The fourth of the five Monuments, Liège-Bastogne-Liège is the final of the three Ardennes Classics (the Amstel Gold Race and La Flèche Wallonne being the other two). Known as La Doyenne, the 'oldest Classic', the Liège-Bastogne-Liège was first held in 1892 and takes place in mid-late April in the Ardennes, the French speaking part of Belgium.
The race takes a direct 60 mile route from Liege to Bastogne - a town originally selected as the turning point as it offered a convenient railway hub for race officials and spectators. The return to Liege, or more specifically to its north-western suburb of Ans, is a more serpentine route of around 100 miles, including the strength sapping climbs of the Côte de la Redoute, the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons and the Côte de Saint-Nicol that come in rapid succession and at a time in the race when legs are beginning to tire.
The climbs are what makes the Liège-Bastogne-Liège such a compelling spectacle, though in 1980 it was severe snow blizzards that decimated the field. Half of the 174 starters abandoned within the first hour. Bernard Hinault, not one to let a little inclement weather get in his way, won the race - finishing nearly 10 minutes ahead of Hennie Kuiper of Holland, whilst maintaining an average speed of 21 mph in the atrocious conditions. This was possibly one of the most tenacious displays of cycling ever seen in the modern era, but severely frostbitten by the time he was welcomed into Liege by his Renault-Gitane team mates, Hinault still retains a numbness in two fingers on his right hand as a permanent reminder of the 20 April 1980.
The race was dominated by Belgians until the late 1970's and in 2011 the Classics specialist Philippe Gilbert, entered Belgian cycling folklore when his Liège-Bastogne-Liège triumph secured the Ardennes Classics hat-trick - a record matched only by the Italian Davide Rebellin in 2004, (though he was later to be expelled from the 2008 Olympic games for doping).
Eddy Merckx tackles a short, sharp climb supported by his Faema team mates Roger Swerts (front) and Victor van Schil during the 1969 Liège–Bastogne–Liège.Merckx went on to win the event for the first ever time, though he was to triumph again four times, in 1971, 1972, 1973 and 1975. © Presse Sports Paris/Welloffside
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