The Moment Liège-Bastogne-Liège Was Won

The last of the Ardennes classics gets decided by a cobbled climb. Michael Albasini has powered up the Rue Naniot with 2.5km to go and Rui Costa, Samuel Sanchez and Wout Poels are going to get across while Romain Bardet and Arnold Jeannesson will not. Albasini’s move and Poel’s efforts to get across were the moment the race was won.

The early break is often a rag-tag collection of wildcard invitees hoping for their Warhol TV moment but this time the move was packed with breakaway specialists like Nicolas Edet, 2013 mountains winner in the Vuelta; Alessandro De Marchi, combativity prize in the Tour de France; Thomas de Gendt who almost won the Giro with that Stelvio stage rampage and several more raiders. For all their collective power they were contained by Movistar who set to work early on the front of the bunch.


Perhaps everyone just needed to keep warm? The thermometer said close to freezing at the start and snow on the hills meant a segment of the race was cut out, reducing the distance for the day by five kilometres. While this began to conjurie up images of Bernard Hinault and the sounds of Jacques Brel the race continued without further incident. The effects were to last all day, even if the roads were ridable it didn’t make it any easier, there’s no clothing able to keep racers dry and warm for over six hours and the cold got to many.

Thomas Voeckler launched an attack out the peloton with 60km to go over the Col du Rosier but was solo and therefore went nowhere. Up ahead the breakaway thinned over the climbs and was down to three in Edet, De Gendt and De Marchi over the Col du Maquisard. The Côte de La Redoute came and went, once a strategic high point that had riders trading but now a mere hurdle standing between the peloton and a hot shower on the team bus. While it was ridden fast the main contenders all huddled together.

Carlos Betancur attacked on the Côte de La Roche-aux-Faucons. It’s good to see him winning his battle of the bulge but it showed Movistar were trying to control the race: Betancur was attacking to force other teams into action rather than launching a bid to win the race. Few other riders were taking the initiative. Andrei Grivko had a go but probably for the same reasons as Betancur, an opening move for Astana’s in-form Tanel Kangert. Etixx-Quickstep took up the pace prevented moves from going. They seemed to want to control the race but were towing a sizeable group into town and only had a couple of support riders left.

As they switched from the charming woodland into the post-industrial wasteland that is much of Liège Michał Kwiatkowski accelerated and got away with Betancur and Grivko and all seemed to be on manoeuvres for their teams. This suggested Kwiatkowski was working for team mates Wout Poels, Lars Petter Nordhaug and Ben Swift rather than conserving energy for later.

Onto the Côte de Saint-Nicolas and Betancur tried once again but was quickly reeled in. Romain Bardet made an acceleration or two, perhaps sensing the group was too big but not wanting to waste too much energy by trying to thin the group by himself. As huddled and contained as the race looked to viewers many riders were being shelled out the back including Vincenzo Nibali and Simon Gerrans. While Nibali was being dropped, Astana team mate Diego Rosa took off with Katusha’s grand tour hopeful Ilnur Zakarin and if the move didn’t stick for long it used up the last of Etixx’s workmen.

On to the Rue Naniot, normally the humdrum suburban street but Belgium’s version of Cape Canaveral for the day given its new ability to launch riders into stardom. Julien Alaphilippe led, proof that Etixx had ran out of riders and then Michael Albasini took over. Slowly the Swiss rider began to pull away of the cobbles with Rui Costa, Samuel Sanchez and Wout Poels getting across. Behind Bardet was the next rider but looked over for Arnold Jeanneson to come past, he didn’t and the four were away. Poels, a tall and lanky rider and now wrapped in rain gear, had some thinking it was Chris Froome.

Michael Albasini

Down the descent and up the hill into Ans and Albasini kept working. Too much? Perhaps but this was how we expected Mathew Hayman to ride two weeks ago: to do everything to secure the podium chance of a lifetime. Poels too was trying to tilt the odds by throwing away his gloves, it looked poetic like someone throwing down the gauntlet but it was surely practical, shedding heavy rain soaked gloves that were slipping on the bars and clumsy for gear shifts.

