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Liege - Bastogne - Liege 2016

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Hello and welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage of the 2016 Liège-Bastogne-Liège. It's La Doyenne, the fourth Monument of the season, the oldest one going, and the final chapter in the Ardennes triptych. We'll have every pedal stroke covered right here. 

 

Good morning and a warm welcome to the Cyclingnews live race centre, where today we're bringing you full coverage of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. It's the 102nd edition of the race they call La Doyenne and here marks the end of the spring Classics. Where did the time go?

Here's what's on the menu...

It may be the London marathon today but similar levels of stamina are required over in Belgium for La Doyenne. 253 kilometres, 10 climbs, with bad weather expected, it’s a true test of perseverance and endurance where the strongest riders come to the fore.

So, the race kicks off at 10:15 local time and the team buses have arrived at Liège's Place St Lambert, where the conditions are wet and miserable. Riders are currently making their way to and from the podium for sign-on.

We've just seen Adam Yates, whose choice of attire says everything about the conditions today.

“Liege is a race which I’ve followed and loved ever since I was a kid," says Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha). "Of all the one-day races this is the one that I like the most. All I’ve lacked up to now is a little bit of luck, given I know I’m not the fastest in a sprint.”

Race number: 1. Here's the man pretty much everyone sees as the favourite, Alejandro Valverde. 

Tour de France champion Chris Froome was in demand as he made his way to the podium. 

And they're off

As we wait for kilometre zero, why not have a read of our race preview. 

A few snowflakes have been spotted on the early part of the course. It's only 1 degree Celsius in Liège and there is proper snowfall predicted to hit the race as it heads south. 

The flag has dropped and the race is underway. As is to be expected, the pace immediately rises and things become frantic. We waited for a long time for the break to be formed at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix - how long will it take today?

We spoke to Romain Bardet yesterday evening, and the Frenchman talked about his growing experience in La Doyenne, along with his thoughts on how the race will unfold.

Still all together after 5 kilometres

We're hearing over race radio that Julien Loubet (Fortuneo Vital Concept) has abandoned the race already. That makes 199 riders. 

2014 winner Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) was well wrapped against the elements at the start on the Place Saint-Lambert, pointing out that the conditions and the new climb of the Côte de la Rue Naniot could make for an unusual edition of La Doyenne.

Lots of moves have been going and now a group of around seven has gone clear. We'll see if they can make it stick.

A photo just taken from the FDJ car. Wow.

I hate the word 'epic', but I think we're going to be hearing a lot more of it today.

This breakaway group has a gap, it's a slim one, but it's looking like it could stick. In there are Paolo Tiralongo (Astana), Alessandro De Marchi (BMC), Pavel Brutt (Tinkoff), Nicolas Edet (Cofidis), Jeremy Roy (FDJ), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), and Cesare Benedetti (Bora Argon 18).

These riders have a lead of around a minute. The peloton hasn't exactly sat up and let them off the leash - perhaps there are some back there not too happy with this.

More staggering images coming in from team cars on their way out to the feed zones. 

We've had plenty of extreme weather already this season, with Paris-Nice and Tirreno Adriatico both notably affected. The new Extreme Weather Protocol means that riders and race officials have to hold a discussion when adverse conditions are predicted. It's hard to see that not having happened this morning. 

Is Chris Froome regretting interrupting his stage race schedule by dropping in for this? He'd be forgiven. We had a word with him this morning as he was mobbed by reporters. 

The group of seven have finally been let off the leash and they now enjoy a lead of around four minutes. 

Route altered due to snow

Vegard Stake Laengen is currently in between the bunch and the break. It's a cold and lonely chase for the Norwegian but he's just over a minute away from catching up. 

This tweet from the CPA (riders' association) representative for this race, Kristof Vandewalle.

Stake Laengen makes the junction. We now have eight riders out front with a lead approaching nine minutes.

Funny the first time...

I'm not sure what's going through the heads of Johnny Hoogerland and Preben Van Hecke, but they've attacked out of the bunch. With the break 8:30 up the road, it seems like a futile exercise.

The riders will soon return to the original course ahead of the first climb of the day, the côte de La Roche-en-Ardenne. Snow is falling in and around Bastogne but organisers are still sticking with the rest of the route as it doesn't seem to be sticking. 

We've just spoken to Kristof Vandewalle, the CPA representative for this race. He can't actually be in Belgium so Christian Salvato took over responsibilities at the scene. Vandewalle said there was some confusion among teams as to the situation, but that they couldn't tell what the snowfall would be like, so a decision to change the route couldn't be made ahead of the race. 

Despite finishing fourth in Amstel Gold and fourth in Liege last year, this April Rui Costa is one of the least talked about favourites in the local media. But the Lampre-Merida management are optimistic that the former World Champion, who won his rainbow jersey in Italy despite atrocious weather conditions for the first two thirds of the race, can be up there in the final today.

The 10 climbs

The 10 climbs

Jeremy Roy leads the escape over the Roche-en Ardenne, while Movistar, working for the favourite Alejandro Valverde, take it up in the bunch. 

