WHERE ARE WE?
We’re in Belgium, for the start of the Tour de France (which is the kind of concept that’s difficult to explain to non-cycling fans). Liège is well-known to cycling fans for hosting the world’s oldest and hilliest Classic, Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Nothing hilly about today’s race – it’s a flat Prologue around the city centre.
University city Liège itself is a grimy, shabby place, but you know what they say: the seedier the town, the better the nightlife.
WHAT’S ON THE ROUTE?
Wide boulevards and sweeping corners. There’s not much in the way of technical sections, apart from the U-turn at about half way, on the Quai du Goffe.
WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN?
Tony Martin, Fabian Cancellara and Bradley Wiggins will be in the top three. Pierre Rolland and Frank Schleck are likely to have a nightmare.
Given that the winner’s time is going to be somewhere around seven minutes (let’s say, 7-06), it’s surely impossible for anyone to actually lose the Tour in Liège, but in a Tour dominated by time trials, the tone is going to be set today.
It’s probably going to rain. We’re not sure the Tour organisers realised that the two rainiest months of the year here are June and July when they awarded the Grand Départ to Liège.
Shabby, post-industrial Liège is one of those towns that looks better, the darker it is. It looks a bit like Croydon.
WE’LL BE GORGING ON…
Boulette a la Liègoise. It’s meatballs with jam. Local boy Maxime Monfort once told us, “the first time you taste it, it’s great.”
The final group of riders should contain most of the GC favourites, so don’t miss the final 30 minutes.
FORMER WINNERS IN LIEGE
1948 Gino Bartali
1950 Adolfo Leoni
1953 Fritz Schaer
1956 André Darrigade
1965 Rik Van Looy
1965 Ford Frane Gitane
1995 Johan Bruyneel
2004 Fabian Cancellara
RETRO: I WON HERE…IN 1980
Henk Lubberding, Netherlands
“It was a dull day and quite cool, and the stage went from France into Belgium, so the Belgians wanted to win. It was a very long stage, too, and very hilly. The peloton split into groups behind Jean-Luc Vandenbroucke, who had a long lone breakaway.
“Raleigh won the team time trial a couple of days before, but I punctured during that stage and lost some time. I was lower down the overall classification, so Peter Post [TI-Raleigh’s manager] asked me to attack and try to catch a group that was chasing Vandenbroucke.
“Several riders came with me and we caught Vandenbroucke. We worked together for a while then I attacked after the sprint for the top of the final climb and was able to stay away and win.”
– This is the second Grand Départ to be held in Liège. The other time was 2004, when Fabian Cancellara won the Prologue.
– From 1967 to 2008, the opening stage was a time trial. In 2008 and 2011, road stages replaced the traditional Prologue.
– Average length of Prologues in the Tour: 6.6km
– Most Prologue wins: Bernard Hinault (five)
– In 2004, the course was 300 metres shorter. Cancellara’s winning time was 6-50.
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Maps courtesy of Amaury Sports Organisation