As he rounded the final corner Wout Poels launched his sprint just as Albasini finally took a breather. Perhaps the Swiss rider wanted to check out his rivals for the finish? The moment’s hesitation gave the Dutchman a gap. Albasini tried to close in but Poels had time to sit up and celebrate his biggest win.

The Verdict
A thrilling finish but the race only warmed up with minutes to go. As hard as the grim conditions were it didn’t equate to an epic race that scattered the peloton over the Ardennes thanks to some peloton hardman going full Rambo with 50km to go. Instead a big bunch rode into Liège and over 50 riders finished within two minutes of the winner, something that’s only happened once before in the last decade. Much of the action came out of the back of the bunch, an endurance version of an elimination race on the track.

Ironically for all the hard climbs in the Ardennes it was on a cobbled climb that the race came alive. The Rue Naniot was introduced as a pinch of pepper to spice up the finish. It worked and should be back next year but ideally the race would keep changing the finish so that the riders don’t learn how to race the finish too well. The climb proved selective and Albasini proved the strongest, blowing Alaphilippe off his wheel and only three others could, or dared, to follow.

Team Sky finally get the Monument classic craved by Dave Brailsford, albeit in an unexpected manner. Michał Kwiatkowski was supposed to be their star signing for the Ardennes and if we expected the Pole we got Poels instead. This wasn’t the stereotype Team Sky win where the team asphyxiates a race before launching their lead rider. Poels rode a crafty race and delivered a powerful sprint.

What of the big picks? For all their work Movistar and Etixx-Quickstep get no rewards. They tried to control the race all day only to lose their grip when it mattered late on. Alejandro Valverde finished 16th, Julian Alaphilippe 23rd and Dan Martin 47th, almost two minutes down.

That’s it for the spring classics. Stage races take over now with the tasty looking hors-d’oeuvre of the Tour de Romandie ahead of the Giro. Among the stage racers Ilnur Zakarin was the surprise today with fifth place and a dark horse for the Giro; Nibali was 51st today. Rafał Majka crashed but finished, word is that he’ll be ok.

2016 Liège Bastogne Liège podium

96 thoughts on “The Moment Liège-Bastogne-Liège Was Won”

      • Still, to come out with such a well thought over & narrated piece in such a short period time is truly amazing. No race is complete for me now without seeing your “the moment the race is won” piece.

        And thanks again for all the excellent pieces over the years. I am arguably bought into the sport by the success of Sky in 2012. Wouldn’t have been introduced to the vast and diverse cast of characters in cycling and enjoyed the sports as much without reading your site.

          • I think Inrng would be seriously alcoholic if they took all they are owed in pints. Maybe we should set up a rota to go round pints, coffees, digestifs, tea, wheatgrass smoothies to the amazing energy levels up etc.

  1. To be fair this was one of the more exciting LBL finales and the inclusion of the new climb was way more interesting than the previous finish; even when enhanced with pandas.

    • It wasn’t as infuriatingly depresseing as 2014 and 2015, but still very depressing. The sprint was 2km long instead of just 1km. Wow. 70 guys atop the Roche aux Faucons, if you can believe it and don’t pass out in doing so. Most riders simply set out to spend the whole day in bureaucratic peloton, I bet the average speed was high, with everybody getting so much drafting. It felt more like a frigging San Remo than a L-B-L. When was it decided that attacking on the Roche aux Faucons doesn’t work. It worked not so long ago.
      I mean: are these guys aware of what they’re doing to the sport? The Ardennes, as these guys conceive them and interpret them, are simply unbearable to watch. Impossible, absolutely impossible to bring new fans to such a sport!

  2. I enjoyed it, seemed Albasini’s type of hill the new one and a catch seemed possible until the last 500 m but I don’t think anybody in the chasing group had the legs. Remember Poels pacing a tiring Froome in the TDF and saving his tour

  3. This years L-B-L (as well as Amstel Gold Race and Fleche Wallonne for that matter) shows that throwing a ton of climbs into a race doesn’t necessarily make it a great race.

