The 'doyenne' of the Classics has been entertaining cycling fans for close on a century with its long, steep and gruelling climbs around the Ardennes region of Belgium.
And, ahead of the 99th edition of the oldest of the five Monuments, the climbs have once again been the focus of pre-race talk, albeit for the notable absence of one particularly hellish - and crowd-pleasing - ascent.
For the first time since it was introduced in 2008, the crucial Côte de Roche aux Faucons will not feature, a decision - made by organisers due to roadworks - that is likely to result in a different type of race to those seen in recent years.
The Faucons, which comes after the Côte de La Redoute and before the final categorised climb of the Côte de Saint-Nicolas, has provided a launch pad for decisive manoeuvring in previous editions, but this year the 1.6km climb - at a 10 per cent gradient - will be replaced by the less steep and longer Côte de Colonster.
Riders were treated to a preview of the new 3km, 5.9 per cent climb earlier in the week, with the general view that the Colonster is a far easier ascent, but one which will still have a real bearing on the outcome of the race.
“I prefer the other version, but it depends on how broken up the race is at that point,” Saxo-Tinkoff rider Alberto Contador said. “I see a big difference in the change. The road is wider, so there could be wind, and teams can work together better. It will make the group arriving together in Saint-Nicolas even bigger.”
Movistar director José Luís Jaimerena said: “It’s not as steep and it’s a wider, better road, so it will not be as explosive as the other climb.
"It is longer, but there will be an uncertainty in the bunch on how it will shape the race. Perhaps because it’s not as hard, there will be more attacks earlier."
Previous winner Philippe Gilbert is among the favourites to add to his 2011 crown, and the Belgian world champion envisages more of a cat-and-mouse race this year.
"It's going to be more tactical and therefore important to rely on your team. I've got confidence in them," the BMC rider said.
“I see a group of 40-50 riders arriving at the foot of Saint-Nicolas,” he added. “It’s a short sprint up the climb and I see riders regrouping. On the final climb to Ans, it would be hard to defend a 10-15-second gap. There are a lot of riders on the same level.”
Gilbert, despite a disastrous Fleche Wallonne earlier in the week, is tipped to be there or thereabouts once the riders reach the finish line but in the absence of a standout favourite, if he does, he will not be alone.
Joaquim Rodriguez - winner of last season's Tour of Lombardy - and Katusha team-mate Daniel Moreno - winner of Wednesday's Fleche Wallonne - are expected to challenge for honours, while Alejandro Valverde - a two-times winner of this race - and Astana's Vincenzo Nibali - who came close to victory 12 months ago - should also be in the mix.
The 2013 climbs
Start: 0km - Liege
Km 70.0 - Côte de La Roche-en-Ardenne - 2.8 km climb to 6.2 %
Km 116.5 - Côte de Saint-Roch - 1.0 km climb to 11 %
Km 160.0 - Côte de Wanne - 2.7 km climb to 7.3 %
Km 166.5 - Côte de Stockeu (Stèle Eddy Merckx) - 1.0 km climb to 12.2 %
Km 172.5 - Côte de la Haute-Levée - 3.6 km climb to 5.7 %
Km 185.0 - Col du Rosier - 4.4 km climb to 5.9 %
Km 197.5 - Côte du Maquisard - 2.5 km climb to 5 %
Km 208.0 - Mont-Theux - 2.7 km climb to 5.9 %
Km 223.0 - Côte de La Redoute - 2.0 km climb to 8.8 %
Km 244.5 - Côte de Colonster - 2.4 km climb to 6 %
Km 256.0 - Côte de Saint-Nicolas - 1.2 km climb to 8.6 %
Finish: 257.5km - Ans
Winners (last 10 years)
2012 Maxim Iglinsky (KAZ) Astana
2011 Philippe Gilbert (BEL) Omega Pharma-Lotto
2010 Alexandre Vinokourov (KAZ) Astana
2009 Andy Schleck (LUX) Team Saxo Bank
2008 Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne
2007 Danilo Di Luca (ITA) Liquigas
2006 Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears
2005 Alexandre Vinokourov (KAZ) T-Mobile Team
2004 Davide Rebellin (ITA) Gerolsteiner
2003 Tyler Hamilton (USA) Team CSC
Most wins - Riders
5 Eddy Merckx (BEL) 1969, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975
4 Moreno Argentin (ITA) 1985, 1986, 1987, 1991
3 Léon Houa (BEL) 1892, 1893, 1894
3 Alfons Schepers (BEL) 1929, 1931, 1935
3 Fred De Bruyne (BEL) 1956, 1958, 1959
2 Louis Mottiat (BEL) 1921, 1922
2 René Vermandel (BEL) 1923, 1924
2 Richard Depoorter (BEL) 1943, 1947
2 Prosper Depredomme (BEL) 1946, 1950
2 Ferdi Kübler (SWI) 1951, 1952
2 Joseph Bruyère (BEL) 1976, 1978
2 Bernard Hinault (FRA) 1977, 1980
2 Seán Kelly (IRE) 1984, 1989
2 Michele Bartoli (ITA) 1997, 1998
2 Paolo Bettini (ITA) 2000, 2002
2 Alexandre Vinokourov (KAZ) 2005, 2010
2 Alejandro Valverde (ESP) 2006, 2008
Most wins – Countries
3 Netherlands, Kazakhstan
2 Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Spain
1 Russia, Denmark, United States
Consecutive wins - Riders
3 Léon Houa (1892, 1893, 1894)
3 Eddy Merckx (1971, 1972, 1973)
3. Moreno Argentin (1985, 1986, 1987)
2 Louis Mottiat (1921, 1922)
2 René Vermandel (1923, 1924)
2 Ferdi Kübler (1951, 1952)
2 Fred De Bruyne (1958, 1959)
2 Michele Bartoli (1997, 1998)
- Sports & Recreation