Liege Bastogne Liege 2009

The LBL is my last scheduled ride of the year so it was important it was a good’un as it marks the end of my season to all intents and purposes.

And on paper it was going to be.  Not least as the pro event is one of the five ‘monuments’ of the sport and the oldest of the ‘classics’ as it was first run in 1894.  The race route runs from the unglamorous town of Liege to the unglamorous town of Bastogne and back again; a flattish 95km there and a hilly 163km back.

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As you can see DaveC is looking good but Liege is doing a mighty fine impression of Croydon!

Oddly the amateur event is organised by the Dutch largely for the Dutch – in Belgium.  The route was either 235km, 245km or 260km depending on where you looked and there where no reliable maps or GPS downloads available from the organisers website.

The ride normally has an entry limit of 5,000 riders but this year this was cut to 3,500 and I think that the normal route was revised.  Both of these changes were down to the ‘local councils’ in Belgium – I think.

The ride kicked off at 06:00.  That meant setting the alarm for 04:50 which felt like 03:50 as we’d lost an hour due to the time difference.  I actually awoke at 04:20 and decided I might as well get up anyway.  I tucked into a nice plate of fruit laid on by the hotel and set about trying to find enough places to hide energy bars, powders and gels to fuel myself for the coming 9 hour marathon.

We made our way to the start in the dark which was a couple of kilometres from the hotel.  It became obvious that the bulk of the 3,500 riders had not opted for the longer route.

Off we set.  No timing chips.  Instead they had a card-stamping operation.  DaveC got his card stamped, I hadn’t even bought mine along.  We navigated our way through the town with the help of fellow riders.

I was not able to get a route for the Garmin for the ride so it was important that the signage was good.  Which, in honesty, it was not.  Don’t get me wrong – I do not underestimate the effort required to sign a 260km/160 mile route.  The signs were too small and often were only visible when you were right on top of a junction.  By the end we missed 4 turns; two trivial, one relatively minor and one worth about 10km including a massive climb!

We found a couple of Dutch guys that were setting a reasonable pace on the early climbs as we dropped the rest of the early starters.  We ‘sat in’ for a bit until I decided that I should do my bit.  Which was weird as as soon as I got to the front the Dutch chaps seemed to deliberately fall back a few metres – seemingly unwilling to take advantage of my un-aerodynamic clearing of the way.

The weather was, well (Belgian Tourist Board look way!), shit.  Coming from the UK saying this means something.  It was like a ‘warm winters day’.  A horrid mist persisted for the first 6 or 7 hours of the ride.  It was wet, the roads were wet and it was just a bit dismal all round.  A times it felt like we were cycling through a a scene from Lord of the Rings.  There seemed to be miles of quiet roads through bogs and fallen trees.  Visibility was very poor.

Contrary to expectation the first part of the ride down to Bastogne was really hilly.

chart

(Apologies for the missing legend – miles on the X axis, elevation on the Y axis)

At one point DaveC lightened the mood (or rather lightened my mood) by saying “this is like torture”.  Endlessly climbing with no end in sight.

The feed stations, if not brilliantly stocked were at least frequent – every 50km or so.  I think Henry Ford was in charge perhaps as the options were a tad limited.  The first offering only a (albeit delicious) waffly, caramelly biscuit thing for sustenance.  The second yoghurts and rice pudding.  By the time we got to the fifth there were thousands of people around with 10 minute queues just to get tap water and only ‘tuc’ biscuits and bananas to eat.

And so the ride ground on.  We couldn’t see that much beyond the misty bubble we inhabited.  In some ways the ride reminded me of long turbo sessions.  When you ride for an hour indoors time really seems to drag.  Doing a two hour session in some ways is easier, because it feels like there is no hope.  And without hope there is no disappointment.  Still, the poor signage kept us alert – at every junction we meticulously scanned every sign to make sure we hadn’t missed anything.

