Last year I rode Liege-Bastogne-Liege and, as I sat and ate a huge pizza the night after and drank too many Belgian beers I thought to myself… ‘Never Again’.
So, in a fit of absolute stupidity, I have signed up for the 2018 edition. Very stupid of me. Bonkers. I mean, who does this for fun? Who jumps on a bike and then rides for 153 kilometres (not the 260km version, I am not that stupid) involving around 2,500 metres of climbing (and the f*cking descending) and pays to do it? No matter what the weather? I mean, if a freak typhoon followed by a set of freak tropical storms happens on the day, it still goes ahead.
And then I ask other friends to do it and they say yes! Is this some sort of Union of Insanity?
What is it about this ride? It must be something….
To be frank, Liege-Bastogne-Liege means nothing to most people. Three towns in Belgium. Well, two actually. One of them is repeated. Nice towns in the picturesque Ardennes.
Once a year, in the Spring, it is also the route for the one of the Spring Classics. ‘Spring’ in most places would bring images of fields of blossom bathed in passive sunshine, disturbed only by the gentlest of breeze caressing the grass on a gently undulating landscape. Oh, peace and relaxation…..
But this is Spring in Belgium. Northern Europe. Most of the time it’s like Autumn only….. more….. grey. There is blossom but you don’t notice it because the gentle breeze is more like a howling f*cking gale that makes sure the rain is going in to your face. As for the gently undulating landscape? Well, they manage to take the steepest bits, put roads on them and you cycle up those roads.
It wouldn’t be a Spring Classic if it was all smiles and sunshine.
These are tough races for the pros and tough experiences for the enthusiastic and slightly deranged amateurs and, as per above, I rode it in 2017. I did a lot of explaining then as to what the race is in terms of Monuments, Classics and all that sort of thing. This post and also a few on the 2017 Challenges gave the background as well as the preparation.
Explanations are good for background. But why have I changed my mind?
That’s the emotion playing tricks on me. The memories.
Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2017 was, for the amateurs, a wet experience. Not exactly tropical. There was a good wind. A hard day, for sure. That increased the sense of achievement. Easily the toughest ride I have ever had, tougher than the two climbs of Ventoux. In terms of distance, conditions and mix of terrain. At the end you knew that you had ridden 150 kilometres. Soaking wet, a combination of sweat and sh*tty weather. Tired, the sleep the night before had been bad which did not help. Hungry, thirsty despite drinking half a reservoir en route.
And totally elated. Speechless, a real sense that I had achieved something. Let’s not pretend, the first sixty kilometres were….. miserable as I related in the summary of the 2017 experience. The climbs were just climbs and the rain was pouring down. ‘Why?’ was the main thought going through my head.
Then, around 60 kilometres, the names of those climbs start to mean something. Ancien-Barriere, Haut Levee, Rosiere. And, best of all, Cote de la Redoute.
Nothing but words. But what stays is the feeling. That really is difficult to put in to words. I remember reaching the top of Cote de la Redoute and just feeling utterly elated, I had reached the top and had not gotten off! That is such a feeling! At the next rest stop I was messaging like a madman. ‘I CLIMBED LA REDOUTE!’ Indescribable!
At the end, upon proof of completion, you get a tee-shirt. It lists the winners from the past, great names such as Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx. At the bottom it just says ‘Me’. A nice touch. It helps you realise that you have ridden a real Classic, the oldest of them all. To me, it puts all other such races in the shade (with the exception of the other four monuments). Of course they are very tough and completing any of these is something to be proud of. But, for me at least, Liege-Bastogne-Liege is a true Classic, in all senses of the word.
And, of course, that emotion is touched by the other thing. I bought a bike in March 2012 and was diagnosed in August 2012. It is strange but MS and cycling seem intertwined for me. In those first months I rode that that bike to pieces because, in my ignorance, I thought it would only be a year or so until the wheelchair called. Neurologists and Revalidation Clinics changed that and I realised the value of staying fit. I also found that I loved cycling. There is no medical proof but I am sure that it has played a role in staying in such good condition, I just know it. Don’t ask me to prove it but the right balance of exercise and rest has helped me through. Liege marked a personal summit on so many different levels. I say that word again. Elation!
So I will stop tying to explain it. I think it is pretty clear. This, for me, is huge. All those feelings. I want them again. And, in 2018, I would like to perhaps enjoy it a bit more.
Liege-Bastogne-Liege will be the only challenge I set myself for 2018. The triple challenge of 2017 was great but 2018 will be more about enjoyment. I will climb a mountain if I have a chance and will probably push the distance records when I have a chance. However, the year will not be built around these. It will be no surprise to say I love cycling. Well, I will give myself the space to enjoy it. Liege is enough of a fixed target for one year!