Ardennes Classics: eight of the toughest climbs

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Ardennes Classics: eight of the toughest climbs

Short, steep hills to sort the men from the boys during the Ardennes Classics

While the cobbles may be over and done with, the Classics continue apace with the pavé of northern France and Flanders replaced by the hills of the Ardennes.

The Amstel Gold Race (April 17) and La Fleche Wallonne (April 20) set the tempo in a trio of races which make up Ardennes week, before the season’s fourth Monument – Liege-Bastogne-Liege (April 24) – applies the icing on the cake.

The Mur de Huy is one of many thigh-numbing hills in the Ardennes Classics (Pic: Sirotti)

And while the hills of the Ardennes lack the length of the mountain climbs awaiting at the Grand Tours, thigh-numbing, double-digit gradients – and the sheer number of them packed into every race – mean the Ardennes Classics serve up their own unique challenge.

First up, the Amstel Gold Race includes no less than 34 climbs in all, before La Fleche Wallonne’s iconic Mur de Huy finale, and the non-stop shark-teeth profile of Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Away from racing, the Ardennes region is a beautiful place to ride a bike, with lush forest, rolling hills and beautiful rivers.

Whether you want to know where the action will unfold over the next week, or you’re inspired to plan a trip of your own, here are eight of the Ardennes Classics’ toughest climbs.

Cauberg (Amstel Gold Race) -1.2km at 5.8%

Where the Tour of Flanders has the Koppenberg and Oude Kwaremont, the Amstel Gold Race comes to the party with the Cauberg. The Netherlands may, by and large, be pan-flat, but this corner, jutting out south towards Belgium, has plenty of short climbs.

The Amstel Gold Race is centred on the 1.2km ascent, which will be climbed four times in all – including just 1.8km from the finish line.

Philippe Gilbert puts down the power on the Cauberg (pic: Sirotti)

It has also been used five times at the World Championships and featured in both the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana.

Its bare statistics – 1.2km at 5.8 per cent average gradient – don’t tell the full story, with a steep S-bend pitching up to nearly 13 per cent.

Though the hill is 1.2km in length, the climb is often given as 800m due to it being much flatter at the top – hence the misleading average gradient.

Eyserbosweg (Amstel Gold Race) – 1.1km at 8.1%

The Eyserbosweg used to mark the start of the finishing circuit at the Amstel Gold Race and was the perfect platform for an attack.

Little more than a kilometre in length, the Eyserbosweg is an undulating ascent, with false flats leading on to leg-burning pitches.

The Eyserbosweg has an inconsistent gradient with short, sharp ramps (Pic: Leo Vietor, via Flickr Creative Commons)

The first part of the road is largely steady, with a 7.6 per cent average gradient and then a very short downhill at the halfway point to briefly spin the legs.

In the second part of the climb, however, the road ramps up sharply, with a maximum gradient between 17 per cent and 23 per cent.

The climbs then levels out, with a long false flat across open fields, where the wind can whip up to cause further damage to a decimated peloton.

Keutenberg (Amstel Gold Race) – 700m at 9.9%

While the Cauberg is the Amstel Gold Race’s most famous climb, it is not the steepest – that honour is reserved for the Keutenberg which has previously been the race’s penultimate climb.

Not only is it short and very steep – being considered the steepest in the Netherlands – it is also narrow.

The Keutenberg is the Netherlands’ steepest climb (Pic: Sirotti)

At just 700m in length, it is not the distance which will punish riders but the gradient – an average just shy of ten per cent and a steepest section which kicks up to 22 per cent, all in the first part of the climb.

Mur de Huy (La Fleche Wallonne) – 1.3km at 9.6%

Moving into Belgium and the super-steel Mur de Huy is the centrepiece of La Fleche Wallonne.

Climbed three times in the race, including to the hill-top finish, the Mur de Huy was also used on stage three of last year’s Tour de France – blowing the GC wide open very early on as Chris Froome claimed the yellow jersey for the first time in the race.

The Mur de Huy is fiercely steep and the traditional finish to La Fleche Wallonne (pic: Sirotti)

The twisting climb starts gently but at every bend ramps up sharply, including one corner coming with a maximum gradient of 26 per cent.

It says steep, between 15 and 20 per cent, and gives the climb a total average of 9.6 per cent in all – fully justifying its title of the ‘Wall of Huy’.

Cote de Cherave (La Fleche Wallonne) – 1.3km at 8.1%

The Cote de Cherave was introduced to La Fleche Wallonne in 2015, serving as the race’s penultimate climb and offering a new platform for a long-range attack.

Coming just 5.5km before the Mur de Huy, both Vincenzo Nibali and Tim Wellens took up the invitation to attack last year, though the stiff gradients of both the Cherave and the Huy ultimately proved too much as they were reeled in.

So, what about the climb makes it so tough? An average gradient of 8.1 per cent for starters on what is normally a quiet residential street.

While the gradient remains fairly consistent through the climb’s length, there are still some sharp kicks, with a maximum gradient of 13.1 per cent shortly after the riders hit the foot of the ascent.

Cote de Stockeu (Liege-Bastogne-Liege) – 1.1km at 10.5%

Plenty of the climbs in Liege-Bastogne-Liege could feature in a list of the toughest climbs of the Ardennes Classics. It’s a real war of attrition, with ten categorised ascents in all, mostly packed into the second half of the race, and plenty more uncategorised climbing.

The Stockeu is the race’s equivalent to the Koppenberg at the Tour of Flanders. It comes a fair way out from the finish but that didn’t stop Eddy Merckx using it as an attack launchpad for a number of his five victories in the race, and a statue of the Cannibal pays tribute at the top.

The Cote de Stockeu may be short – but it’s very steep (Pic: Sirotti)

 

Very steep, very narrow and poorly surfaced as it leads into the woods above Stavelot, the Stockeu may be just a kilometre in length but an average gradient of 10.5 per cent tells the story of how difficult it is.

In truth, it gets much steeper than that, with some of the toughest pitches at the bottom of the climb, making it a real struggle to maintain momentum. There’s no two ways around it, the Stockeu is a tough climb.

Cote du Rosier (Liege-Bastogne-Liege) – 5.4km at 5.9%

The Cote du Rosier is a rarity in the Ardennes Classics in that, at 5.4km, it is reasonably long and was re-introduced to the route in 2015.

And the length, combined with the climb’s undulating profile and the winding road, makes it a difficult to get into a rhythm on the ascent.

The Cote du Rosier is unusually long by Liege-Bastogne-Liege standards (Pic: Sirotti)

The average gradient of 5.9 per cent masks the many kicks up as the road twists its way to the summit.

While not the steepest, it offers a different challenge to the short, sharp climbs more commonly associated with the race.

Cote de la Redoute (Liege-Bastogne-Liege) – 2.1km at 8.4%

Perhaps the most famous of the Liege-Bastogne-Liege climbs, La Redoute can be split into three distinct sections.

La Redoute lulls you into a false sense of security with the gradient on the lower side of the 8.4 average, but the scenery is nothing to shout about as you approach a large bridge across which runs the N662 motorway.

Julien Arredondo goes deep as he battles with Jan Bakelants on La Redoute (pic: Sirotti)

Things only get tougher from there, with a heavy 7-8 per cent section running parallel to the main road before there’s a left-hand bend which leads to the toughest part of the climb, where the gradient doubles and the road narrows.

At its steepest, the road reaches 17 per cent and is comfortably in double figures from a long stretch before things flatten out towards the summit. Coming less than 40km from the finish, La Redoute plays a key role in the outcome of Liege-Bastogne-Liege – if you don’t have the legs here then there’s not much chance of coming back.

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