I was writing a piece about Liege-Bastogne-Liege for Versus.com when I saw on Facebook a post from Marty Jemison. He’s a former professional racer back in the US Postal days. The 1999 national champion remarked that he’d had fond memories from Liege. I wrote to him last-minute to hear what they were with the plan I’d include his recollections into my article. It just didn’t work out, but I’ll hit up Marty sooner and get his thoughts on upcoming races. However, this is what Marty sent. I always love to hear first person accounts about a race.
There was a points series between Fleche Wallone and LBL in 1999 and I took 2nd to Michele Bartoli. I placed 19th in Fleche and 4 days later took 18th in LBL. Not funny stories…. Just a LOT of SUFFERING. Someone once asked me what kind of prize $ I got for that… & I have no idea.
The following year Frank Vandenbroucke won the race. I was next to him when he launched on La Redoute. It was the steepest part of the climb which is about 2/3 or more up the climb. The acceleration and power I witnessed is unfathomable; a sick display…
I will argue that LBL is the hardest single day race on the calendar. It has the longest & steepest climbs of all the classics. No fancy bike racing can place you in the top 20, you MUST have an enormous engine.
I think about this race when I have the following argument in my head: 1,000s of riders can impress people by their #’s in a lab test. Every year I did LBL there were 100 riders who could throw down more power on climbs 1-5 in LBL but on climbs 6-11 I could claw my way into the top 20. ( No laboratory test for this scenario ) I guess my point is that your VO2 in hour ‘one’ is something, but what kind of #’s can throw down in hour 4, 5, & 6+ ??? (fyi my highest VO2 was recorded in Feb 1999 @ 82.?)
I’m not sure what year it was, maybe 1996 or something… I was asked by the American speaking journalists/TV who I thought they should look out for and I responded Tyler Hamilton. This is before Tyler had made any kind of impact in Europe, but as his teammate over the years, I had seen his progress. We had both ridden fairly well in LBL and I knew it was his kind of race. I remember watching the microphone drift away after my response…. clearly the evil media was looking for a better sound bite. I do not remember how either of us finished that year, probably in the 30′s but we were clawing our way up in the results. As far as I know, Tyler still holds the victory for the 2003 LBL. Even though he/we did not crack the top 20′ in the yr I was asked that question, I knew I saw something in Tyler’s desire way back then.
Fond memories: The Côte de Saint-Roch is beautiful to ride up with 200 riders…its less than 1km long but averages over 12%. Graham Watson as well as most photographers take lots of fantastic pictures there. Its narrow and lined with houses(?) on either side. The climb is hard, but I think it’s harder on top when the wind is blowing and the peloton stretches out… sometimes fracturing a bit.
If you look you will see La Redoute is 2.1kms but averages only 8.4%. Those #’s may comfort some, but if you take the 500 meters around the point where Frank Vandenbroucke and others often attack the average is probably well over 12%… Pre-riding the course is always a good idea.
I have since taken cyclo-tourists to pre-ride the route on the same day as the Pros. I love to hear their comments…. they are always blown away as the Pros catch and ride past them while chatting away as if they are not even breathing. I have watched US cat 1 riders desperately try to hang on the training Pros on these climbs… Okay, maybe they can hold on for 2-3.