The 2012 Ardennes Week comes to its climax this Sunday (April 22) on a little climb in Ans, Belgium, the finish line of the Liège-Bastogne-Liège classic. It’s unlike the two previous Ardennes Classics with its history and climber-friendly parcours. Also, it boasts a clear favourite: defending champ, Philippe Gilbert.
The Belgian from BMC Racing grew up near the Côte de la Redoute climb, where he dreamt about emulating Moreno Argentin and Sean Kelly. Last year, he finally won Liège and became only the second rider to capture the Ardennes Triple Crown.
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He’s been fighting with his form this year, but his trajectory has him on course for victory in Ans. On Wednesday, he placed third behind Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) and Michael Albasini (GreenEdge) in Flèche Wallonne. He placed 12th last Sunday in Amstel Gold.
“I’m getting better,” Gilbert said, mud-faced after crossing the line on Wednesday in Huy. “I think I can win Liège, the most important one.”
To win, he’ll have to conquer 11 climbs in 257.5 kilometres. The race travels from Liège’s Saint-Lambert square, south to Bastogne, north by Gilbert’s home and on to Ans. The climbs are steep and frequent in the final, northern leg. The most famous climb is La Redoute, but La Roche aux Faucons climb may be the most important since its inclusion as the penultimate climb in 2008.
“If you look back 10 years, the race was always decided on La Redoute,” Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) told Cycling Weekly. “Now, everyone waits on La Redoute for La Roche, which is harder.”
Last year, Schleck attacked on La Roche and formed the winning trio with brother Fränk and Gilbert.
Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2012: The contenders
Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing)
The Belgian Champion appears the most confident of the Liege contenders. “I’m feeling better each passing day,” he explained. Though he hasn’t won yet, he seems ready to break through in his home race based on previous results.
Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha)
Did you see the Spaniard’s attack on the Mur de Huy on Wednesday? No one has done that since… Well, since last year when Gilbert won and paved his way to an Ardennes treble. Rodriguez clearly has the legs to become only the eighth rider to win the Fleche/Liege double.
Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD)
Unlike the other favourites, the Italian went home to race the Giro del Trentino after Amstel Gold. He won a mountain stage on Wednesday and proved ready to win Liege. By doing so, he’ll add to the Tour of Lombardy (three times) and Amstel (2008).
Andy and Frank Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan)
Last year, the brothers seemed as though they gave Gilbert the final victory, refusing even a token attack in the last 20km. Andy said, “After 250km it’s not easy, I can tell you that.” He appears ready to attack again this year judging by Wednesday’s moves in Flèche. He’ll want to eliminate the punchy rider, like Rodriguez and Gilbert, for his brother.
Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale)
Out of all the monuments, Lombardy and Liege suit Grand Tour riders the most. Nibali has come close in both races, including an eighth place last year in Ans. The 2010 Vuelta a Espana winner is on his way, winning a stage in Oman and the Tirreno-Adriatico overall this year. Look for him to work with the Schlecks.
Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2012: Climbs
Start: 0km – Liege
70.0km – Côte de La Roche-en-Ardennes (2.8km long, 6.2%)
116.5km – Côte de Saint-Roch (1.0km long, 11%)
160.0km – Côte de Wanne (2.7km long, 7.3%)
166.5km – Côte de Stockeu (1.0km long, 12.2%)
172.0km – Côte de la Haute-Levée (3.6km long, 5.7%)
185.0km – Col du Rosier (4.4km long, 5.9%)
198.0km – Côte du Maquisard (2.5km long, 5%)
208.0km – Mont-Theux (2.7km long, 5.9%)
223.0km – Côte de La Redoute (2.0km long, 8.8%)
238.0km – Côte de La Roche aux Faucons (1.5km long, 9.3%)
252.0km – Côte de Saint-Nicolas (1.2km long, 8.6%)
Finish: 257.5km – Ans
Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2012: Teams
Accent Jobs-Willems Verandas
Ag2r La Mondiale
Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2012: TV guide
Digital channel British Eurosport will be showing live coverage and edited highlights of Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
Sunday April 22, 14:00-16:00, LIVE Liege-Bastogne-Liege, British Eurosport
Sunday April 22, 22:00-23:00, Liege-Bastogne-Liege highlights, British Eurosport
Philippe Gilbert wins in 2011
Liege-Bastogne-Liege: Recent winners
2011 Philippe Gilbert (Bel)
2010 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz)
2009 Andy Schleck (Lux)
2008 Alejandro Valverde (Spa)
2007 Danilo Di Luca (Ita)
2006 Alejandro Valverde (Spa)
2005 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz)
2004 Davide Rebellin (Ita)
2003 Tyler Hamilton (USA)
2002 Paolo Bettini (Ita)
Liege-Bastogne-Liege: Last year’s top ten (2011)
1. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 255km in 6-13-18
2. Frank Schleck (Lux) Leopard-Trek
3. Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard-Trek at same time
4. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Astana at 24secs
5. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Team Sky
6. Chris Sorensen (Den) Saxo Bank-Sungard
7. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team at 27secs
8. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas at 29secs
9. Bjorn Leukemans (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM at 39secs
10. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at same time