Liège-Bastogne-Liège is an absolute classic on the international cycling calendar. It is the oldest classic ever and as a result has the brilliant nickname ‘La Doyenne’. It is traditionally the last of the spring classics.
On Saturday 23rd April, one day before the pros, you can ride your own Liège-Bastogne-Liège and get a taste of this epic race. Follow in the footsteps of big names like Eddy Merckx, Philippe Gilbert, Alejandro Valverde, Moreno Argentin, Paolo Bettini, Tadej Pogačar, Anna van der Breggen and Annemiek van Vleuten.
The ultimate challenge is to cover the entire distance of Liège-Bastogne-Liège like the pros the following day. Famous hills such as the Côte de Saint-Roch (the wall of Houffalize), Côte de Wanne, Côte de Stockeu will pepper the longest distance of the Liège-Bastogne-Liège Challenge.
Descending the Côte de Stockeu down into Stavelot, the longest distance coincides with the middle distance and both then tackle the triptych of the infamous Rosier, la Haute Levée and la Vecquée. The middle distance then meets the shortest distance just ahead of the Côte de la Redoute, which then leads to the finale.
The last few years, the finale has consisted of the Côte de la Redoute, where the late Frank Vandenbroucke and Michele Bartoli battled it out for victory, the not to be underestimated Côte des Forges and the all-consuming Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons. Those who still feel fresh there, will imagine themselves hero of the road for a day en route to the finish in Liège!
The day before travelling
After a few years wait we were finally on the road again for one of the iconic Belgium classics; the 147km Liège-Bastogne-Liège Sportive.
We had a team of seven, including Lee, Mark, and Graham (that’s enough Tonks for anyone), plus Steve-will-I-won’t I-Richards from the village and a little known lad from the slums of Canterbury (a super fit Glen) and, of course, the normal retrobates Bingo and Dale.
The day before we set off the ever reliable Glen asks the incompetent captain for the address of the hotel (probably so he can transfer his bitcoin empire). This is where the planning went immediately pear shaped. It turns out our hotel was 400 miles away from Liège. A slight administration error. A message to self; ‘get Linney to check the Barca 2022 bookings’!
After a nervous call to Bingo we got it all sorted. The little 147km ride could not of got off to a better start. Nothing [further] could go wrong.
All was brilliant on the drive over to Belgium, except for a delay with the ferry. We stopped off outside Antwerp for a flying visit to brother Steve, and delivered his vintage 1993 Cannondale T700 for him. This is still my favourite bike, I just wish I was tall enough to ride it! We picked up a bag of delicous Cardomom Buns (and a welcome bag of thirst quenching beers) and then steamed off through the busy traffic on the Antwerp ring-road to Liège.
Surprise surprise it did go even more pear shaped again as the digs were double booked. In true Aylesham style we just dusted ourselves down and after a bit of giggling Graham found a possible place. In no time we were all checked-in, van parked and bikes safe. As usual everything goes like clockwork!
On the Day
The weather turned out fine on the day and the team were buzzing with nervous energy ready for the brutal ride ahead of us. It did not dissapoint. It was tough with long climbs and sweeping descents. Just want we needed to get the Barca 2022 training going.
All the team put in a tremendous effort to complete this tough iconic classic, with Bingo honing his navigation skills to find a lovely little watering hole for a little comfort break for El Capitano a couple of miles from the finish. All good training.
Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves. Have we gained success? That word means nothing here. Have we won a kingdom? No. . . and yes. We have achieved an ultimate satisfaction. . . fulfilled a destiny. . . To struggle and to understand – never this last without the other; such is the law. . .
Fourteen friends from Aylesham and the surrounding area are set for an epic charity ride, cycling from Aylesham to Barcelona which is about 900 miles in eight days. We will be raising money for two very worthy causes.
Kobi Turnbull; a young lad from the village who has recently been diagnosed with Bone Cancer. We hope to support Kobi’s parents in providing much needed help during this difficult time.
Slide Away; This is a charity offering support to children and young people in Kent who have been bereaved of a family member or friend. They also support children and young people who have a parent or sibling with a life limiting illness.
The team includes four father/son pairs; Carl & Mark Moses; Andy Stupples & Conor; Keith (Bingo) & Linford House and Dale & Rylan House, who will be joined by Dave Austen, Cathal Bartolo, Mark Tonks, Mark Jordan, Glen Dobson and Steve Richards. The team will be supported by their van driver Eric Norton.
They hope to raise over £4000 to be shared equally by both causes. They are due to set off from Aylesham on Thursday 30th June 2022.
Well it’s the last days cycling on this year’s tour. Elevan days without rain. Brilliant! Would have been difficult wild camping in the rain.
It was a lovely morning on the South Downs just outside Polegate and we hit the road just after 7 with the lads in fine form looking forward to finally having a shower.