    I wonder if little less hilly finish in L-B-L would make it a more thrilling race?

  4. It might be Sky’s first monument, but arguably they have been the team of the classics – albeit in a season in which there has not really been a standout dominant team – and with results spread around a diverse group.

    A very quick virtual “medal” table covering just the four monuments showed that Sky has three podiums (plus a fifth place in Flanders), better than any other team.

    Sky 1-1-1
    Orica 1-1-0
    FDJ 1-0-0
    Tinkoff 1-0-0
    Trek 0-1-0
    Ettix 0-1-0
    Lotto-Soudal 0-0-1
    Lotto-NL 0-0-1
    Lampre 0-0-1

    Matt Hayman notwithstanding, I wonder if in retrospect this season will be seen as the year in which the old generation – Boonen, Cancellara, Valverde et al – definitively gave way to the new?


    • A good point. They’ve also animated a fair few of the races they’ve been involved in. Kwiatkowski’s seemed to have a dig in almost every race he’s taken part in. Maybe they’ve learnt that you can’t quite ‘calculate’ the classics in the way you can a grand tour?

      • Mix of a few factors, I suspect. Including bringing on the riders they already had like Thomas, Rowe, Stannard & Swift, bringing in new ones like Kwiato & Poels, learning the races, the courses etc.

    • Boonen with 2nd in Roubaix and Valverde with first in Fleche Wallonne… I wouldn’t say this was the end of the old generation at all. Add in a resurgance for Gasparotto, and Hayman winning Roubaix at his 14th(?) attempt. Definately still seemed like a year for the “experienced” riders to shine once we moved away from the Med.

  5. The final four somewhat laboured round that last corner. Sanchez especially liked either cooked or frozen stiff or possibly both. Good finish though, Albasini maybe thinking what could have been!

  6. In a sport where so many pro riders actually have the tactical nous of a beetle, preferring to finish tenth rather than second towing somebody else to the line, it was great to see a rider use real tactical skill to finish out a great day. Refreshing.

    • Exactly. Also very smart of Sky to go for Poels when he looked so strong on the Redoute and Roche aux Falcons, instead of sticking with Kwiatkowski which may DS’s would have done.

    • Makes you wonder whether Sky is the best team for him. Poels was 4th at FW and Kwiatkowski had quite a bad day at Amstel, but still he wasn’t appointed as (co-)leader and in the end was supposed to work for Kwiatkowski/Froome.
      I think I read a few months back Poels was hoping to be team captain at the Giro. Then Landa was signed. Would be a shame if his talents go to ‘waste’ at Sky just pulling the bunch for Froome. I hope this win is a turning point in his career.

      • Nah he seems to be right at home there. Poels is the sort of cyclist who is happy to play second fiddle. He’s also at that stage he could lead a GT soon. Besides, we all know Froome wasn’t really a leader today, more a hypothetical if anything, and Poels had protected and free status. He’s learning a lot about the potential in his body after a few years of wilderness. In terms of cycling nous he’s definitely got it. Good to see him feeling at home and appreciated in a proper top side, he’s good enough for more of these wins and podia at stage races, maybe even GTs. Not to mention he’s as nice a bloke as you’ll find.

      • Peter, I don’t think you have the right information:: Poels was appointed a leader role. Kwiatkowski, Poels and Nordhaug would be protected into the finale, and their priority order was just like that before the start. However, it was understood that Nordhaug would help the one with best legs, Kwiatek or Poels. Turned out to be Poels, and they re-ordered their priorities accordingly. Hard to call that an unwise game plan now.

        • I saw a pre-race interview with Poels where he stated that he was protected but would have to work for Kwiatkowski in the finale would that moment come. There was a clear moment in the race though where the leadership was re-aligned and you saw Kwiatkowski and Nordhaug working for Poels.
          But I might be misinformed as you say. Looking back his results this year say he’s feeling pretty good on the team.

