19 April 2022 By Elien Kaes History

The oldest spring classic Liege-Bastogne-Liege, also known as 'La Doyenne', will take place again on Sunday 24 April. In 130 years, 107 editions and countless route changes, this classic has certainly earned its reputation. La Doyenne is the only major monument where the cyclists are guided in a loop, via the rugged hills of the Ardennes, back to the starting point in Liege. The very first edition, in 1892, was for the amateurs. They had to go from Spa to Bastogne and back again. That year it took Léon Houa no less than 11 hours to cross the finish line as the winner, the last rider only crossed the finish line five hours later. After two more victories by Houa, the race disappeared until 1908, to reappear as Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Because of the date of this race, the riders often had to deal with extreme weather conditions. For example, Eddy Merckx won in 1971 through freezing temperatures and snow and then there is the, perhaps most famous, edition of 1980 where Bernard Hinault battled the snow. Later, the riders demanded an extreme weather policy, which meant the race was cancelled in dangerous weather conditions.

Bernard HinaultHinault in the snow

Liège-Bastogne-Liège goes through beautiful landscapes, without cobblestones and dirt. Unlike the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix, where there are many difficult parts. In the Tour you have to fight to be the first at the climbs and in Paris-Roubaix to be the first at the cobbles. Liege-Bastogne-Liege is a longer process, there is a constant and long elimination. One advantage is that there are fewer crashes.

A look back

Eddy Merckx - the record holder
The Cannibal goes down in history with no less than five victories at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He took his first victory in 1969, and after a disappointing third place in 1970, he was able to take three consecutive victories.
Merckx's infinite talents were clearly on display at La Doyenne. With 92 kilometres to go, Merckx rode away alone and had a five-minute lead. He would have won solo, but he almost crashed and was caught by Georges Pintens. Eventually Merckx won the sprint by going all the way. The next year Eddy Merckx won easily and crossed the finish line 2 minutes 40 ahead of the second. In 1973 the riders arrived at the Stade Vélodrome de Rocourt with a very large group, but Merckx was able to win again in the sprint. In the 1974 season Merckx suffered a painful fall and that year, for the first time, he was unable to win any classics, but in 1975 he was again able to take home first place.

Eddy Merckx
Merckx followed by Wim Schepers at Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 1969

Raymond Impanis - the unluckiest one
Impanis was able to build up an impressive list of honours including Gent-Wevelgem (1952, 1953), the Tour of Flanders (1954), Paris-Roubaix (1954) and the Flèche Wallonne (1957), but he failed to add Liège-Bastogne-Liège to this list. He did, however, finish second four times, which makes him quite an unlucky cyclist in this race.

Bernard Hinault - the youngest winner
The history books list Victor Fastre as the youngest winner ever, who was 18 when he was declared the winner after Eugène Charlier's disqualification in 1909. The youngest modern winner however is Bernard Hinault, who showed his skills as a badger at the age of 22 when he won in 1977.

The slowest edition
Apart from the very first edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the 1970 edition was the slowest in history. That year Roger De Vlaeminck won with an average speed of 33,4 km/h, which is more than 1,3 km/h slower than the epic 1980 edition. That year the weather was so bad that only 21 riders could finish. It was Hinault who took first place with a lead of 9 minutes 24 over Hennie Kuiper.

The perseverers
Liège-Bastogne-Liège is a race for the very best riders, filled with difficult climbs and long enough to test the endurance. Usually only a few riders fight for the victory, while the rest of the peloton just tries to make it to the finish. A massive peloton came so close to the escaped group of four riders in 1989 that they even got the same finish time. In the end it was Sean Kelly who won the sprint. What makes this even more special is that this was one of the longest editions, lasting seven hours and 23 minutes.
Fortunately, the sun is shining this year and you can enjoy it in the beautiful outfits of your favourite cycling team! Choose for example the jersey of Renault Elf like Bernard Hinault or of Faema like Eddy Merckx.
retro wielershirt renault elfretro wielershirt faema
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