The Etixx-QuickStep jerseys gather at the front of the bunch now. They have two really strong cards to play in the form of Dan Martin, a former winner here, and Julian Alaphilippe, second last year. They both proved they're in good shape, both getting on the podium below Valverde at Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday. 

This is a quiet part of the race as there is a lengthy wait between the first and second climbs of the day. The riders are approaching the first feed zone and they'll want to conserve as much energy as possible for the brutal second half of this race. 

We spoke to Samuel Sánchez ahead of the race. You can read his thoughts here:

The riders are taking on supplies after hitting the feed zone. The next test on the parcours is the photogenic Côte de Saint-Roch.

8:30 is the current gap between the break and the bunch. It's pretty stable and should stay that way until the the climbs start to come thick and fast in the final 80km. 

The lead group of seven make their way onto the Côte Saint-Roch.

Group of eight, I beg your pardon.

Don't let that photo from IAM Cycling foo you - there is snow still falling in places on the route, though it seems quite light for the most part. 

Nicolas Edet is the first man up Saint-Roch, a short climb of one kilometre but with nasty gradients well into double figures. 

The peloton now comes over the climb, still under the control of Movistar and Etixx-Quickstep - the teams with the race favourites. The gap to the break has come down by around a minute to 7:45.

Snowflakes are once again falling on the riders but the road is still rideable. 

Dan Martin won this race back in 2013, and should have won it in 2014 but for a cruel crash going into the last corner. He said this morning he was looking to take the pressure off himself.

The breakaway riders are seeing their lead slowly but steadily falling. It's down to six minutes now, with Movistar and Etixx still at the front of the bunch. 

Crash! Nasty pile-up here as several riders hit the deck in the bunch. Angel Vicioso and Alexey Vermeulen among them.

No serious problems for any of the riders caught up in that crash, it seems. 

Meanwhile, over in Istanbul Przemyslaw Niemiec has soloed to victory on the opening stage of the Tour of Turkey.

"We're hearing reports that around 100 riders have abandoned the race," say the BMC Racing team, who still have a full complement of riders. There looks to be over 100 riders in this peloton (there were 200 starters) but it wouldn't come as a surprise to anyone if there's a long list of DNF's today.

We're on a gentle downhill section on the approach to the Côte de Wanne, the third climb of the day. 

The riders in the break are taking off their gilets and shoving them in the direction of the DS's in their team cars. It's brightening up out there. 

Onto the Côte de Wanne now for the peloton. It's 2.8km long with an average gradient of 7.4%. Movistar lead. 

The gap keeps falling steadily, down to four minutes now. 

We've just spoken to Cristian Salvato, who's acting as a stand-in representative under the Extreme Weather Protocol. He doesn't think there'll be any more issues in what's left of the race.

Froome is chasing back on to the back of the peloton. He had some sort of issue and had to unclip - an IAM Cycling rider comes up alongside him and offers his hand in apology. There's no real trouble for the Sky rider, who accepts the apology and gets back on with ease.

The peloton are climbing again. It's the Côte de la Haute-Levée, the fourth climb of the day, and one of the longer ones at 3.6km. The average gradient is fairly gentle, though, at 5.6%

It might not be snowing anymore but it's still bloody cold. You can see the riders' breath as they exhale. Katusha team boss Vyacheslav Ekimov has posted a video of Joaquim Rodríguez having to pull over and have his gloves changed for him as his hands were too cold to do it himself. 

Still Movistar tap it out at the front of the bunch, and they have this nicely under control. The other teams are perfectly happy with the situation. 

Here's our story on the snow and the route change, with details about the decision making process and the extreme weather protocol.

The gilets are back on. The breakaway riders are now heading into a small blizzard and it's looking miserable again. No snow sticking on the road surface though. 

Carlos Betancur is wearing shorts, riding into a blizzard. Madman.

65km remaining from 253km

Direct Energie grow tired of the Movistar monotony as Lilian Calmejane accelerates and is followed by Thomas Voeckler. 

Adam Yates wants to be a part of this and jumps across. There's action now at the head of the bunch as others show interest in getting over.

Yates is reeled back in but Voeckler goes again. Movistar return to tapping it out.

61km remaining from 253km

54km remaining from 253km

After a day-long breakaway in the Fleche Wallonne where he was the last rider in the move to be reeled in before the final attacks began, Steve Cummings (Dimension Data) spoke about rolling the dice again today.

The climbs are coming thick and fast now. The riders are on the Col du Maquisard, 2km at 5.5%. 

Pavel Brutt has been dropped from the breakaway after an injection of pace from Alessandro De Marchi.

The escape group is really breaking up now as De Marchi keeps the pressure on. De Gendt and Edet are the only ones who can keep contact for now. 

Tony Gallopin abandons

Lotto also have Tosh Van der Sande, of course, who is a winner of the U23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He duly attacks off the front of the bunch. 