          • Sky’s prerace interviews are to blame then: perhaps some targeted desinformation game they play, for other teams to hear? The info on Norwegian Eurosport was that Nordhaug would have to work for Kwiatek or Poels (in other words, very unlikely that he would get to ride for his own results in the finale.) This information was not conveyed as an interview, but both DS Arvesen and rider Nordhaug are often guests in studio there, so I assume the commentary had a reliable source for the information.
            It was wrong words to say you didn’t have the right information, you just had another piece of information and the pieces don’t match perfectly. Sorry!

        • C’mon, when Poels followed the acceleration of Costa & Sanchez as they started to chase Albasini on the cobbled climb, he was marking a move… probably with the same idea as Valverde and the rest – that it would come back.

          Poels benefited from being the one to follow that move, and then take advantage when the chasing group couldn’t pull it back. Was he the designated leader at that time? Maybe when there was 1KM to go and it was clear they would stay away. When the move went was he leader? I think he was just marking with Kwiat waiting in the wings ready to try to follow Valverde when / if he made his move to bridge across.

  7. @Tom J I wouldn’t say there was a definitive end to the old generation this year. Valverde in Fleche Wallone, Van Avermaet in Omloop, Hayman in Roubaix, Cancellara in Strade Bianchi and Boonen staving off retirement for one season.

    Who do you think will be the dominant group for the next few years? Sagan and Kwiatkowski for sure, maybe Poels and Stybar too.

  8. Notable result from Sam Oomen: 26th as a 20yo first year WT. After a great performance earlier this year in Criterium International.

  9. At the closing kilometer I thought it was Betancur, Grivko and Michal Golas, not Kwiatkowski.
    So did the RAI commentators. Golas is a bit smaller and wasn’t wearing the rainbow bands, altough the warmer could be covering it. Still…

  10. Great to see Poels getting a big win. Sympathetic guy (at least on TV, don’t know him personally), and very passionate bike rider. I viewed him as a great young climbing talent before his nearly carreer-ending crash in the ‘Metz massacre’ stage in the 2012 TDF (for those who don’t know, he tried to finish the stage with a couple of broken ribs, ruptured spleen and some more injuries but was convinced by the team to quit). When he came back and went to Sky I remember an interview in which he said he knew he’d be on domestique duty, but was glad he at least got a chance to race again, and hoped that he might in time convince the team to give him a chance to lead. Awesome to see that it worked out.
    And of course, it’s good to see a Dutchman win LBL, that was a long time ago!

  11. It’s nice to see Poels winning after some gutsy performnces at Sky.

    In light of the comment on Sky’s flexible approch today, it was the first race as lead DS for Kurt Asle Arvesen.

    I tend to think their improvement is mostly down to having more riders suited to the job of spring racing and making the key selection more consistently, and more experience all around. Great milestone in a DS career though.

  12. Team Sky might actually be happy that Henao was suspended as he would have most probably been leader on this race and made Poels a domestique !

  13. Nice to see a first-time Monument winner but Inner Ring is right: the race only lit up in the last few minutes.
    It was another procession to the finish, I’m afraid. I guess lots will say it was epic because of the snow but San Remo of 2013 was epic. This wasn’t.
    It’s such a shame for a race of this history but it’s become rather dull.
    It’s too conservatively raced and you really only need to catch the last 10-15 minutes.
    I really think Sagan should ride it because he could win it the way it is raced. The only rider who could do well in all four Spring monuments and by that I mean be a contender to win each one.
    I doubt, though, he could better Sean Kelly’s remarkable 83/84 record in all five: Lombardy 83 (1st), San Remo 84 (2nd), Flanders (2nd), Roubaix (1st), Liege (1st). As a newcomer to cycling then, I thought that was the norm…

    • I agree, altho he doesn’t look to have the ‘condition’ of most of the other contenders yet. Actually I quite like the fact that he can be at the front, looking strong, while not looking like a skeleton.

      • Really makes you wonder what he could do if he really put his mind to it. I doubt he ever will – in all sorts of sports, those guys never do: they frustrate and under-perform, but manage to maintain a career due to their immense natural talent.

