This year’s new cobbled climb for the last part of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Côte de la Rue Naniot, could shake up the race at a crucial juncture after several years where riders have seemed overly keen to play a waiting game and then battle it out in a small group sprint.
Kazakhstan’s Maxim Iglinsky was the last solo attacker to succeed in winning la Doyenne back in 2012, after catching and dropping Vincenzo Nibali on the grinding two kilometre steady ascent to the finish line at Ans in the suburbs of Liège.
This time around the run-in to the finish has been significantly altered. Following the Côte de San Nicolas and a fast descent in the Liège backstreets, the 2016 route barely has time to flatten out before a sharp right-hand bend takes the peloton onto the 600 metres of Côte de la Rue Naniot. Previously the San Nicolas was the last classified climb cresting 6.5 kilometres from the finish. The Rue Naniot summit is now just 2.5 kilometres from the line.
As Cyclingnews discovered during a reconnaissance the climb is a residential city street, but unlike San Nicolas' series of near switchback turns, the Côte de la Rue Naniot consists of a single, ribbon-like straightaway, rising between two or three-storey houses - so the wind could be a factor. The climb has a virtually unchanging and relentless gradient of around 10.5 percent, although it’s slightly steeper in the middle 100 metres. The road’s cobbles are all in good shape and the streets is wide enough for riders not to be blocked in during attacks.
Once riders reach the summit of the Côte de la Rue Naniot and bear left, the route then descends in a series of semi-switchbacks to the broad, smoothly tarmacked Ans road. After 500 metres of downhill, the route then takes a sharp right-hander onto the Rue Walthere Jamere and the traditional kilometre-long grind up to the final left-hand turn to the finish begins.
In another annual tweak to the Liège-Bastogne-Liège route, the Côte de Stockeu, one of the hardest and most emblematic climbs of the entire course, is off the 2016 menu because of roadworks.
This will reduce the usual trio of climbs - the Côte de Wanne, the Stockeu and the Côte de la Haut-Levée - that usher the race into its final 100 kilometres to just two. As a a result the size of the peloton reaching the foot of the Côte de la Redoute, the first of the final series of climbs, is likely to be much larger, making for a more open (and hopefully unpredictable) race.
As for the last part of the course, as in 2015, the kilometre-long Côte de Sprimont, a two-part ascent that precedes the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons is once again included. However, it is not - unlike other years - a classified climb. The Côte de la Roche aux Faucons has been altered slightly, with the peloton tackling the lower segment of the climb via a railway bridge rather than a level crossing. But the hardest section remains the same and the riders legs will certainly hurt just as much as in its previous format.
The crucial alteration, though, is the new climb after the Côte de San Nicolas. Coming after such a fast descent off the San Nicolas it will be hard for the peloton to regroup and may break up any chase groups. However, it may, at least for this year, encourage an even more conservative race than in previous years, as riders try to gauge their strength for the new late challenge and opt to lower the risk of running out of energy on the Ans climb that follows. Long-term, though, hopefully it will be a different story - and perhaps on Sunday too.
Liege Bastogne Liege: how it’s changed
- 1992: New finish at Ans introduced
- 2008: Short sharp ascent Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons brought in to replace the draggy Côte du Sart-Tilman
- 2010: Côte de la Haut Levee removed because of roadworks
- 2011: Côte de la Haut Levee returns.
- 2013: Le Roche-aux-Faucons removed because of road works and replaced by much easier Col de Colonster.
- 2014: Colonster removed, Le Roche-aux-Faucons returns to race.
- 2015: Vecquée climb is removed, Rosier and Maquisard return.
- 2016: Stockeu removed, Côte de la Rue Naniot included.