Ardennes week: why we love the hilly classics
Three races, two distinct geographic regions and a slogan suitable for the headlines – grouped together, they are known as the Ardennes classics.
The Amstel Gold Race is named after a beer (that’s not a bad thing). The Flèche Wallonne is the “arrow of Wallonia” and Liège-Bastogne-Liège is a round trip through the rugged and wooded hinterland of eastern Belgium.
Technically, the Limburg region of the Netherlands is distinct from the hilly Ardennes region just 20 miles to the south. Yet the three races are linked by history and profiles.
All three races feature sharp and short climbs, contested on often narrow farm roads and often in bad weather. Is anyone old enough to remember “Neige-Bastogne-Neige?”
For a particular breed of runner, the treble is one of the highlights of the entire racing season. the punchers and even the curious GC runners take over from the muscular cobblestone specialists, the steep hills along the Meuse valley giving the edge to the leanest and meanest climbers.
Some consider that the Ardennes highs are a bit anti-climax coming on the heels of classic dynamic cobblestones. It is true that these races are more attritional in nature and cannot match the drama of the race over punishment. pave, yet all three retain their appeal.
Our editors at VeloNews choose their favorites:
Sadhbh O’Shea – Amstel Gold Race
The Amstel Gold Race is by far my favorite of the Ardennes races, even if it’s not really in the Ardennes. It has the best course, the best peloton and the best race of the three, and you’re not going to change your mind.
Sunday’s dramatic action in the men’s and women’s competition should be enough proof of why he is the top of all three races. But it wasn’t just this year that delivered the goods in terms of drama.
By moving the final climb away from the finish, this allowed the action to open up much earlier and got rid of a lot of the negative tactics often associated with Ardennes races. Attacking is not a kamikaze mission in the Amstel Gold Race.
While it doesn’t always work for the breakaway, I still feel like there’s a good chance it does, and I love racing for that reason. When was the last time you saw a fumble win, or even approach, at the Flèche Wallonne?
The place of the Amstel Gold Race in the calendar also allows it to have a more diverse peloton as many classic cobblestone riders, such as Tom Pidcock and Wout van Aert, end the first part of their season there.
The wider mix of riding styles means it’s a much harder race to predict, making it even better than the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) wins the Amstel Gold Race… by 4 / 1000th of a second pic.twitter.com/5mBZ2p40oU
– the inner ring (@inrng) April 18, 2021
Andrew Hood – Flèche Wallonne
Someone must have said Flèche Wallonne, right?
Sandwiched between the Amstel Gold Race and Liège, poor old Flèche has lost some of its luster over the decades. He used to rank up there with Cork in importance as part of “the weekend ArdennesAnd the list of its winners reflects its importance in the sport.
The “Walloon Arrow” reminds me a little of Milano-Sanremo. It’s boring for four-fifths of the race, but this final is something else. If the action of Sanremo is compacted in the last 20 minutes, the Flèche Wallonne is even more succinct.
It all comes down to the Mur de Huy. At 1300 m, the Wall has an average gradient of 9.3% and a bend of 26%. It takes a few years for runners to understand the dynamics of the Wall, but runners like five-time winner Alejandro Valverde and six-time winner Anna van der Breggen know exactly where to jump.
It’s a bloody, steep stretch of pavement, and it’s been the men’s race final since 1984 and 1998 for women. Race organizers have tried to spice up the course a bit, adding a few climbs as a preamble, but it always comes down to the shortest and most explosive final in cycling.
This is the unofficial punchers world championships, and while it doesn’t last very long, it’s a final not to be missed.
Jim Cotton – Liège-Bastogne-Liège
I’m leaving with “La Doyenne”.
The rerouting in 2019 saved the most difficult and oldest monument of them from its growing reputation as a predictable snoozer.
The shift from a dark and gray climb finish in Ans to a flat finish in Liege took the race from an outdated slug-fest of attrition to a more open and aggressive race. With the final hill arriving around three miles from the finish line, the race is now open to difficult climbers and sprinters who can cling through the hills.
This change of course and a new accessibility to a range of cyclists changes the dynamics of before. With the new layout, some runners try to take the initiative early while others try to defend themselves for a small group kick, which creates an interesting game of tactics, ambitions and strategies.
I’m also a huge Amstel Gold Race fan, but LBL has an ace card up its sleeve – the race design.
I’m a big fan of racing with a sense of storytelling and progression, and dig the way “La Doyenne” rolls out of Liège through the lush green hills of the Ardennes before hitting Bastogne and taking on a whole different complexion.
The return stage takes the group through a series of gray and gritty villages and an even darker procession of climbs that only see the strongest surviving, leaving an elite group to throw hay at each other during of the last climbs. Amstel Gold Race Spaghetti-on-a-Plate course of repeated roads, multiple loops and deja vu hills seems confusing and endless, and somehow less captivating.
Hoping that Sunday’s version of the LBL lives up to the praise I have just accumulated and that it lives up to its potential as the most dynamic and captivating of the three Ardennes breeds.