    • If you watch closely, you can spot the moment on Côte de la Roche aux Faucons where Valverde tells him there’s a free buffet at the finish.

  14. I guess we can race in bad weather without disc brakes. Although I wish that wasn’t a proscription.

    Pretty lousy race. The addition of that new cobbled climb ruined the finishing rush of past years’. And the less time spent in that crappy looking town the better, but I liked the old finish run in. And I will forever be looking for and Irish to self-crash on the final left-hander of this old lady.

    Great summary!

    • Why are some so concerned about the aesthetics of the finishing towns especially at the moment when the racing should be the main focus of attention? Not all races can finish on the Champs-Élysées or the run-in to Sienna in Strade Bianche but in its own way I like the “industrial” look of those final streets of L-B-L. Without trying to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse it reflects cycling’s roots, & a time of hard physical labor & doing your best given your circumstances. An analogy to what cycling is/was when you reach the finish of a hard race like L-B-J. or just the backdrop to another cycling race?

      • Seconded. Only in recent times cycling has become an analogy to a tourist brochure. Not all races have to be like that and some of us even like those run-down post-industrial towns.

      • Fair counterpoints. I do see you positions.

        Now one from me: you do realize the peloton hardly races like it did in the years when it was a working man’s sport, don’t you? This is not a subtle criticism of your wanting of old.

        Making a parcours more working man — my point about adding that dumb climb this year — just means the field will race it to minimize it. Which is what happened. There is very little damn-the-torpedos riding done today. Because. It. Doesn’t. Work. Tactically. Anymore. Now, who is the one wishing modern pro cycling was something that it is not?

        You can drop it into an ugly town, but that doesn’t mean you can turn a count-all-his-ribs, leg-shaven, 2% body fat, feminine man with no biceps into a coal miner. Now who’s projecting?

  15. Looks like the schizophrenic weather really turned the race around on its head. What else could account for Rui Costa coming so close to a win here? This season’s Monuments seem to be one for the hard working domestiques with Hayman’s P-R win and Poels’ win today. Bye-bye spring classics 2016, hello grand tours! Bring it on, baby!!!

  16. I didn’t get to watch the race today, but delighted that Sky have finally taken the Monument win which will hopefully lessen the criticism of their classics performances.

    I didn’t expect it to be Poels who took the first win though, more likely Kwiatkowski or Thomas, but he fully deserves it for his big performances for the team over the last two seasons.

  17. I enjoyed the last 30km of the race tbh

    As I posted up the thread just now, good to see Beta up at the front of a race again, looking motivated

    I liked the new climb

    Sky rode a blooming good race, and when Poels threw off his gloves, you just knew it was ON

    • +1
      not every race can be a thrill-a-minute Roubaix affair… I like a slow burner too for the contrast, and to see different shapes and sizes of riders in the mix. I really thought Albasini was nailed on – what a spring campaign for Orica in any case, and to think that Matthews should continue to develop, plus the Yates’s, Durbo’s P-R performance etc etc…

  18. Felt a bit for Albasini, but he wasn’t canny enough – and why pause after the final corner? Maybe not go full gas and allow Poels to pass, but don’t leave a gap.
    But the strongest man won it seemed – neither Rui Costa nor Albasini could out-sprint him (which I think you would have expected them to do – especially Albasini).
    And the race – still – desperately needs a flat finish. A bit more interesting than Amstel, but how much of that was weather-related?

    • After 250k LBL nobody should be able to sprint from 200m… I don’t think this has happend in the history of this finish.Sky certanly knew what they were doing when they sign him from Ettix 2 years ago. I bet 2017 is gonna be Kwiatkowski golden year…

  19. I thought Albasini could have won that, however he was prepared to put the spade work in to get something out of it. Fair play to him.

  20. From the official UCI twitter:

    “Congrats @TeamSky’s @WoutPoels for winning the last Monument of the 2016 Classics! #LBL #UCIWT”

    I hope that some “Spring” went lost in enthusiasm here, because the perspective of any PR person managing the UCI twitter account without even knowing which the Monuments are is quite appalling.

