantage counts for little on this urban route. Eddy Merckx is likely to show up.
Local Food: sirop de liège is made from boiling down apples and pears into a dark sugary paste that is used as a spread, especially on gauffres or waffles. Sometimes this paste is called “apple butter” in the US and it is a rich source of iron… as well as calories.
Do: get out to the countryside. Liège is the capital of Belgium’s rustbelt and has seen better days but there is plenty of good riding in the area and more for tourists.
Don’t: upset the locals. Here is Bradley Wiggins’ view of the start town, tweeted in 2010:
After a few days riding around Liege and it’s outskirts and my good mate nearly being mugged, it’s official Liege is a DUMP!
— Bradley Wiggins (@bradwiggins) April 23, 2010