We did do a couple of impressive climbs both in terms of length and gradient.  By this time we had caught the riders doing the shorter routes and they were doing a terrific job of boosting my morale.

La Redoute was terrific and is the ride’s last most famous climb where attacks normally take place that can decide the outcome – for the pros that is.  Three times I was lulled into thinking the climb was coming to an end by the presence of spectators and put on a bit of a show, and twice I was wrong.  When I say ‘put on a show’ I mean humiliate myself by thrashing around all over my machine like the mediocre old man that I am with 230km on the clock.

And so the ride finished.  I was amazed how good I’d felt throughout the ride.  It was the by far the furthest I’d ever ridden in one go (by at least 50km) and I felt really good throughout.  I was concerned that my seemingly good endurance would dessert me but I held on really well until the end.  (edit – I should point out that almost as soon as the ride was over I was completed fucked :-) ).

As ever it was a pleasure and an honour to ride with DaveC who, in his un-pushy and modest way, has done so much to encourage and educate me over the last 18 months.  He’s not the club legend for no reason!

Some stats
  • Ride time – 10 hours (!)
  • Length – 260km
  • Climb – 4,200 metres
  • Full stats
Good things
  • The Dutch – how did they get to be the cool ones?
  • 160 mile ride – awesome challenge
  • My sore legs the following day – it’s nice to be reminded :-)
  • La Redoute
Bad things
  • Signage
  • Route – what happened to the famous climbs in the second half
  • Feed stations – charge me €30 instead of €15 and get some good stuff in!
  • Belgian weather – even we’d turn it down
  • Organisers website/lack of information
  • Lack of timing chips
Addendum

DaveC summed the first part of the ride up more succinctly that me here

“As we climbed the hills surrounding Liege, daylight revealed mist/drizzle covering everything, reducing visibility to about 100 metres. This torture continued for several hours, with the road ahead always climbing towards an invisible summit followed by brief descent then up again.”

No Comments on “Liege Bastogne Liege 2009”

  1. 1 Hugh G said at 8:44 am on August 10th, 2009:

    Gawd it sounds horrible. I see that your blog is now technically redundant as you have long since finished La Marmotte. What now?

  2. 2 Paul Nixon said at 9:01 am on August 10th, 2009:

    Hugh

    I might have done the ride a bit of a disservice. It was a good, long tough ride. The weather couldn’t be helped and the route was probably compromised beyond the control of the organisers – though they certainly could have communicated that more effectively.

    You’re quite right about the blog being redundant. It’s hard to say what is next – Rach is due in 3 weeks so I’m a little uncertain.

    If all goes well then I’d like to get the remaining 4 monuments under my belt. That means having to tackle the cobbles of the Paris Roubaix which fills me with a feeling of dread!

    I’d also like to replicate the feat of Paul Martin and try and do the Marmotte for 10 years. I was surprised just how much impact that one ride had on me this year having done it last year, but it really is an awesome day out – physically, mentally, emotionally, visually.

    Cheers

    Paul

  3. 3 Simon Roberts said at 4:35 pm on August 10th, 2009:

    I did this ride also, although only the 170km route with a leisurely 7.30 start. Agree with what you say about the weather and signs. Got round in 6 hours and 15. Not bad considering that no Dutch rider showed the slightest inclination of doing any work at all at the front. Me and my 3 comrades had the pleasure of towing about 30 other riders between the second and third feed stops.

    The route was an odd one – in that it snaked around a bit rather than the out and back loop of the PRO event. The Tilff Bastogne Tilff event in May is better organised, with better signs and also follows the PRO route more closely.

  4. 4 Paul Nixon said at 7:07 pm on August 10th, 2009:

    Simon

    Hi – I hope all is well.

    It’s funny you should mention the Dutch riders not pushing on much. I felt at the Tour of Flanders and this ride that there really didn’t seem to be anyone in too much of a hurry. I find this both flattering (to my mediocre talents) and baffling in equal measure.

    P