Known as La Doyenne, “the oldest”, Liege-Bastogne-Liege is one of the five big classics known as “The Monuments”. It is arguably the toughest, too. I’ve been lucky to do the race three times now. I raced it each of my first two years as a pro, but I was absent from the race last year. Going back this year, I felt like a completely different rider. I’m not sure what the explanation is for that, but I entered the race feeling much more prepared to compete in it. Admittedly, I felt less than ideally prepared for it though given my week of sickness following Basque Country, but realistically that week of training wouldn’t have done anything for me except allow me to feel my regular routine. In any case, I entered Liege with definite hopes of racing, rather than simply participating. In 2010 and 2011, I think I was completely overwhelmed and still learning. I tried to reflect on my experience those first two years for knowledge to draw on this year, but all I could remember was being dropped on La Redoute. For whatever reason, I simply couldn’t remember anything. I guess maybe that is part of the whole experience thing people always talk about. I’ve raced in the Ardennes in other races now, too, and the climbs/area are becoming more familiar to me, so there is a great advantage in that.
Our team entered the race again without a clear favorite, so we needed to be opportunistic as in Amstel and Fleche. We were putting our finishing hopes in Tony and potentially Ben (Hermans), but with nothing guaranteed, we needed to look for the mid-race attacks. Fleche was a good race for us as a team because we raced together, animated the race, and were at least present. Liege was a step backwards for us though. We didn’t race as well together, and we weren’t very well prepared at key moments in the race. The first of those moments was with 100km to go at Cote d’ Wanne, where most of us were way too far back. After Wanne is Cote d’ Stockeu, then immediately Haut Levee, where there are usually attacks. Ben did a good job to be in a big move toward the top of Haut Levee, but the rest of us did not do a very good job of helping out. The next 60km were fast and hard fought still though. I did manage to get to the front after Haut Levee to be on guard for any attacks that would go on the climbs before La Redoute, but the pace was simply kept high by SaxoBank and Sky. It was all down to La Redoute with 40km to go. This is where the final big selection is made, then it is survival from there. I made it a goal of mine to see the race past La Redoute this year, and I accomplished that; although, I believe the race was different this year, and the number of guys that made it over was larger than in the past. Nonetheless, I was happy to make that this year.
After Redoute, I wanted to do what I could to help Tony to the finish. The course was changed a little this year due to construction. A very steep, decisive climb was removed, and a longer, steadier climb was added in its place. The field was pretty large when we arrived at this climb, and I was in the back trying to watch after Tony. With this climb being only 15km from the finish, the attacks were flying. The field stretched and guys began to drop. Being at the back is a bad choice at that point, and I lost contact before the top. Somehow I got stalled by a few guys who were being dropped and had to regain some momentum, while Andy, Haimar, and Tony managed to avoid them. I chased hard over the top, but I couldn’t make it back with 245km in my legs. I’m not sure what happened with the guys working for Tony from there. We had bad luck, too, with Ben getting a flat before Redoute and Maxime crashing at the bottom. It’s really hard to come back from those mishaps at such a critical time, though it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Overall, I think Liege was disappointing for us.
I find the classics really interesting. Yesterday especially, I kept thinking about how the mentality is so funny: “Let’s first ride 160km, then we can race the last 100km.” Seriously?!?! I guess that is the nature of the one-day classic though. In any case, I enjoyed it, and one of these days, I will be there in the end. For now, I am happy to say I am back in the USA to prepare for Tour of California. Thanks for checking in.