    • That is daft, isn’t it? Even if they thought “Spring Classics” = “Classics”, why wouldn’t the UCI, if it wants a structured season, being trying to push the Early Season -> Spring Classics -> Grand Tours -> Autumn Classics narrative?

      • It’s especially awkward when one thinks that *their* race is someway part of the “Autumn Classics” period of the season, hence they’d have all the interest in people looking at the Autumn as a significant moment with its proper focus and not just as a sort of odd “extra time”.

        The Worlds-Lombardia is indeed a very relevant couple of races (if RCS, and now the UCI, don’t completely succeed in devaluing the Lombardia), which should be enriched bringing back the Paris-Tour to the level it deserves – and adding perhaps to the whole panorama a couple of impressive semi-Classics like the Emilia or Milano-Torino (I’d like to see in the mix also the Tre Valli or the Giro dell’Appennino, a *huge* race which is struggling to find an identity… and the right date in the calendar), or the Canadian races, sure, albeit they’re still lacking a bit of spice while generally offering fine racing.

        • Ah, is Emilia then one they finish in Bologna going up that fiendish hill with the beautiful porticos running alongside the hill? That should indeed be elevated in status. Beautiful. I think it might have been a stage in the Giro using that road where we first saw Chris Froome go boom (then …. bust).

          I also thought Roma Maxima on the day following Strade Bianche served up some lovely racing – I wish they’d bring that back.

          Fully agree on Paris-Tours. Why that is not “World Tour”, I have no idea.

          • That’s it (and that’s where Froome went zigzag, too).
            Not only it is a race as old as 1909, and rarely suspended WWs apart (98 editions; and since WWII, it was suspended only for one year, in 1964), which makes it a Classic in its own right, but it also parades an impressive list of high quality winners, generally GT riders who show that they aren’t totally off in one-day races, with a course which favours them, or Ardennes specialists. The very most recent winners like Ulissi and Bakelants are sort of second-line, indeed, even if they’re undoubtedly quality riders, but just before them you find the likes of Quintana, Betancur (the slimmer version), Gesink, Di Luca, Schleck, Rebellin, Simoni, Basso, Bartoli, Ullrich, Boogerd… for more than a decade you had only one *really odd* name among the winners, “El Bufalo” Gutiérrez Cataluña. And even before, despite a more significant presence of lesser riders, still a number of big name have always been riding and winning, Bugno, Rominger, Baronchelli, Moser, De Vlaeminck, Merckx… all the way to Coppi, Bartali and Girardengo 🙂
            As a curiosity, RAI’s ex commenter and now Italy’s DS Davide Cassani is a multiple winner.

            It’s quite interesting that not only the race ends on a terrible climb, but it also goes over it several time before the finish, with very few rest in-between: notwithstanding, there are often interesting attacks before the final run up. Speaking of the influence of the course on the attitude of riders… perhaps it’s not the course but the riders’excessive fear of losing (or unreasonable hope of winning if they wait long enough) which is making Liège so boring in recent years.

            I myself can’t understand what happened with Roma Maxima (Giro del Lazio). I suppose that some sort of political motive interfered, or the people in RCS really are as hopeless as sometimes they look like.

          • ‘Fully agree on Paris-Tours. Why that is not “World Tour”, I have no idea.’
            It’s because it’s an ASO race and firstly it clashed with McQuaid’s favourite the Tour of Beijing. Now, it clashes with the Tour of Abu Dhabi, which the UCI are trying to turn into THE end of season race (with the presentations and so on).

