Completing a Belgian classic

April 28, 2016

One of our most hardcore Threo teamies Natalie took part in the epic Lieges-Bastogne-Liege last weekend, and we thought we would include her race report below, to try and encourage you all to do it next year. Natalie definitely noticed a lack of women riders in this one, but anywhere there's a sportive with climbs is a ride where women can do well so perhaps have a think about adding this to your list of races to do. 

LBL is a one day classic cycling race, undertaken by the pros as part of the UCI World Tour and is the final one of the Ardennes Classic - with some of the climbs hitting the 20% mark. There is a sportive on the same weekend as the Classic, so you can follow the same course as the pros (one of the best bits about cycling) and put yourself through the same trials (exceptout with the benefits of a support car, a director sportif and spare bikes, so if anything doing this makes you tougher than the pros!).

Natalie is doing a number of awesome races this year, like Swissman and we are going to keep you updated on her training and racing.

If this account does tempt you, keep an eye out here for when the 2017 entry opens. 


"We were up at 5am to make sure we were at the start early. The race cut off time was 8pm and we had the usual anxiety about missing this. This gave us 13 1/2 hours to complete it - but with 271km spread out over 4500m of climbing, 8 categorised climbs, and some cobbles we knew we had a very long day ahead and making the time was tight. 

I managed to force some porridge down and we set off as a group into the pouring rain to be on the start line at 6:30am. It was already packed with people that looked really fit and very fast and I had only managed to spot one other female rider so was feeling a little nervous. 

The pace at the start was very quick, and I had to really concentrate to keep on the wheel of the group in front to save my legs for the climbs. The first categorised climb was 84km in (Côte de la Roche en Ardenne) and was much needed to warm us up as it was still raining really heavily, and I was beginning to regret my optimism as I was the only one in my THREO shorts. Most of the other riders were kitted out in full winter gear! The climb was approx 2.8km with a gradient of  between 5-8%, so we made it up without any problems. 

The dubious weather continued and it wasn't until after leaving Bastogne we hit the second categorised climb (Côte Saint Roche - 1.85km and 6% average) which was tough as my hands were frozen solid by this point and I couldn't shift my gears easily! This was short but really steep and everyone was out of their saddles grinding up. I was a bit worried at this point because we had cycled 130km and only done 2 of the 8 categorised climbs.  

We grabbed some food at the next station, although by this time the Belgium waffles were getting less appetising. We knew that, provided we carried on at the same pace we would make the the cut off but we couldn't afford to lose too much time on the bigger climbs later, and so we pressed on. 

The third climb that hit at 172km was steep and narrow, with a pretty hairy descent. I regretted not checking my bike over properly before we set off, or changing my brake pads, so took it really steady. 

At 180km we had a quick break at the feed station where some tall Dutch guy in the queue asked me if my legs felt fresh as the hard bit was yet to come! Great. I was also worried about our pace at this point as we had spent longer at the feed stations than intended and had also lost time waiting at the top of the climbs to re-group.

The most memorable climb came at Côte de la Roudette (average 9%) at 225km. By this point I felt quite good so tackled it aggressively and was overtaking quite a few people on the way up. Big mistake. It was over 2km and what started quite gentle got steeper and steeper and was relentless. I alternated between rising out of the saddle and sitting down, and had to pull out my trick of counting in my head to take my mind off how much pain my legs were in. I got to the top and waited for my team mates. When one cycled quickly past I realised that I had stopped short of the timer and there was still more climbing! Gutted!! 

We only had 46km to go by this point so we cycled straight through the feed station to try and make up time. We relaxed a little knowing that we should make the 8pm cut off. The sun even started to come out, so we could finally enjoy the Belgium countryside. We only had two more big climbs ahead of us. We hit a big headwind and managed to tag onto a peloton which gave the legs a break and the next 15km went by quite quickly. The Côte de la Roche aux Faucons broke that up. This was steep 1.5km but felt longer and narrow and was a killer at this point in the race with 241km in the legs. Another timed climb so we put our all into it and got the top. We had a good pace by now until we heard the dreaded words "puncture" to find one of our team mates had a got a flat with 40km to go! Frustratingly it seemed to take forever and we watched all the cyclists we had overtaken previously whizzing past. 

By this point we were feeling ready to finish as we had suffered in a bout of really bad hail and it was tough keeping the group together, we were all at different speeds by now and  waiting around meant any heat we managed to build up was lost really quickly. 
I had tried to eat every 30 minutes, fuelling on a mammoth ride like that is essential, but it meant I was now running low on supplies. I had a rummage in my jersey and found my Cadbury Boost - a jackpot that I knew would see me through until the end! 

The final climb came sooner than we thought and was pretty unpleasant. I kept thinking I had reached the top only to find that it just kept going on and on. It looked like I wasn't the only one finding it tricky, as I struggled to get past people who were weaving all over the road. The pros finish at this point, but us being a bit tougher than them we still had 5km to go. We thought the finish line was beckoning and had a home straight cheer only to be informed by a fellow cyclist there was still a single climb to go. It wasn't categorised but it's still pretty mean to throw that in so close to the finish. 

We enjoyed the last descent along the cobbled streets and the finish was finally in sight, where we celebrated with a victory hot dog and a delicious cold beer, and set off on the 5k ride back to the hotel. We had the most important deadline to meet that day to make - the 9:30pm sitting at the steak restaurant, to eat all of the calories we had burned off that day! 

women cycling liege bastogne liege

It was a great race and was also the furthest I have ever cycled, so I was pretty proud. We all did better than we imagined. There is a phrase on the wall at my spin gym by Mark Allen (Ironman world champion) which says "you can keep going and your legs will hurt for a week or you can stop and you can hurt for a lifetime" which was definitely a maxim which applied for this race but it was all worth it despite the cold, the hail and the climbs!"

Tempted?! It also goes to show - never be worried or intimidated by people looking speedy at the start, or a lack of girls taking part. As Natalie showed, as long as you get your head down and work hard, anything is possible. Even 271km (well 281km as she actually cycled to the start and back...), some super steep climbs and hail stones. 

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