We rode down to the coast just by Pevensey Bay, then hugged the coast all the way to Hastings. Dave and I got a little lost in Bexhill, but no dramas soon had it all under control.
After the climb coming out of Hastings we stopped for breakfast at Icklesham and had massive all English with duck eggs for the captain. It’s the first time ever we left two rounds of toast. It would never happen on Stubbsy’s watch.
We are back in familiar territory now, riding along the not too busy A259, though it was good to get back on the minor roads just after Brenzett. The pace picked up as we headed to the infamous West Hythe hill. It’s nothing like the climbs in Cornwall, but steep enough to afford liquid refreshments at the top. Hence the reason for the rush.
From here it was just a gentle run in to Elham, then follow the Valley to the final destination – the Red Lion in Bridge.
Cracking tour 👍 Thanks all for the memories
Thanks all for a great trip with loads of memories aches pains & smells like you wouldn’t believe. A special thanks to Dale & Keith for all their hard work in organising & planning on a faultless trip. Cheers guys 👌👍⛺🚴♂️
Another Tour over. Great stuff lads, it has been a pleasure and privilege to ride with you lot, here’s to next years Tour. Maybe Barcelona and back! Who knows
Another lovely morning and a good camp last night in the woods. We were all up and ready to roll just after 7, heading for Brighton and beyond.
Bit of a contrast this morning riding through the lanes from Hampshire into West Sussex, definitely used as a rat run for commuters and the school run, very busy.
Missed the normal Coffee and cake stop, as we did not pass anything, so had a meal deal in Tescos just outside Chichester, which we skirted around. The lanes did quieten down as we steamed to the coast, with it being so hot I was looking forward to having a swim. We headed to Bognor Regis, then on to Littlehampton, though the Marina and along the promenade all very nice. Then we headed on to Worthing and stopped for lunch right on the promenade. A liquid lunch for me. As the rest of the team had a meal I took the chance to have a swim and full wash in the sea. Very warm and refreshing and I felt brand new and clean.
We all knew Brighton was going to be very busy, however it was OK, and quite fun cycling through the crowds. Brighton is always an energetic vibrant place. We headed up Minera Drive on Brighton sea-front hitting the small climbs up to the South Downs and heading for Seaford. We had a beer in a pub and decided to head for Polegate, find a place to eat and then camp. When we got there we all sat outside the Horse & Groom pub and had a lovely meal. Afterwards we rode up to the windfarm above the town to find a camp. All done with ease.
We camped in a field with long grass and stingy nettles last night under clear skies. It’s Autumn and you could feel the cold at night – least the stings kept us warm. Breakfast was a bit weird as we ran out of porridge and so had to settle for a coffee and pot noodle – just like being back in China!
We made for a relatively early start in the morning and are on our way just after 7, riding through the country lanes of East Somerset. It was so quiet we met only three cars in the first two hours. However we did have an incident with a runway horse. Fair play the young rider did amazingly well to get it under control and we gingerly walked past. Even the Alpaca in the field came over to see what all the commotion was about.
It made for really nice relaxing ride and then we stopped in the lovely Semley Village Stores,a community run shop/cafe, for a pot of tea and the biggest current bun in living memory. It was here where we met a guy who had just taken up cycling after a 70 year sabbatical – lovely guy and very interesting.
The ride carried on as before rolling through the stunning countryside into the ancient capital of Wessex, Wilton where we had lunch in the Pembroke Arms (named after an old Earl bully for him) – nice pub though. We then rolled into Salisbury with its Gothic designed cathedral and the tallest Church sprire in the UK – seemed a nice vibrant city.
After that we crossed into Hampshire twisting and turning through the exquisite countryside on to Romsey. Here we had to say goodbye to Cathal and Stubbsy – family commitments meant they had to get home. We will miss them for many different reasons, mainly Cathal pulling us along with his effortless elegant style and Stubbsy for his ability to always find food.
From Romsey we carried on through the outskirts of Southampton on to pretty village Bishop’s Waltham. Unfortunately no food at the pub, but they let us eat fish and chips in the garden and the customers brought us a round of drinks. Good stuff.
We pulled out of the village at dusk and found a nice wooden area to set up camp. A very enjoyable day in the saddle.
We all woke up to a cooked breakfast and all the posh restroom facilities on hand at the King’s Arms in South Zeal. Superb!
The ride started with a 15% climb which is not ideal after a large breakfast but after that we settled into the ride and made good progress to Exeter. Conor mentioned how nice it was to be riding with very little climbing, a big mistake, as two very steep climbs as we approached Exeter. Then we rolled into the city and picked up a few supplies. After that we headed north on a small B road to Honiton where we stopped for lunch at the thatched GreyhoundCountry Inn just outside Fenny Bridges.
