In His Own Words: Sport Director Neil Stephens Previews Liège-Bastogne-Liège

Sat 20 Apr 2013

It is the oldest one day race of the year. Liège-Bastogne-Liège marks the end to the spring classics and another opportunity for ORICA-GreenEDGE to secure a podium in the Ardennes. With over 4,700 metres of climbing, the testing parcours measures stamina, strength and team support. In his own words, Sport Director Neil Stephens previews ‘La Doyenne’ (that’s ‘the old lady’ for you non-French speakers).

Liège is the most attractive race in my mind of all the races in the season. It’s a race that’s got everything. There’s punchy climbs and fast descents. There’s rolling roads through the Belgian countryside. It’s a tactical race where team support comes into play, but it's also a race of attrition. It’s both beautiful and demanding. I always enjoy watching this race, and this year, I will enjoy watching the race unfold from behind the steering wheel.

I tend to think that if the team performs as well as they did last Sunday at Amstel Gold Race, we have a real shot at the podium. I had spent the week prior to Amstel at Pais Vasco where I directed the large majority of our Ardennes team to two stage wins and sixth place overall. Having seen how they raced in the Basque Country, I wasn’t surprised when the team worked well together to put Gerro [Simon Gerrans] onto the podium.

We raced Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, and whilst we didn’t achieve much in terms of results, it’s clear the form is certainly there. Gerro is back in the fold, and he’s keen for a result. Things are shaping up nicely for us. If we can ride the way we did at Amstel and Flèche, we should be able to get to the final with the numbers needed to give it a go.

We did a recon ride today to review the course changes. The penultimate climb is a new addition – the Colonster comes 17 kilometres from the finish, and I reckon it’s an easier hill than the Roche aux Faucons that it has replaced.

Liège is a race where the cumulative metres climbed and kilometres travelled take their toll. I would say getting to Stavelot with 85 kilometres to race is a crunch moment. We won’t see who is going to win there, but we should know who is no longer in the running.

From there, there’s the typical build-up to La Redoute. Riders power up the fan-lined hillside where repeated attacks force splits and chase groups. Over the summit, a clear lead group will have formed and any rider that is unable to regain contact with the bunch before the race hits the valley will have lost his chance to contest the win.

The Colonster follows La Redoute, and a long descent connects this new climb with the build up to Saint Nicolas. I expect the final to be a bit easier this year without the Roche aux Faucons. I tend to think this new course leaves the race a little more open to the opportunists. A team with numbers that is eager to seize any opportunities they see will have more of a chance.

We’re a team of opportunists, really, so the course change works in our favour. We’ll do whatever we can to get to pointy end of the race with the numbers we need to support our team leader. 

ORICA-GreenEDGE for Liège-Bastogne-Liège:

Christian Meier
Michael Albasini
Michael Matthews
Pieter Weening
Simon Clarke
Simon Gerrans
Travis Meyer
Wesley Sulzberger 

Note: Graham Watson spent recon day with the team and captured these images from our ride, post-training meal and rubs.