In the Ardennes classics, there are, first of all, classics! The Flèche Wallonne (194.2 km) and Liège-Bastogne-Liège (258.5 km), which will take place respectively on 19 and 23 April, will be based on the key passages that have marked the history of these races.
The Mur de Huy and the final loop, including the Ereffe and Cherave climbs, will also be on the programme of the Flèche Wallonne Femmes, which has a total route of 131.5 km. Four days later, the riders of the seventh edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes will, for the first time, confront the Wanne, Stockeu and Haute-Levée sequence of climbs before attacking La Redoute and finish their race in the Liège city centre after 140 km.
25 teams, including four invited by the organisers, will each nominate seven cyclists to form pelotons of 175 riders for the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, while 144 female riders from 24 teams will form those of the Flèche Wallonne Femmes and Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes.
The evocation of the Ardennes classics campaign always triggers memories, and congers up either distant or recent images, which have become embedded in the consciousness of cycling enthusiasts. In terms of history, the Flèche Wallonne experienced a significant turning point in 1985, when the finish line was painted indelibly at the top of the Mur de Huy. Several variants have been tried on the approach of the now famous Chemin des Chapelles, which the riders climb three times, at the end of a final circuit, including the climbs of Ereffe and Cherave as springboards for the ambitious riders who hope to present themselves at the foot of the Mur with a slight advantage. And if no solo rider has managed to resist the peloton of punchers for 20 years, the most spectacular kilometre of the cycling world still retains its indomitable character.
Since 1998, the women’s peloton has joined the train of history by confronting the iconic hill-climbing reference giving rise to hard-fought battles and cycles of domination that are occasionally interrupted. The Valverde and Alaphilippe in the women’s record book are Marianne Vos and Anna van der Breggen, the latter having even hit harder on the heights of Huy with a series of seven consecutive victories. However, it was only in 2022 that the women riders had the opportunity to climb the Mur three times in a row. It will be the case again this year during the 131.5 km expedition.
The course of La Doyenne features references all too familiar to history lovers. The most well-known round trip on the calendar has had slightly different versions according to the era, with a constant sequence of steep and short climbs that provide the race to the finish line in Liège its character. The names of La Redoute, the Roche-aux-Faucons or the age-old Côte des Forges have become part of the vocabulary of connoisseurs, as well Wanne, Stockeu and Haute-Levée sequence of climbs concentrated in 15 kilometres and where the shrinking of the peloton becomes increasingly evident. The champions will reunite with this trio, whilst a small subtlety will perhaps modify the strategy applied on La Redoute, which will immediately precede a new addition to the race, the Côte de Cornémont.
The contenders for the title on Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes start for the seventh time from Bastogne on a course that is increasingly similar to the route of the men’s race. In 2023, the race distance will be 130 kilometres and include the famous Wanne, Stockeu and Haute-Levée triptych, which will be a first for the ladies, before the action-packed final stretch heading towards Liège. For example, it was on the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons where Annemiek van Vleuten dealt a crushing blow to her remaining rivals in last year’s edition. The race is once again wide open.
LIÈGE-BASTOGNE-LIÈGE CHALLENGE: THREE ROUTES FOR THE CYCLISTS
It has also become a classic for cyclists. Liège-Bastogne-Liège Challenge has taken on the promise of taking amateur cyclists on the legendary roads of the Doyenne. For its 12th edition, 8,000 cyclists are once again expected on Saturday 22 April 2023 to register for one of the three proposed routes according to their level and motivation: 80km, 150km and 260km to be covered, starting from the town of Banneux, located 20 km from Liège. Registration on the website lblchallenge.be