Key climbs of the Ardennes: Keutenberg
Keutenberg (1.7km, 5.6%): Following the 1.6km, four-percent Fromberg, the Keutenberg is the final appetizer before the finale on the Cauberg at the Amstel Gold Race. Coming over six hours into the stressful, circuitous Ardennes opener, the single-lane climb above the village of Schin op Geul tops out at an incredible 22-percent gradient. The 1.7km ramp is steepest at the bottom, sapping the legs before a kilometer of exposed, moderate climbing to its summit.
The Keutenberg is where the favorites frequently reveal themselves in earnest, using the steep lower section to launch toward the base of the finish climb in Valkenburg, 10 mostly downhill kilometers away. This is where Andy Schleck attacked in 2011, forging on solo before Philippe Gilbert led the race around him on the Cauberg.
With a course update in 2013 that adds a trip over the Geulhemmerberg and the Bemelerberg in the final 16km, the latter will almost certainly see a flurry of attacks, diminishing the importance of the Keutenberg in the race's final moments. Photo: Graham Watson | www.grahamwatson.com
Key climbs of the Ardennes: Eyserbosweg
Eyserbosweg (1.1km, 8.1%): The 8.1-percent Eyserbosweg, the 28th climb of the day in Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race, is the first of the decisive bergs in the Ardennes classics. Everything to now has been positioning; this is where the action starts in earnest. The single-lane ramp climbs north from the town of Eys for just over a kilometer, rising gradually before kicking up abruptly, into the trees, at 18 percent, after 700 meters. A long false flat lies at the top and the wind often whips across the open fields here.
As Jeff Louder (UnitedHealthcare) told VeloNews in 2011, “It’s just guys that can and the guys that can’t.” An attack from the Eyserbosweg is almost certainly not going to stay away on the run-in to the finish atop the Cauberg, but, as Andy Schleck showed in 2010, a sharp effort here will blow the race apart.
With a new finishing circuit that includes the fierce Geulhemmerberg (970m, 7.9%) and Bemelerberg (900m, 7%), it remains to be seen just how the Eyserbosweg, Fromberg, and Keutenberg will play into the Amstel Gold Race finale. The course change will likely diminish the importance of these bergs, but only Sunday's race will tell.
Here, Damiano Cunego chases Schleck, with Philippe Gilbert and others following. Photo: Graham Watson | www.grahamwatson.com
Key climbs of the Ardennes: Cauberg
Cauberg (1.2km, 5.8%): The Cauberg is the first of the finish climbs during the Ardennes classics, though the finish no longer lies at the top of the 1.2km ramp above Valkenburg, the festive heart of the Amstel Gold circuits. With a maximum gradient of 12 percent, the Cauberg is a steep, but not overwhelming ramp. But with the pace high and two bending corners as the two-lane road rises above town, the climb has crowned Amstel Gold champions since 2003. The peloton will climb the Cauberg four times on Sunday, but the finish in 2013 will come 1.7km beyond the summit, across the mostly flat summit road, at the location of the 2012 road world championships finish line.
With his worlds win in September, two-time Amstel Gold winner Philippe Gilbert showed that although the race’s finish has moved, its result will likely be the same as it would otherwise. Gilbert, who swept the Ardennes classics in 2011, attacked viciously through the bends partway up the climb and held off an indecisive chase for his first world title. Photo: Graham Watson | www.grahamwatson.com
Key climbs of the Ardennes: Mur de Huy
Mur de Huy (1.3km, 9.3%): There is but one climb of import during the midweek Flèche Wallonne. Its pavement bears its name nearly every bike-length and it is the Mur de Huy. The winding ramp above the river town of Huy, first introduced in 1983, is the most singularly iconic of the Ardennes classics and features in the modern race route three times. A sharp, right turn onto the Chemin des Chappelles provides riders with a first glimpse of the entrance to the Mur, but the fight for position on the wall starts lower down, immediately after crossing the River Meuse. The race explodes here on the final lap, with overly aggressive riders putting in bids to string out the bunch and arrive to the climb first — but those never bear podium fruit.
