Liège-Bastogne-Liège is coming home. After 27 years in the suburb of Ans, the finish of La Doyenne will return to the centre of Liège from next year and remain there for at least five years after that.
The news had been rumoured for some time but was made official on Thursday upon the signing of a new agreement between the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), the Province of Liège, and the Royal Cyclist Pesant Club de Liège.
It was also announced that the Mur de Huy will continue to act as the finish of La Flèche Wallonne for the next six years.
Despite starting and finishing in Spa in its early editions, Liège-Bastogne-Liège has traditionally finished in Liège itself, despite a one-off move to Verviers in 1972. In 1992, however, the Pesant Club partnered with ASO and the finished was moved to Ans, several kilometres outside the city centre.
The race, the oldest and one of the most prestigious of cycling's one-day Classics, has since become known as a race of attrition with the string of climbs in the final 50 kilometres simply serving to whittle down the group of favourites ahead of the uphill finale into Ans. Though Bob Jungels' solo victory last weekend mixed things up somewhat, the organisers are moving the finish back to Liège in a bid to enhance the spectacle of the race.
"While acknowledging the passionate collaboration from the Commune of Ans over the past 27 editions, the P.S.O and the Province of Liège specify that, in terms of the return to a format more befitting of the name of the race, the change of finish location is essentially dictated by purely sporting criteria intended to make the finale of the race even more attractive," read a statement from the Province of Liège.
It is not yet clear how the organisers plan to tinker with the succession of climbs that lay the foundations for the finale. The last time the race finished in the centre of Liège was in 1991, when Moreno Argentin won a four-up sprint from Claude Criquielion, Rolf Sorensen, and Miguel Indurain.
"Tradition does not prohibit change!" read ASO's press release. "Although ASO is attached to the history of the events it organises, ASO also remains open to change in order to give them a fresh look."
Similarly, the finish of the women's race, which was established in 2017, will move from Ans into Liège, but will continue to start in Bastogne.
La Flèche Wallonne sticks with the Mur de Huy
As reported in the Belgian press during the Ardennes Classics, the Mur de Huy will continue to define La Flèche Wallonne until at least 2024.
The fiendishly steep climb has become the emblem of the mid-week Classic, which is the only WorldTour one-day race to feature a summit finish. It's tackled three times in total, the third of which represents the lung-busting sprint to the line.
A little like Liège, Flèche has acquired a reputation as a predictable affair, with the race almost always decided on the final climb of the Mur, and the near-200 preceding kilometres often reduced to something of a preamble. 2003 was the last to upset the apple cart, with Igor Astarloa winning after arriving at the Mur with just Aitor Osa for company.
Nevertheless, the organisers clearly feel the Mur de Huy is an icon, and are keen to keep it as the focal point, though they may well look to tinker with other areas of the route. After the introduction of the Côte de Cherave to the finale several years ago, the number climbs was upped from nine to 11 this year, including an early ascent of the Col de la Redoute, a Liège-Bastogne-Liège staple.
Whether as a result of the slightly harder route, or merely of tactics and race dynamics, this year's edition was a more open affair, with Vincenzo Nibali part of a dangerous break that almost went all the way, while Alejandro Valverde was knocked from the top step of the podium after four straight years there.
While La Flèche Wallonne has finished on the Mur de Huy since 1983, the start location has recently varied from year-to-year after long stints in Chaleroi and, before that, Huy itself. The 2019 edition will begin in Ans, which is compensated for its loss of the Liège finale, but the subsequent starts will be shared among other towns in Wallonia.
The women's race will continue to start and finish on the Mur de Huy for the next six years.