The last of the spring classics takes place this Sunday with the grandmother of them all, Lige-Bastogne-Lige. The race, nicknamed La Doyenne celebrates its 105th birthday this year and garners a great deal of respect from the professional peloton. The traditional out and back parcours measures 262.5km and includes 12 tough climbs in the Ardennes, the southeastern part of Belgium. Most of the hills are concentrated in the final 90km, meaning that it becomes a real race of attrition. To win in Ans, a rider needs to be strong as well as having a cool head. The route hasn’t changed a great deal over the years. There are after all only a limited number of ways of getting between Lige and Bastogne and back. The climbs will be familiar to most of the riders, with the Cte de Wanne (3.1km at 6.1%, km 173) signaling the start of hostilities on the return leg. The steep Stockeu (1.1km at 10.5%, km 179.5) is followed by the longer climbs of the Haute-Lev, Rosier and Vecque, all of which are between 3 and 4km at 6%. At 35km to go, the tired riders hit the Cte de la Redoute, a tough 2.1km climb at 8.4%, where the first major selection is usually made. Then it’s over the Sprimont and Sart-Tilman before the crucial Cte de Saint-Nicolas (1km at 11.1%) at 6km to go. The final two kilometres to Ans are also uphill, and it’s here that the contenders will play out their tactics. The past week’s Amstel Gold Race and Flche Wallonne have shown us who will stand on the top step of the podium at Lige. Amstel winner Stefan Schumacher is certainly in with a good chance, as is his Gerolsteiner teammate Davide Rebellin, winner of La Fleche Wallonne on Wednesday. In 2004, Rebellin did the unthinkable and won both Ardennes races as well as the Amstel. He wouldn’t surprise many people if he added another Doyenne to his palmares. Last year’s winner Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne) came close to beating Rebellin on Wednesday, and he is definitely on course for a good result on Sunday. His teammate Joaquin Rodriguez is in great form too, and will be a valuable ally for Valverde in the finale. Flche Wallonne third place getter Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) did the Amstel-Fleeche double in 2005, but a victory in LBL still eludes him. He may be able to set that straight on Sunday. Double winner Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step) has been honing his form in the last two hilly classics. The world champion hasn’t had a lot of luck this season, but he is on course for a good finish in Lige. Astana’s nearly man Matthias Kessler is due for a better result in one of these races soon. He was fourth in both the Amstel and Fleche Wallonne, and won a Tour de France stage in Valkenburg, not too far from Lige, last year. He has past winner Alexandre Vinokourov in his team, although Vino looks to have other targets this season. Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) is in his final season as a pro, and would love to finish with a race like this on his palmares. But too often, he makes the winning selection only to be undone by his sprinting capabilities. Finally, Saunier Duval will have hopes for young talent Ricardo Ricco. The 23 year-old was a creditable fifth in Fleche Wallonne and ninth in the Amstel Gold Race. A podium place in LBL is within his reach. The weather on Sunday should not adversely affect the riders. It’s predicted to be cloudy with a maximum of 22 degrees, with a chance of a thunder shower later on. Got a comment? Discuss this in the Procycling forum. What else is new? Check out the Procycling blog.
Alejandro Valverde, Davide Rebellin, Danilo Di Luca and Paolo Bettini will be among the favourites f