From here, the road bends right and then left, and continues climbing up, up, up, past the seven chapels and the athletic club above town. One of the major favorites will inevitably attack too soon and find the top of his tachometer on the long, straight ramp to the finish. Paolo Bettini did so in 2005. Alberto Contador did in 2010, when then-world champion Cadel Evans kicked around him for victory. It appeared as though Philippe Gilbert may have made the same error a year later, jumping very early on the climb, but of course, no one would catch him that day, or four days later when he stormed to victory outside Liège. Photo: Graham Watson | www.grahamwatson.com
Key climbs of the Ardennes: Côte de La Redoute
Côte de La Redoute (2km, 8.8%): The Côte de La Redoute is the ninth climb of “La Doyenne,” the oldest of the monuments, and while it follows the brutal 11-percent Côte de Saint-Roche and 12.2-percent Côte de Stockeu, each a kilometer in length, and six other ramps, the Redoute is where the action finally turns on at Liège–Bastogne–Liège. Coming after 223km, the climb from Remouchamps in the Amblève Valley is frequently where the day’s long breakaway begins to unravel and the big favorites find themselves near the front.
There will likely be no attacks from the heavyweights, but the pace up the long, single-lane ramp is high. As Alejandro Valverde and Thomas Voeckler learned in 2012, the race can be lost on La Redoute. Philippe Gilbert knows the climb, which sees sections of 14- and 18-percent gradient high above town, better than anyone in the peloton, having grown up down the road in Verviers and made his Belgian home in Remouchamps. The climb carries his name — Phil, Phil, Phil — much the way Huy marks the climb to the finish at Flèche Wallonne. Photo: Graham Watson | www.grahamwatson.com
Key climbs of the Ardennes: Côte de Saint-Nicolas
Côte de Saint-Nicolas (1.2km, 8.6%): With the move of the Liège-Bastogne-Liège finish to the working-class suburb of Ans in 1992, the wide open Côte de Saint-Nicolas saw itself thrust into the spotlight in the main event of Ardennes week. The climb of the Rue du Bordelais winds its way up from the River Meuse over just more than a kilometer. Taken on its own, the ramp is nothing memorable — it lacks the aesthetic of the Cauberg or the history of the Mur de Huy — and could be found in any village in the Ardennes. But, like those climbs, The Côte de Saint-Nicolas is the final classified ascent of its race. Franck Vandenbroucke and Maxim Iglinsky have used the climb as a jumping-off point to great success.
After 252km, the Saint-Nicolas is a tough challenge, but with the replacement of the preceding Côte de La Roche aux Faucons with the Côte de Colonster for 2013, due to road conditions, the role of the Saint-Nicolas is unclear. In his 2012 race call, two-time winner Sean Kelly called it “a real, real killer.” Greg Van Avermaet knows it; he lost contact with the front of the race here in 2011. To say the first half of the climb is the most difficult would be to discount the almost 10-percent sections near its top. The consistency of the ramp is its poison. Defending champion Philippe Gilbert lost contact with the chase group on the climb in 2012. Beyond the Saint-Nicolas’ summit, the road drops away for the final, 3.5km run-in to the finishing ramp in Ans. Photo: Graham Watson | www.grahamwatson.com
Key climbs of the Ardennes: Rue Walthère Jamar
Rue Walthère Jamar (1.5km, ~5.5%) The final ramp of Liège–Bastogne–Liège is not classified, but has produced winners on the approach to the line in Ans. The 1.5km rise of the Rue Walthère Jamar, on the northwest edge of Liège, is long, straight, and moderately pitched, but also lies 254km into the third major race in the span of seven days. Alexander Vinokourov won his 2005 Liège title over Jens Voigt on the climb leading to the left-hand turn onto Rue Jean Jaurès and its flat, 400-meter finishing straight. He did the same to Alexandr Kolobnev in 2010, but is alleged to have attacked with his wallet and not just his legs.
The unclassified, urban climb on the outskirts of the industrial city of Liège is perhaps the most non-descript of the entire Ardennes week, but, frequently holding the key to victory in the biggest race of them all, the Rue Walthère Jamar is as important as any of the others. The Schleck brothers couldn't dispatch Philippe Gilbert here in 2011, but Maxim Iglinsky did so to Vincenzo Nibali a year later. One week, 712 racing kilometers, and a monstrous circuit to the south of Liège all lead here, to Ans. Photo: Graham Watson | www.grahamwatson.com