The spring classics ended last weekend with Liege Bastogne Liege and this sportive feels very much like an end of season celebration – no nerves on the start line or local cycling clubs racing each other, just thousands of cyclists from around the world riding some of the best climbs in northern Europe with a chance to ride with the man himself.
Philippe Gilbert is from Aywaille, the host town to his sportive, and having these climbs on his doorstep (Cote de la Redoute is spitting distance from where he was born) explains why he has done so well at Liege Bastogne Liege & Fleche Wallonne. The route is a cracker taking in the highlights of both races he is famous for with 14 climbs and 2,500m of elevation over 144km. For anyone that has only ridden the big sportives in Flanders, this is definitely worth checking out and is probably a better route than the bigger Liege Bastogne Liege sportive as there are no dead miles & no time spent meandering through urban sprawl, the entire route is in rural Ardennes countryside.
The organisation for this event is first class. The route is perfectly signposted throughout with marshalls on any busy junctions, and the race village is large and spacious so there are no long queues to collect race numbers, toilets, bike parking etc.The start time is from 7am to 11am so you can have a relaxed morning and lazy breakfast before the event if you want. This also means the riders are more spread out so the pelotons are a lot smaller than other sportives in Belgium.
We started at 8.30 and for most of the ride were in very small groups of 4-6. The terrain is not unlike the UK though the short, sharp climbs are longer (10% avg climbs lasting 2km rather than a few hundred metres) and longer hills rising for 5km. We opted for the shorted 86km route as one of our group was riding with an injury. Straight from the start we were climbing out of Aywaille which set the tone for the ride. The climbs were all well signed with length, max gradient, avg gradient & distance to the next hill at the top.
After a few long but gentle ascents we were into the steep stuff.
At 22km we hit our fourth climb. There are no dead miles at La Philippe Gilbert! The Cote de la Roche aux Faucons has only been in Liege Bastogne Liege since 2008 but is a key part of the race now. The climb is 1.6km averaging 10% with a 16% kicker just for fun. At no point does the gradient ease off and when we reached the steepest part near the end, there wasnt much left to give. Some of the hills offer wide vistas of the countryside, this one was largely in the treeline.
Having averaged a climb every 3km, we now had a bit more off time between hills with only two more in the next 26km before the feed. Similar to the start village the feeds were spacious and well stocked with waffles (two types), biscuits, fruit, breads, gels and drinks on offer.
With just 36km to go after a relatively tough opening 50km, all thoughts were on the final climb of the day where all the routes come back together. La Redoute starts in Remouchamps and is a very unique hill. Out of a pretty village the gradient is moderate until a right turn takes you on a road parallel to the motorway – about as unglamorous as you can imagine. Here the road get steeper but is just a warm up for the really steep stuff round the corner. Following a left turn away from the motorway the road hits 19% and its a real grind. The standard of climbers at this sportive is quite high but most riders were really struggling and a few were walking. The top of La Redoute offered some nice views of the valley below and then all that was left was a quick descent back to the finish.
Unlike most sportives in northern Europe which follow the routes of pro races, this sportive is designed just with the rider in mind to show people from all over the world the brilliant terrain of Philippe Gilbert’s homeland. The organisation is excellent with friendly staff, good marshalling and most importantly a great route. We did not get the chance to ride with the man himself but would recommend this to anyone interested in checking out the climbs of the Ardennes. The long route includes the legendary Mur de Huy which doesnt feature in any of the really big sportives and this gets our preference over LBL sportive as it doesnt take in miles of urban sprawl.