The climbs of the Ardennes
Key ascents dissected
Last Updated: April 16, 2013 1:22pm
The famous Mur de Huy truly is a wall
The Ardennes Classics kick off on Sunday with Amstel Gold, and while the racing will be fast and furious, it is the climbs that are the stars.
"There is one left-hand corner and it is so steep you are scared you'll hit your head on the climb!"
Nicolas Portal Quotes of the week
While the early part of the spring is all about cobbles, dust and dirt, April sees a trio of races – Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege – take centre stage.
Each of these one-day races comes packed with relentless and often decisive climbs, while the Ardennes region itself encompasses some of the most beautiful and rolling terrain on the cycling calendar.
With the trio of prestigious races featuring no less than 57 categorised ascents between them – we take a look at the most infamous with the help of Team Sky Sports Directors Nicolas Portal and Marcus Ljungqvist.
Average gradient: 5.8%
Maximum gradient: 12%
The scene of the finale of the world championships in 2012, the now traditional Amstel Gold decider is made tough, like many key climbs, due to its positioning in the race.
With an average gradient of a shade under 6% the climb is not brutally steep, but with ramps over double that at its most testing, plus a grinding 1.2-kilometre face – the Cauberg is not to be trifled with.
Situated in Valkenberg aan de Geul, crowds line the streets for what is the central hub of the biggest single day of racing in Holland each year.
All the talk heading into Amstel is around the new-look finale, with the finish line shifted over a kilometre beyond the top of the climb, taking away the hilltop finale and thus giving more riders the opportunity to win.
Nicolas Portal: “The Cauberg is of course the really famous climb in Holland. The riders do it three times and the finish is situated just after. There is now 1.2km of flat run-in after the climb. If you attack on the climb you have to measure your effort because you’ll have to do just over a kilometre on your own. So it’s tricky.
“If you take a lot of the Ardennes climbs in isolation, they are tricky (around a kilometre and steep) but they aren’t huge climbs. Yet after 230km in a tough race with a hard rhythm your legs will begin to feel heavy. When that happens even the smallest acceleration up ahead can be a disaster. That’s the difference between good riders and the best riders.”
Mur de Huy
Average gradient: 9.8%
Maximum gradient: 26%
Translation: ‘The Wall of Huy’. With a name like that it is no surprise that this is a climb which routinely decides the winner of Fleche Wallonne. The mid-week race tackles the Mur on three occasions, each passage thinning out the peloton. This is after all the climb that many believe to be the toughest in the Ardennes.
If the steep, twisting inclines weren’t easy enough to spot, the Mur de Huy is instantly identifiable due to the local painted repetition of ‘Huy’ on the narrow road surface.
The Mur is big a step up from the Cauberg in terms of its gradient, with the road ramping up to 26% at its most severe point with around 300 metres left to go.
Portal: “It’s super steep and it’s one of the few times in my career where I just went ‘wow, what the hell!’ There is one left-hand corner and it is so steep you are scared you will hit your head on the climb! The start is hard but then you hit that. That’s the wall and it’s not only hard on the legs but hard on the morale too.
“You see people try to start the climb fast, maybe to build up some more momentum and speed, but the climb is so hard that it will bring you back down to its pace. Again it’s not long but it’s unbelievable. The corner makes it look even steeper as you can really see the difference between the next few metres in front of you. You can also feel the fans and their applause, but you can see how they are standing on the road and you know it’s steep.”
Cote de La Redoute
Average gradient: 9.5%
Maximum gradient: 17%
Part of the one-two final punch that sees ‘La Doyenne’ often decided, the Cote de La Redoute is a key climb in producing the overall winner at Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
First introduced into the great race in 1975, fans flock to the climb to effectively see the beginning of the end of the monument. It is here that many race-changing attacks and selections are made.
Kicking off after a rapid arrival through Remouchamps, after a kilometre the climb ramps up sharply from 7.5% up to 14% for a 600-metre stretch which features its steepest point.
Marcus Ljungqvist: “La Redoute is the famous one. Maybe you don’t win the race there but you will certainly lose it if you aren’t with the first group of guys going over there.
“It’s steep and some sections are really tough. Just as tough is the run-in to the bottom. You go from big fast wide roads and then it narrows right down. The peloton is really nervous ahead of it and it’s the place where everybody knows that you need to be up there. You don’t always get to see that fight on TV.
“For us it’s about having the whole team in front on La Redoute and try to have as many riders in the final as we can. That’s how you can hopefully win the race.”
Portal: “La Redoute is very steep and it is often here that you have the first selection and it cuts things right down to around 50 riders. It is a long way to go with 35km out but you can then look again towards the next significant climb of the Cote de Saint-Nicolas.”