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Liege Bastogne Liege: How not to do your first continental sportive


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Relatively new to the sport at the time and with only a couple UK sportives under my belt, I set off early in the cycling season to go and experience my first continental event. Throwing myself in at the deep end, I chose a  100+ year old event ‘Liege Bastogne Liege’, one of the 5 ‘Monuments’ held in the cycling mecca of Belgium.


I thought it could be an opportunity to see how straightforward taking a DIY approach to the event, for the simple reason that I wanted my limited budget to go as far as possible. It was here that I made a catalogue of errors in my pursuit of such a stripped back approach to cycling.


Transport: I took the bus


Save a few euros I may have done, however with London to Liege totaling just shy of 500km, factoring in a pretty convoluted route to our destination, travel time mounted up. Extra long periods of time in a seated position is not exactly optimum pre-event conditioning either.


Less than a good night’s sleep before the start


Trying to fit in the event with minimal disruption to the rest of my working week, I chose the latest bus to get me to Liege before the sportive started on the Saturday. I’d not really thought of the logistics of towing my bike box through Liege following arrival, trying to find my accommodation whilst the rest of city had gone to bed hours ago. When I did make it to the property, I’m pretty sure my arrival cut short the hosts night’s sleep. I then did my best to get to my room as quietly as possible, getting both myself and my bike into a pretty modest single room before reassembling my bike. By the time my head hit the pillow, it  was gone 1:30am. Alarm set and off to sleep, shattered, a bit hungry and covered in bike oil.


Airbnb: Single room in a family house


The next thing I know it’s 6:30am. I’d either slept through or turned off my alarm in my sleep. I was due to meet Jamie, a friend who’d travelled separately and was doing the event with me. I bundled myself and my bike down stairs and sprinted across town toward the start line and mini Expo. Arriving after everyone else had started the event and with no time for the most important meal of the day, we pick up our race packs, pinned our numbers on and rolled across the startline. With a time deficit and a desire to find more people, we rode fast. Far faster than we should’ve been riding which we’d pay for some way into this 270 km event. *There are shorter routes, 79km and up should you not want to go the whole hog.

The event itself – you live you learn!


Whilst preparation immediately ahead of the event was poor up until this point, on a grander scale, there were other areas of neglect. It turns out at least 3 of the 4 seasons often feature at this Ardenne Classic. Venturing south to Bastogne before heading back along a meandering route returning to Liege, the weather was pretty cold. We were wearing single layers in the form of a short sleeve jersey, some arm warmers and fingerless gloves up top and some full length leggings.


By the time we reached the feedstation 70km in, Jamie was shaking uncontrollably and considering pulling out of the event. Fortunately an ambulance was nearby and gave out some foil sheeting to riders like us. Wrapping Jamie’s torso in this stuff made up for a missing base layer. Several Belgium waffles later and we were back on the road.


Though the true climbs of LBL tend to kick in through the latter half of the event, much of the first half includes plenty of rolling terrain. Beautiful countryside features throughout the entire event, with only the metropolis of Liege making for an urban feel to the event. Due to having cold wet hands, changing gear became a bit of problem and I also began praying for long uphill gradients with far less descents purely so that my body would have to  work harder and perhaps warm up.


At last after 100km, sunshine appeared and temperatures warmed and sodden kit began to dry. Gradually the roads got busier as we gained a bit of time on some of the earlier starting riders. A relatively quiet roads began to feature more pockets of spectators, reminding us that we were taking part in something pretty special. Toward the Cote De La Redoute, camper vans began appearing lining the road, complete with enthusiastic fans warming their vocal chords ahead of the pro race the following day.

Count your climbs


To learn any course off by heart is perhaps an unrealistic challenge for most of us. However knowing and writing down, the basic  distance and climb number is a worthwhile piece of homework. Too often you can get caught out, forgetting about that last major climb (Il Lombardia for me!) and not feeding yourself or saving enough of the legs for it. With most of the gradient action happening later in the event, its hard to picture the extra work the event saves for you later on. Pacing is so important for this reason, as they become more and more frequent as the event progresses.


On the final few kilometers upon returning to Liege I took pride in rationing my food supplies appropriately, not bonking once during the entire day. The hot dog I threw my euros at in the expo after finishing was and I’m sure will remain, the tastiest hot dog on the market, ever!

Sunday Pro Race: Know the basics


Having the camaraderie of a group always adds atmosphere to spectating at the pro race. Not being too familiar with the day’s precedings and finding little online to offer viewing tips, I headed to the expo, assuming (wrongly) there would be a similar critical mass of riders as per the day before. Realising the start/finish was up the road in Ans, a few kilometers north of central Liege, I splashed out on a cab and eventually got to wear I should’ve headed to first. By the time I arrived, the race had started, so no riders to see for me. The team buses were parked up nearby, so I did venture over and wander around the paddock. Being with others who had a bit of knowledge of the group probably would’ve meant a smoother, more action-packed start to the day. Needless to say there was plenty going on, many bars, food stalls, freebies and experiential marketing stands to keep anyone entertained. Big screens and more hot dogs, the atmosphere was awesome and rounded off an epic weekend. Thank you for allowing me to wing it LBL…and for helping me become a wiser continental sportive cyclist!


What did I learn?


I love the adventure of not having everything mapped out ahead of a trip away. I like to maintain my independence and often take pride in dare I say ‘winging it’. My trip to Liege revealed that there’s a lot to be said for having some things taken care of in and around a sportive. Taking time away from work as most of us are doing anytime we take part in cycling events usually means using valuable holiday. At times, being a little stressed and pushed for time took some of the enjoyment away from parts of the trip that could and should be wholly enjoyable. Having a little insider knowledge come pro race day is key to getting the most out of the day after the amateurs’ event. However you enjoy spending time on your bike, I thoroughly recommend making it to this early season Ardenne Classic, you’ll not be disappointed.


All Things Ride offer a limited number of Liege Bastogne Liege packages. 4 nights from £495


Until 29th June, All Things Ride are also offering 10% off any trip plus a pair of arm screens designed by Paria cc also.

The climbs of Liege Bastogne Liege:


10. Côte de La Roche-en Ardenne

Length: 2.8km

Average gradient: 6.2 per cent


9. Côte de St Roch

Length: 1km

Average gradient: 11.2 per cent


8. Côte de Pont

Length: 1km

Average: 10.5 per cent


7. Côte de Bellevaux

Length: 1.1km

Average: 6.8 per cent


6. Côte de la Ferme Libert

Length: 1.2km

Average: 12.1 per cent


5. Col du Rosier

Length: 4.4km

Average: 5.9 per cent


4. Col du Maquisard

Length: 2.5km

Average gradient: 5 per cent


3. Côte de La Redoute

Length: 2km

Average: 8.9 per cent


2. Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons

Length: 1.3km

Average: 11 per cent


  1. Côte de Saint-Nicolas

Length: 1.2km

Average: 8.6 per cent