Thursday, April 19, 2012

La Doyenne: Liège–Bastogne–Liège 2002-2011

In the beginning there were monuments, the oldest of the races. Liège–Bastogne–Liège, nicknamed "la doyenne" or "old woman" in French, is the oldest of the monuments, although it wasn't the oldest of all the bike races; but that's another story. It was started in 1892 by a Belgian newspaper L'Expresse for promotions, much like how the much younger Tour de France was started by the newspaper L'Auto in France 10 years later in 1902. So much for most thinking that le Tour was the oldest of bike races.

Not wanting to be outdone by a rival, another Belgian newspaper Les Sports wanted their own cycling race and started la Flèche Wallonne, or the Walloon arrow, in 1936. Unlike its sister race, FW didn't really have a prescribed route, and has undergone significant revisions in its life. Between 1950 and 1964 both races were even run side-by-side for some time: FW on Saturday and LBL on Sunday, in the Weekend Ardennais. Amazingly, two riders managed to win both during this period: the Swiss Ferdi Kübler and the Belgian Stan Ockers. After 1964 FW was moved to the Wednesday prior to LBL, in homage to the older, more prestigious race and also for its own survival as back-to-back racing was arduous to the riders.

Over time, both races become synonymous with the sharp hills of southern Belgium and shed more and more of their cobbled stretches. Their shared identity and fate continued to be linked up to today.

So how have LBL been won recently? We present the next in our series of infographics.

Laurent Jalabert has lamented that "Cote de St.-Nicolas is too far." Is he right? Has LBL become a more controlled race? Share your thoughts below.

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