Tom Skujiņš and Tayler Wiles discuss the Ardennes Classics and explain how each of the three races poses its own individual challenges
With the cobbles complete (for now at least), it’s time to switch focus and head to the hills for the regularly scheduled programming of springtime in the Ardennes.
Amstel Gold Race is back this year (yay!) and kicks off an exhilarating week of racing beginning Sunday, 18 April, before La Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, 21 April, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, affectionately known as ‘La Doyenne’ or ‘The Old Lady’, next Sunday, 25 April.
The Ardennes Classics pack some serious punch with climbers entering the competitive mix alongside the usual puncheurs. A series of short, sharp ascents characterize the trio of races and typically play a role in deciding their outcomes.
Ardennes. Three races in eight days. Each of them different from the other.
– Toms Skujiņš
However, just because all three races are hilly doesn’t mean to say that we are guaranteed three identical races, or that we can expect the same winner of each race. Trek-Segafredo riders Toms Skujiņš and Tayler Wiles, who will ride all three Ardennes Classics this year, explain more about each race’s unique characteristics…
Amstel Gold Race
Toms: “Things kick off with Amstel Gold Race and this year Amstel is a little bit more different because we’re doing circuits. But what makes it unique initially is that it is the only one in the Netherlands and that makes the road furniture a little bit different as well as the way you ride the roads, actually.
“What Amstel is known for in particular though is a lot of small kicks and a lot of turns. You are never more than around 30 kilometres from where you started it seems like. You finish with the Cauberg in the final 30km, depending on the year, but it’s a lot of small narrow roads, lefts, rights, up and down and so positioning is always very very key here. Having that punch, that extra kick left in the legs is crucial for the finish.”
Tayler: “I feel like Amstel Gold Race has gone so many different ways. It can be won out of a small group, it can be won in a bigger bunch, it can be won solo and I think this year is going to be even crazier as we are only doing the circuits.
“In my opinion, Amstel is a lot more open than the other two and that’s not because it is any less hard but because it is so different. I think any kind of rider can win it. A sprinter who can get over the climbs has just as much chance as a punchier rider or a climber.
“It’s definitely the exciting wild card of the three races and it’s probably my favorite of the Ardennes Classics. I used to think Flèche was but I think Amstel has taken over the top spot.”
La Flèche Wallonne
Toms: “La Flèche Wallonne is the only Spring Classic with a summit finish and it has ended on the Mur de Huy for what feels like forever now. As a result, out of the three races, it is the one that has the least likely chance of a breakaway or an attack succeeding. That’s probably why Flèche is my least favorite if I’m honest.
“It’s obviously not just about the Mur de Huy, although we do it three times. It is a hard race away from that climb but, even though there are always attacks and it’s really hectic before it, the Mur de Huy is really the only thing that matters. Compared to Amstel, the roads are wider at Flèche, the run-ins are actually not as crazy, and the climbs are hard throughout still but I think it’s safe to say that it’s all about the final.”
Tayler: “If Amstel is the wild card, then La Flèche Wallonne had definitely become the predictable one and that’s really just because of the Mur de Huy. Everybody anticipates it. Before last year, we went up the Côte de Cherave and, in my opinion, that was actually more decisive than the Huy but we didn’t do it last year and we don’t do it this year either.
“I think it is maybe better when we don’t do it though because it actually has the potential to help a small breakaway make it to the finish. I think Anna [van der Breggen] owns the Huy, she just knows how to ride it, how to perfectly pace it and where to be so the key is to somehow get there before she does but overall, it is the more predictable one.”
Toms: “Liège-Bastogne-Liège is always on big roads and what it is mostly known for is a lot longer and bigger climbs than the other two. It’s because of that, that we see a lot more ‘proper’ climbers also come into the race. If we look back to Amstel, there’s always some more puncheurs, guys who have maybe a bigger build, in the bunch. For us, for example, this year we have Jasper Stuyven joining the team because he can do well there.
“However, Liège-Bastogne-Liège is very much climber-friendly and suits that kind of rider better. Also, the positioning, while important, is not as important as the legs actually. It’s also on bigger roads, it’s less hectic and there is not a crazy fight for every single turn.”
Tayler: “Liège-Bastogne-Liège, for me, sits somewhere in between Amstel and Flèche. You have the Côte de la Redoute and the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons in the finale and from there the race can also be won many different ways. Annemiek [van Vleuten] has won it solo, Lizzie [Deignan] won it for us last year with a solo ride but it was super close with the chasers behind. This race can be more up in the air.
“Looking at the three, Amstel is open to any type of rider, Flèche is for a solid climber, you have to be super savvy there, and Liège is probably a mix of the two. I think it’s a race for a climber who has a really good five-minute power, not necessarily a pure climber, it’s more like if you can attack from the bottom or the middle of the Redoute and hold super high watts for five minutes and get over that then you’re the type of rider it suits.
“What makes Liège so hard is that the climbs are just that bit longer and if you don’t have world-class five-minute power, you’re not going to make it with the front group.”
Trek-Segafredo lineups for the Ardennes Classics
Men: Julien Bernard, Nicola Conci, Niklas Eg (La Flèche Wallonne & Liège-Bastogne-Liège), Alexander Kamp, Juan Pedro Lopez (La Flèche Wallonne & Liège-Bastogne-Liège), Bauke Mollema, Toms Skujins, Jasper Stuyven (Amstel Gold Race), Edward Theuns (Amstel Gold Race)
Women: Lucinda Brand, Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Amstel Gold Race & La Flèche Wallonne), Lizzie Deignan (La Flèche Wallonne & Liège-Bastogne-Liège), Lauretta Hanson (Amstel Gold Race), Elisa Longo Borghini, Ellen van Dijk (Liège-Bastogne-Liège), Tayler Wiles, Ruth Winder