It was difficult riding for a while on the busy A303 for around an hour or so after lunch. Not ideal, but needs must. Naturally it was a relief to get off the busy road and back into the comfort of the minor roads and tracks. We stopped for refreshments at Fleu de Lis pub in Stoke-sub-Hamdon and then examined the route and decided we could possibly get to to Sherborne for something to eat and a camp.
It’s a very nice quaint town, pretty busy on a Saturday night. We got a table in an exclusion zone, as we have all been wild camping for a week now. For the first time Bingo could not finish his meal – it was huge. We left the bar just as it was getting dark, got back on on the road, and headed for the lanes for a suitable spot found with ease.
We woke up to a lovely, but dewy morning, in the construction site where we made our camp just a 1/4 mile from the Poolgooth Inn – that’s where we had our evening meal in last night. It was nice food and good company.
As usual we set off in the morning in the wrong way, but this was soon rectified!
Settled in to the very very steep climbs and technical descents in wooded areas with the sunlight breaking through. Absolutely stunning countryside. Rode to a breakfast stop just outside Liskeard full English. What can be better. We all reconvened and set of again heading for the Cornish / Devon border. The climbing did not relent on some very long climbs which we over course compensated by long decents. We all got together in a pub in Launceston for refreshments as we were still full from the breakfast. The lovely barmaid washed our waterbottles and filled them with ice and water.
After that we crossed the bridge into Devon. I got a little lost looking for a little track to the side of Blacksmiths Arms. I got distracted and spent 15 minutes going around in circles. Eventually I found it, and finally caught up with Stubbsy – spent the afternoon riding together. We had a bite to eat in a farmhouse at Lydford and checked the maps headed for the Granite trail. Here met a father and daughter doing a jog and had a bit of a photo shoot. It’s stunning scenery on this trail and beautiful scenery as we rode into Okehampton. We got a pindrop from the guys and all met together in Whitton Down. Unfortunately the place had no food.
So we back tracked slightly to the King’s Arms in South Zeal, which is a lovely thatched pub. They let us camp in the back garden and kindly arranged for a full breakfast in the morning. It had been a great but tough ride with a few beers to finish off the day.
Last night we camped in the Tehidy Woods about 2 miles away from where we had eaten. It was underneath a Rookery so we imagined we’d be woken early by the noise.
We woke to a lovely morning with the dog walkers giving us weird looks as we were having our porridge mixed with Mars bar – this is a Cathal special.
It was a good ride out but got a bit busy heading into St Ives. Then we headed to the Gurnards Head Inn, following the route of the Tour of Britain. They come through next week. It was a bit early so had a coffee and cake and re-evaluated where the other lads were. We decided to meet up in Penzance.
All went well and we finally met up in Penzance. After that it went a bit pear shaped as Bingo and Dave fell off in the sand by St Michael’s Mount. The walkway was under repair for the forthcoming Tour of Britain.
Now we were seven, though sadly missing the “The Gentleman from Bleam”(TGB), with his constant chatter. But life goes on!
We pushed on out of Penzance through the Winsum mining district with plenty of old Engine sheds scattered about the hills. A few had been converted to dwellings (like Guildford Colliery) – they looked very smart.
After that it was along an old railway line into Turo, then up and up again into the little hamlets and old mining villages nestled into the stunning countryside. We had dinner in the Polgooth Inn but stayed later than normal. This meant we had to ride with lights to an old builders yard to camp – it was less than 2 miles so no worries.
Once again we had acracking camping spot last night; and it was nothing like the hound of the Baskervilles! Following the banquet we had at the Brandworthy Arms we sat around the burners drinking coffee and waxing lyrical and celebrating Glen’s last night.
A massive thank you to Glen it was a great pleasure riding with you mate, a really strong rider with a personality to match, always welcome on any Tour. He’s the lovely gentleman from Blean. Now, sod all this being nice stuff!
Back to the riding. We climbed over the top of the Bodmin Moor. A lovely spectacular ride besides being tracked by jet fighters – it was just like the Clash song “Rock the Casbah“.
Then down to the Snail Trail cafe before we hit the Camel trail into Bodmin.
Then it’s down to Bodmin for final goodbyes to Glen (he’ll get the train home) and meet up with Conor and Mark (who arrived by train last night).
After that we carried on riding the up and down rolling hills of Cornwall and stopped at the Red Lion in Saint Columb Major for lunch. It was a lovely meal and the landlady was friendly too! Took the opportunity for a full strip bodywash in the restrooms.
Off we go again heading for Newquay. Sadly we ended up on the main road which was not great riding for a few miles but hey ho eventually we got off the main road and were heading back on the tracks to Redruth past the remains of the tin mining industry at Wheal Peevor mines.
Nice meal at Robartes Arms in Illogan. We never did catch up wuth Mark & Conor but we’ll attemp to re-connect tomorrow.