First raced in 1892, La Doyenne (or “the Old Lady of the Classics”) as the race is affectionately known is the oldest one-day classic, starting just three years before the first run of Australia’s own famous Melbourne to Warrnabool classic in 1895.
The Australian connection to Liège-Bastogne-Liège (LBL) goes back a long way. And like some of the other continental classics, it is a race Australian riders have performed well in over the years.
Australians of course have achieved much on the international cycling stage, on the track and in all types of road races. But arguably, it’s in the one-day classics where the majority of Australian professional riders have been most at home.
Some of our greatest male road cyclists, including some very handy track champions have competed in this historic race – Phil Anderson, Simon Gerrans, Richie Porte, Jack Bobridge and Cameron Meyer to name some.
The first Australian cyclist to tackle the Ardennes Classic was John Beasley (Snr), the tough little professional and 1951 Australian road champion from Footscray in Melbourne’s western suburbs. He finished in 55th place in 1952 some 25 minutes behind the winner, multiple Swiss national champion and 1951 World Champion Ferdy Kübler.
It was the only time Beasley would ride La Doyenne, but that year was also the first time he rode in the Tour de France – the lone Australian rider in that edition of the Tour. He was Australia’s oldest living Tour de France and LBL rider until his passing earlier this year on 31 January aged 86.
Since Beasley’s pioneering Liège-Bastogne-Liège attempt, a further 39 Australians have lined up over the years (a total of 43 starters and 110 starts if you count this year). Remarkably, while John Jack Anderson rode to 52nd in the 1956 LBL (just four years after Beasley), it would take another 26 years until the next Australian would grace the start line – Phil Anderson in 1982.
It is unclear why more than a quarter of a century passed after 1956 before the next Australian cyclist turned up to tackle this famous one-day classic.
For the serious cycling statistics geeks, and cycling commentators, a full list of Australian Liège-Bastogne-Liège completions can be seen at the end of this article.
The following summary highlights Australia’s efforts in this race since 1952 also reveal some interesting facts.
By the numbers
The Australian presence in Liège-Bastogne-Liège over the years has definitely had an impact on this famous race. Our 69 race completions have yielded the following results:
• Phil Anderson achieved five top-10s, his best results second in 1984, and third in 1989.
• Cadel Evans finished in the top 10 three times, with fourth in 2010 his best.
• Simon Gerrans 2014 victory was Australia's best result, but he's also achieved three top-10s
Most starts (including 2017)
12 = Simon Gerrans
11 = Phil Anderson (11/11)
7 = Cadel Evans (7/7)
6 = Simon Clarke
5 = Pat Jonker, David Tanner
4 = Nathan Haas, Rory Sutherland
3 = Michael Wilson, Scott Sunderland, Stephen Hodge, Michael Rogers, Richie Porte, Cameron Meyer, Wes Sulzberger
Most finishes (excluding 2017)
11 = Phil Anderson (100%)
8 = Simon Gerrans (73%)
7 = Cadel Evans (100%)
5 = Simon Clarke (100%), Pat Jonker (100%)
3 = David Tanner (60%), Michael Wilson (100%), Scott Sunderland (66%), Michael Rogers (66%)
2 = Nathan Haas (66%)
DNFs (did not finish)
Of the 40 Australians who have started at least once in LBL, there have been 13 individuals who failed to complete the race in their only starts (Jack Haig 2016, Luke Durbridge 2015, Calvin Watson 2014-15, Jack Bobridge 2014, 2016, Wil Clarke 2013, Trent Lowe 2010, Luke Roberts 2011, Mathew Wilson 2011, Scott Davis 2007-08, Allan Davis 2009, Corey Sweet 2003, Brad McGee 2003, Jason Phillips 2001).
Interestingly, one of our most successful and experienced Liège-Bastogne-Liège riders, Simon Gerrans, also holds the record of the most DNFs with three exits from his 11 starts to date. But this year he lines up for his 12th LBL, which makes him the Australian with the most number of starts in this race. The record of most number of LBL finishes goes to Gerrans’ mentor Phil Anderson with 11 from 11.
103rd edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2017
Australian cycling fans will see eight of their countrymen lining up for the men's 2017 LBL, including three first-timers. The Orica-Scott team has Simon Gerrans and Damian Howson (first start).
The other Australians on the start line include Simon Clarke (Cannondale-Drapac) riding his sixth LBL, and the quiet achiever Rory Sutherland (Movistar) in his fourth. We also have two other debutants in Ben O’Connor (Dimension Data) and Jay McCarthy (Bora Hansgrohe). The more experienced duo of Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) in his second LBL and Nathan Haas (Dimension Data) in his fourth complete the list – the latter two should be thereabouts in the final kilometers.
Other notable Australians in the potential mix are Robert Power (Orica-Scott), and Melbourne wunderkind Brendan Canty (Cannondale-Drapac) named as substitutes.
Australian riders have had some ‘break-out’ performances in their early attempts at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. For example, Michael Wilson rode to 11th in 1988, Matthew Lloyd snared 16th in 2008, Cadel Evans fifth in 2005 (his second LBL), and Phil Anderson was an impressive 12th in 1982 – in fact, LBL must be one of Anderson’s favorite European races considering his record in the years following his first attempt (4th 1983, 2nd 1984, 7th 1985, 12th 1987, 9th 1988, 3rd 1989).
My tips for this year’s race:
• Head: Michal Kwiatkowski, Greg Van Avermaet, Alejandro Valverde
• Heart: Nathan Haas, Michael Matthews, Simon Gerrans
Craig Fry is a freelance cycling writer and cycling historian based in Melbourne. Contact: @pushbikewriter on Twitter or Instagram.
For the stats nerds: Australian riders who have completed Liège-Bastogne-Liège (result, year)
1. John Beasley (55th 1952)
2. John Jack Anderson (52nd 1956)
3. Phil Anderson (12th 1982, 4th 1983, 2nd 1984, 7th 1985, 12th 1987, 9th 1988, 3rd 1989, 30th 1990,15th 1991, 19th 1992, 97th 1993)
4. Stephen Hodge (101st 1987, 116th 1990, 29th 1991)
5. Michael Wilson (11th 1988, 95th 1989, 100th 1990)
6. Scott Sunderland (112th 1990, 31st 1997, 19th 1998)
7. Neil Stephens (56th 1994)
8. Patrick Jonker (43rd 1995, 33rd 1996, 46th 1997, 69th 1998, 84th 2000)
9. Henk Vogels (44th 1998)
10. Matthew White (93rd 2000)
11. Cadel Evans (37th 2002, 5th 2005, 79th 2006, 36th 2007, 7th 2008, 16th 2009, 4th 2010)
12. Simon Gerrans (54th 2008, 6th 2009, 11th 2010, 12th 2011, 19th 2012, 10th 2013, 1st 2014, 33rd 2016)
13. Ben Day (74th 2005)
14. Michael Rogers (99th 2006, 84th 2014)
15. Adam Hansen (56th 2008)
16. Matthew Lloyd (16th 2008)
17. Cameron Meyer (89th 2014)
18. Wes Sulzberger (89th 2013)
19. Simon Clarke (112th 2012, 60th 2015, 41st 2014, 60th 2015, 136th 2016)
20. David Tanner (131st 2013, 132nd 2014, 149th 2016)
21. Travis Meyer (112th 2013)
22. Nathan Haas (88th 2013, 103rd 2014)
23. Richie Porte (91st 2016)
24. Michael Matthews (128th 2013)
25. Rory Sutherland (105th 2014, 118th 2016)
26. Nathan Earle (70th 2014)
27. Mat Hayman (141st 2016)