          • @J Evans
            While I agree with your general perspective, it’s worth noting that the race fell out of the PT because of the first ASO-UCI conflict, in 2008, well before the Chinese farce was put in march.
            According to PCS, the Paris-Tours was back in the family of top UCI races in 2009, but out it went again in 2010; on the other hand, the Wikipedia page lists the Paris-Tours as Europe Tour in 2009, too. Both sources aren’t that reliable, but the primary source, which could be the organisers’ dedicated website, strategically avoids to make *any* reference to the UCI-sanctioned status of the race in the past 😉
            However good my memory as a fan might be, it’s well beyond my capabilities to keep track of the status of the races along the entangled history of different UCI system and various institutional catfights, hence I’m not sure about 2009. Anyway, it’s clear that the Bejing Tour wasn’t probably the main reason for an exclusion which happened between one and three years before.
            That said, as I commented above I share your general view on the subject.

          • It’s such a shame: with the right kind of support, we could have some great racing – which everyone could see on TV – in the Autumn. But the UCI is going in a completely different direction, neglecting the grassroots.

  21. Question for Mr. INRNG et al:
    I cannot find the communiques from LBL anywhere. The UCI has stressed that we should keep an eye out for clothes covering numbers. Would anyone happen to know if the 2 front riders Poels and Costa (presumably more following) were sanctioned for not showing their numbers?

  22. Two Points, that shut be noticed:

    1. Great Performance of Samuel Sanchez . Should BMC now bring him to the Giro d’Italia? My Opinion: Yes, a Top-5-Result is possible.

    2. Ryder Hesjedal arrived (only) 3 Minutes behind Wouter Poels. The best performance of the hole season. For me one of the great favourites for the Giro d’Italia.

        • Well, for me, that – plus the rest of his results this season – doesn’t make him a ‘great favourite’. (And Nibali beat him.)

          • Like he did in the last three years, the races before the start of the Giro d’Italia doesn’t count anything for Hesjedal….shurely his form is better than his results. Yestarday in time Trial in Romandie he finished on place 60, but only one second behind Chris Froome…..

          • in past years he’s been pretty active as a domestique-de-luxe for Dan Martin in the Ardenne – I didn’t see much evidence of any activity this time year…

    • I never understand the griping, I honestly wonder why some people bother watching races. But then I’m more than happy to watch 6 hour stages across Spanish plains with nothing happening. I for one would tune in to watch the WHOLE stage live ha ha.

    • You mean the last 4 kms?
      I’d concede we can perhaps say the last 8 kms…
      No meaningful action before that. And I’m no fan of firework cycling, but I firmly believe that the sport can offer something better than a couple of team pulling steadily on the front and the woes of a few hopeless breaks.
      Note that I was very happy with Betancur trying to sort out a move, but, come on, if nobody else goes with him, that’s not a *meaningful* action in any possible way.
      I’d add that it’s not like Sanremo, where you simply haven’t got the terrain to do anything until the last 30 kms or so (now that we haven’t got the Manie anymore): you’ve got plenty of terrain, here, and plenty of riders to make something of that – no need to burn out precisely your captain, or *all of your captains* far from the line.
      But the teams just “would prefer not to”.
      Yesterday was too hard a day, fine, still we’re having too many hilly Classics with the same sad script.
      It’s the fourth “bad” Liège in a row, and if such a spell might be more or less acceptable for the Sanremo (which follows a different logic, after all) – it is *not* for the Doyenne.
      It’s true that the previous four edition were, on the contrary, quite good, and we should try to look at the broader picture, but the accumulation of disappointing seasons starts to have a negative weight on the scale of overall value of these same races.

  23. Sheesh, some folks are so fickle. I thought it was a very good, exciting race with a great finish. The ever-changing weather added some drama, and the new finish was an improvement. The Ardennes classics with their uphill finishes don’t always produce great racing or great finishes, even, but yesterday was a very good edition imho. The final cobbled climb mercifully negated the slow-motion uphill sprints that characterize the last week of races.

    • I guess that if you’ve been watching this race only for the last four years, yes, you might deem yesterday as a “good edition”. It was better than 2015 and 2014, indeed, and on par with 2013.
      That said, as far as memory helps me, the previous fifteen years (at least) tended to be *hugely* better, and on a systematic basis; neither were uphill sprints – as in “reduced bunch sprint” – the more common result, not at all – perhaps a couple of them in more than 15 years.
      *This* specific Ardenne Classic has been producing amazing racing and/or great finishes for well over a decade, the change in the last four seasons is too stark to be neglected.