45km remaining from 253km

Laengen catches up with the leaders but it's starting to split up once more as we approach the legendary Côte de la Redoute

38km remaining from 253km

Lots have fans have braved the conditions and have taken their spot at the side of this famous climb. It's 2km long at 8.9%

Voeckler has been reeled in by the bunch, and the Frenchman is making his way up the climb just several metres ahead. They're closing in on the rest of the breakaway remnants as well now. 

De Gendt drops Laengen but he's a good way behind the leading duo of De Marchi and Edet.

Back in the bunch, it's still Movistar en masse at the front. No one else has contributed to the pace making since the early kilometres. 

And it's still snowing! Sizeable snowflakes now. What a brutal day this has been.

32km remaining from 253km

As I write that, Andriy Grivko (Astana) goes on the attack, and there's movement behind him.

This is where the softening up process begins. Who will be next to send a rider up the road?

Grivko catches De Gendt but Movistar draw it back. 

We have a new climb on the menu this year, and it's cobbled. It's called the Côte de la Rue Naniot and, coming just 3km from the finish, it's set to shake up the race at a crucial juncture. Read more in our closer look at the climb:

Crash! Rafal Majka has come down hard in a collision with Angel Vicioso. He's back on his feet but there's a big delay in getting on his bike. That's his race over, in all probability. 

Etixx take over from Movistar now and they really up the pace. The leading duo are now in their sights. 

Edet stubbornly hangs on for as long as he can as the road heads downhill on the approach to this next climb. 

Lotto Soudal there are the front now in front of Etixx. Movistar have dropped back considerably now. 

Up now: the Côte de La Roche-aux-Faucons. 1.3km at 11%.

Etixx are on the front with numbers, Martin and Alaphilippe perfectly positioned. Valverde is up there just behind with teammates. Froome, Gasparotto, Kreuziger, Wellens all up there too. 

QuickStep are doing enough at the moment to ward off any attacks, but their rhythm has seen many riders dropped off the back. 

The riders come over the top of the climb and onto the downhill. Two more climbs remaining - who will roll the dice next? 

The Côte de Saint-Nicolas traditionally proves selective, but it will be interesting to see how it's ridden in light of the looming cobbled climb ahead of the finish. Patience may well be the best tactic.

Betancur, still in shorts, attacks.

This a decent move by Betancur, who has carved out a sizeable advantage. All part of the softening up process which should play into the hands of his teammate Valverde. 

Etixx-QuickStep have been forced into a chase, but they still have at least five riders in there, all on the front. That strength in numbers will be vital. 

Betancur is brought back now as the peloton is whittled down to about 30-40 riders. 

14km remaining from 253km

It's still snowing, by the way. It's wet snow, almost rain, but either way it's still completely miserable out there. 

Grivko takes another flyer. Vincenzo Nibali must be feeling good - the Italian thrives in adverse conditions. 

Kwiatkowski now moves off the front. He and Grivko have a slight gap as Movistar look to chase. 

Betancur links up with Kwiatkowski and Grivko and behind him a teammate brings the bunch back into contact. It's strung out, the pace is high, and we're about to hit the climb.

Here we go. Betancur attacks!

The Colombian gets a gap but then eases up. Ettix's numbers have diminished.

Ilnur Zakarin takes it up now, Bardet is up there along with fellow Frenchman Warren Barguil.

Nibali is struggling. The Italian is slipping off the back

Barred goes!

Bardet goes!

Zakarin attacks now as we come over the top of the climb. He drags an Astana rider for company.

It's Diego Rosa, and he attacks Zakarin. Just a couple of kilometres until this all-important cobbled climb.

The peloton is just about back in contact with the two attackers but it's really strung out now on this downhill section. That climb really thinned the bunch out too. 

Gerrans is dropped as well.

Heading towards this final climb now. Cobbles, gradients of up to 15%. Sure to be decisive. 

There's still a sizeable bunch of riders together as we hit the climb. 

Alaphilippe leads onto the climb, Izaguirre on his wheel. 

This is only 600 metres but it's steep, and it's showing. Albasini injects some pace now. 

Albasini has a gap, this is a great move. Lots of riders struggling.

Valverde is quite far back here. 

Albasini comes off the climb and is joined by Rui Costa, Samuel Sanchez, and Woet Poels. This is a decent selection. 

Who's going to chase this down? Movistar need to act fast. 

1km remaining from 253km

1km remaining from 253km

Zakarin goes on the attack in a bid to make it over. 

Costa and Sanchez look cagey, while Poels comes from behind to attack. Albasini shuts it down. 

It's between these four riders for the sprint.

Poels opens it up...

Albasini tries to come round but Poels has enough!

Wout Poels wins Liège-Bastogne-Liège!

Wow. What a win. Team Sky finally have a Monument victory. 

That was a slow sprint, the effort having truly taken its toll. You might have backed Albasini on Poel's wheel but he simply didn't have enough in the tank to come round. Rui Costa was a close third, Sanchez a distant fourth. 

Top 10

 

"I still can't believe it," says Poels. "The conditions were really difficult today and at the end we were all really tired."

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