Oh dear its been a good while since I last blogged and I’ve just written my 1st ever post on my cycling experiences, which I’d thought I’d share with you:
For those that don’t know the Liege-Bastone-Liege (LbL) is the oldest of the one day professional cycle races known as the Classics. It’s celebrated its 100 year this year. The organisers allow the public to ride the 279km course (and shorter versions) the day before the actual race. After cycling one of the Tour De France stages, The Etape, a few years ago I decided to do what the professional cycles do and cycle all 5 ‘monuments’ (most famous) one day races. This post is about my successful but hard completed LbL experience and why you can’t anyways be prepared for every eventuality.
Liege-Bastone-Liege (LbL) very hilly route profile (photo)
A solider once told me what the Seven P’s were – Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance. I thought I was prepared for this year’s LbL sportive challenge after training hard, two UK sportive’s, a nice new bike and a week cycling in the Majorca sun with The Kenilworth Wheelers. But I was not! I successfully finished the long route in 11 hours and 53 minutes, including breaks, in lovely weather conditions for cycling. However, it was a really, really hard ride. One of my hardest ever rides, along with the Paris-Roubaix sportive Classic I rode in 2008.
Cycling Weekly describes the LbL: “In purely physical terms, this is probably the toughest classic: the climbs are long, most of them are pretty steep as well, and they come up with depressing frequency in the final kilometers.” God knows what the LbL would have been like in the rain or snow as, 5 times Tour de France winner, Bernard Hinault famously won in 1980 and got frostbite. See Dennis’s nightmare post (Kenilworth Wheels) doing the 2012 sportive in the cold and rain.
Everything worked well – the getting to Belgium with Russ and Nick from the Beeston Cycling Club (BCC), registering, being a good boy and not drinking alcohol the night before, etc. The nine of us from the BCC riding the long route got to the start at 6.30am after riding up the big Leige hill to the starting point. There was a little confusion if we had started as 100’s of us weaved through the industrial streets of Liege. As soon as we were having our pictures taken up the first climb by photographers I knew we had started proper.
Up at the crack of dawn
The BCC Long 279km route LbL riders (me the odd one out! 3rd from left)
I love the start of these sportive events – everyone ready, excited and a bit unsure of the day ahead. A cracking pace was being set as we started. A pace which was a little too much for me with such a long route but that’s the way these rides can go. As we climbed up the rolling Belgium Arden hills I thought how beautiful it was and how much I was enjoying cycling with Trio and the others from BCC in the gorgeous sunshine. I don’t remember in detail all 10 categorized climbs but I do recall the hardest ones!!
The first marked climb, cote de la Roche, hit us like a wall. It just reared up like a wall of Tarmac without any bends in the road ahead. It was a stiff average ascent of 6.2%. Oh dear, I thought, I ‘d used up all my gears already and I was only on the first categorised climb. Later I looked at my watch with five hours into this and another 6 odd-hours to go and wondered if I could finish. My legs were heavy with lactic acid after the fast pace and many uncategorised hills.
Cote de la Roche Tarmac wall Climb
Then the categorised climbs started to come think and fast. The idea of this 100 year old pro cycle course is to wear you down. I found the cote de stockeu really hard, particularly as we went straight up the hill and then down again on almost the other side of the road. The first timed climb on the Col du Rosier came soon after and I felt tortured by this monitoring as I wanted to ride a good time. It did spur me on, but that burst of speed also wore me out further.
Each feed station become more and more of a goal. A chance to stop, stretch the legs, have a pee and generally feel sorry for myself. The most memorable of the five feed stations was at Savelot at 184km. We all look absolutely knackered. Mind you we were still in good spirits, joking around. The feed station was located in a lovely courtyard building. After the food we had to endure an extra tiring uncomfortable bone shaking, teeth rattling stretch of pave (cobbles).
We’re still fresh at the 1st Feed station
When we hit the famous cote de la redoute it had been painted with ‘Phil’ dozens of times to help the professional cyclist Philip Gilbert on his way up to the top. Then the categorised climbs were coming one after another, four within the last 50km. I again questioned if I could make this. I was really doubting myself. Thank god a huge peloton auto bus picked me up and delivered me to the last feed station where I re-joined my cycling buddies.
Slower and slower I crawled up the last big climbs. I started to think I wanted to give up cycling after all this pain. What is the point I thought! Pull yourself together, focus on the next few kilometres one at a time. Then like a mirage the Red Bull stand appeared at end of a road. Got to stop… got to stop… I said to myself. After three cans of the Red stuff and some new wings I felt full of fizz and slightly sick, but that took my mind off the worn out body.
Food on these big rides is a strange experience. You tend to eat small and often all day. Mainly sweet things like cakes such as Belgium waffles, which I like a little too much sometimes, fruit, caffeine gels of various sickly flavours, all washed down with either water or sports drink. In the end you can’t face eating but your body needs it, so you have to force food down.
No forcing the beer down at the at the end
Russ (left), Paul, Trio, me & Nick (right)
A few scary moments cycling cross motorways at the end and at I last had made it back into Liege. I did it! I bloody well did it!!! The last climb up the Côte de stain Nicolas was not too bad – I knew I was home and dry!!
This is how they do it…
The next day we stiffly walked up the Côte de stain Nicolas to the finish line where we watched the pro’s ride from a bar and on a big screen. It was wonderful to see the pros do the same route as we had. They were travelling so so fast. But you did see them crack on the climbs also. A breakaway group lost their momentum on the cote de la redoute and were soon after caught by the main group. It was all very exciting.
Day of the Pro’s with us under the 1km banner on the Côte de stain Nicolas
Then at last the pros came up the last climb in Liege, the Côte de stain Nicolas, with Dan Martin last year’s winner rapidly moving up the field into second place with only 150 metres to the finish line. But as he passed me on the final corner, he slipped and fell. I have hardly ever seen anyone as disappointed as Dan was that day. He did not know what to do with himself. My heart went out to him. It looked as though he was going to make a podium place, if not first again. On closer inspection the road was not cleaned having patches of gravel on the corner. Poor Dan! But that’s life. The Seven p’s don’t always work when life throws all manner of weather and challenges that we cannot be completely prepared for.
Dan Martin at the end of the 2014 Liege-Bastone-Liege
On reflection I’m not going to give up cycling just yet. Although, I did think about it briefly. It was a fantastic well signposted route. One of the best routes I’ve ever ridden with wonderful fast sweeping descents. And we were so very lucky with the weather. I’d like to thank both the BCC for so warming welcoming me into their club, giving me such as good time on/off the bike on the LbL, and the Kenilworth Wheelers for being really supportive and helping me with train for LbL in Majorca. Now onto the preparation for the next classic!
Me (far right) with Kenilworth Wheels in Majorca preparing for the LbL