      • Gabriele – I was mostly comparing it to the last few years in Ans. There are years where the racing has been riveting and other years seem more formulaic. The cobbled climbs shook things up in a good way, imho.

        • If we’re speaking of the last four years I might agree with you, this year was… how could I say?… comparable.
          However, despite a slightly better finale than 2014 (but is that so?), the rest of the race was very dull even when compared to the last few years.

          No need to speak of 2013, I suppose: there were big names moving even on La Redoute, then another strong action far from the finish with strong riders like Rui Costa, Caruso, Hesjedal, Urán, Betancur (and Contador, too 🙂 ). Most of those guys made the top ten *despite* attacking that early. And the top guns like Purito and Valverde were forcing selection on the Saint Nicolas, not waiting for a sprint.
          Sure, far from a memorable edition like Bartoli’s, and even far from the very fine ones won in recent years by Gilbert (2011) or Valverde (2008). No bold long range attacks as those we saw by Vinokourov (2010), Andy Schleck (2009) or Nibali (2012), either, but 2013 was way better than 2016, anyway.

          What about 2014? Quite ugly, indeed, but at least Pozzovivo tried a move on the Roche-aux-Fauçons and stayed clear in a more plausible way than Betancur yesterday, thanks to the company of Arredondo (and Samuel Sánchez was trying to bridge up, too). It’s not a big name, perhaps, but that day he finally ended up fifth, not fiftieth. And he attacked again and moved away from the bunch on the Saint Nicolas, too, along with Caruso, who made 4th. That is, a pretty dull race, but at least we *had* significant moves before the last 10 minutes of racing.

          Last year was very boring, too, but again it was slightly better than the previous year, and consequently also than this year: at least we saw relevant names moving on the Roche – the likes of Nibali, Bardet, Kwiatkowski! And a couple of the guys who finally could make the break atop of the Roche (Kreuziger and Fuglsang) eventually were in the very reduced bunch of 10 riders which made the final sprint. Nibali attacked again on the Saint-Nicolas, and so did Bardet, even if they were caught (but Bardet finished 6th anyway).
          Besides, what made this edition a bit more interesting than the previous one was also the fine tactical game played by Astana (very different from the blind pulling on the front we saw from Movistar or Etixx this year), not only with the double captains Nibali + Fuglsang, but also with fine early moves by Scarponi and Kangert. Even if it finally didn’t work, it was good to see, and someway remembered the sipler but equally interesting role played by Hesjedal in 2013.

          *Things* were happening before the last 3 kms, and those *things* were put in action by relevant riders (where “relevant” does mean “strong figures who, moreover, that specific day were among the 10-15 stronger riders in the race”).

          I found this year’s race very lacking from all these POVs, even if we try to match it with the three previous ones (if we go further back, the comparison becomes utterly depressing).
          That’s why, as many other fans, I’m disappointed and worried because of what is starting to look like a dangerous trend… or downward spirale. Nevertheless, as I commented above, it’s probably just a bad spell, even if it’s four years in a row now, and we should really start to complain if the next couple of editions or so go on being this useless, too.

  24. I don’t understand why Rui Costa’s jersey looks so similar like the World Champion’s and the UCI actually allows that. I didn’t watch the race, but on the videos and the pictures I wondered why the heck is he still wearing his WC jersey? Only when I saw the podium shot I realised that the design is actually the Portuguese champion’s… No one can tell me that this isn’t intentional by either him or the Portuguese association – he must at least be happy with it as he is, despite its fugly design, wearing it. A pity.

    • I made the same mistake, but I think it is made a lot worse by the ex-WC mini-rainbows.

      I often don’t like the national champ jerseys, too much white, leaving a lot of riders looking similar (on the TV when riding, differences clear when they stand up). Would be nice if the whole jersey reflected the flag, not just a band round the middle on a white background

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