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Best Of PEZ ’10: You Want Blood? You Got It

Best Of PEZ 2010: PEZ wraps up its hands-on coverage of the Ardennes classics with up close and personal stories from Liege-Bastogne-Liege, from start to finish. On the roadside, with the fans, in the bars, and on the climbs, click here to hit the hills!

It’s been an amazing 10 days in the hallowed cycling halls (or hills, rather) of Belgium and Holland covering the Ardennes classics, a period of time that comes to a close today with coverage of La Doyenne herself, Liege-Bastogne-Liege. In the cycling mad region, every farm road and intersection is besieged by fans, every bar is full of spectators, and every highway has race fans herding toward the next vantage point to watch the peloton hurtle by. For La Doyenne (“the oldest”), it signals the end of the 5 monuments of the classics, and what a way to go. We brought you the course preview earlier, and everyone knows to be good today is not enough. Almost like Roubaix, you need a great team, great legs, and a whole lot of luck to pull off the win. With the punishing climbs out on the course, the last 3 all coming within the last 20km, it’s a real doozy.

Our day started off early, piling into the Velo Classic Tours “Silver Bullet” as I’ve affectionately dubbed her, and speeding towards the start town of Liege. Upon our entry to the press parking, I hit the streets to catch the sights and sounds of the race as the excitement built among the gathering crowd. The tough industrial belly of Liege offers some gritty beauty, especially the start building.

We got into a minor scrap with the cops, but with a little humor and some well timed translation by the erstwhile and ever present Thibaut of Velo Classic Tours, disaster was averted. Only a minor scolding ensued.

We managed a few words again with Chris Horner, who was anxious to get to the work at hand. This was his favorite of the Ardnennes classics, and he was primed and happy to get underway.

We moseyed over to the Garmin-Transitions bus as well, to get the lowdown from Ryder Hesjedahl and Christian Vande Velde, as well.

We even managed to get near the front of the scrum and catch Alberto Contador signing a few autographs.

We split about 10 minutes before the start in order to jump up the road to the end of the neutral rollout, and grab some excellent photos from the bridge as the riders left Liege.

And of course, as has become a theme among the riders and myself on the Velo Classic Tours group, a certain group of pros has been following us around. Try as we might, in or out of a race, we can’t seem to shake these dudes. Here they are again, and this time they’ve brought a Spaniard.

Back into the Silver Bullet, pulling G forces normally reserved for fighter pilots, we blasted down another 15km or so down the route to catch the racers as they came by. The first stop, a nondescript T-intersection on the outskirts of Liege, was already full of a hundred or so fans waiting to see the peloton speed through. All manner of folks, riders and non riders, the curious onlookers, the devoted fans, and even a few father/son duos.

We jumped back in the van and headed off to Houffalize, where the infamous climb of the Cote de St. Roche awaited the riders. It was there that we found what must have been the Supreme Leader of the Euro Mullets. We were declined an autograph.

Soon enough the riders hurtled past us at a rate of speed that made mine look as though I was standing still. Probably because I was a smidge north of doing just that. The crowd was thick as San Francisco fog and made a heck of a racket as the bunch blew through.

Back into the bullet, and rolling towards Stavelot, to set up shop at the foot of the Cote de Stockeau. I had hoped to find my spleen there, which I had jettisoned the day before as I climbed it, but I was out of luck. I found some fritjes and a beer at a proper Fritterie, instead.

The riders were soon upon us in full flight, again making amazing speeds up this dastardly hill, and again under the immense applause of a thick crowd.

For the Velo Classics Tour van, it was then off the race route and back to the Manoir des Lebioles, the magnificent Chateau we stayed at before, to watch the finale of the race on a big screen TV with beers and tasty snacks. When on a long cycling tour, you learn to love both even more than you did prior. A perfect end to a perfect trip. From this vantage point we watched the cluster of finishing climbs beginning with the gnarly Redoute, as trying to get to each in the last few k’s would be near impossible. Once again, Peter Easton of Velo Classic Tours had made the proper call for the optimal race viewing experience. A mixture of deep in the scrum and far above it was on offer today, and it couldn’t have been more perfect.

And that wraps it up for me in Holland and Belgium, dear readers. I am very honored to receive your emails and words of advice and encouragement. For me, this has literally been the trip of a lifetime. A simply amazing experience. I head back to “real” life tomorrow at 6am. At press time, that’s coming awfully soon, so it’s off for a quick bite and a farewell Jupiler (or three) and I wish you a very fond farewell. Many thousand thank-you’s to the Velo Classic Tours group for taking such good care of me. Sorry to make everyone wait at the hill tops, but c’est la vie, eh? We’ll see you soon….until then, rubber side down.

Dave is currently in the Ardennes with Peter and Lisa Easton of Velo Classic Tours. Peter is an expert on the Spring Classics. You can catch up with him and all the Classics on the roads of Belgium and Holland with Velo Classic Tours. www.veloclassic.com.

And you’re encouraged to write me as I am here for 10 days, covering Ardennes week with Amstel Gold, La Fleche Wallonne, and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, so drop a line! Are you here? Have a suggestion of a sight to see? Send it to [email protected].

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