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The Spring Classics come to a close this Sunday with Liege-Bastogne-Liege. It’s one of the oldest and most prestigious one-day races on the planet, and a race that’s had quite a shake-up in 2019.
In the following preview we tell you everything you need to know about both the men’s and women’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
The men’s race
It’s the 105th edition of the men’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
First run in 1892, “La Doyenne” (“The Old Lady”) is the oldest of road cycling’s five Monuments. Held in the Ardennes region of eastern Belgium, it’s one of the hilliest and most arduous one-day races on the calendar.
Eddy Merckx holds the record for the most wins with five.
The Cannibal won ‘La Doyenne’ in 1969, 1971, 1972, 1973 and again in 1975. Immediately behind him on the list are Moreno Argentin and the current world champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) with four. Valverde won the race in 2006, 2008, 2015 and 2017. He seems to win every second year — can he equal Merckx’s record in 2019?
Liege-Bastogne-Liege is the classic most favoured by Grand Tour contenders.
While the Grand Tour contenders tend to steer clear of the Spring Classics, they will often race the hard and hilly Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Romain Bardet, Nairo Quintana, Vincenzo Nibali, Tom Dumoulin, Enric Mas, Adam Yates, Micahel Woods, Ilnur Zakarin, Geraint Thomas — they’re all on the provisional startlist for Sunday.
Don’t expect any of them to win it though — there’s a big difference between the chaos and uncertainty of a one-day classic and the marathon that is a Grand Tour.
The course is 256km long.
The riders set out from Liege, head south to Bastogne, then swing back up towards the finish in Liege. The way down to Bastogne is considerably easier — it’s 102.5km with only one designated climb. Once the riders swing north things start to get considerably tougher.
There are 11 categorised climbs for the riders to tackle.
Nine of those 11 climbs come in the last 100km, making for a hard and hilly conclusion to the race and indeed to the Spring Classics.
All of the climbs are less than 5km long, and most are only a kilometre or two. But they all add up, particularly given the route has plenty of climbing between the designated climbs. All up the riders are in for more than 4,000m of climbing.
There’s been a significant change to the finale this year.
The final three climbs of this year’s race are the Cote de la Redoute (2km at 8.9%), the Cote des Forges (1.3km at 7.8%) and the Cote de la Roche-aux-Faucons (1.3 at 11%). This year there’s no Cote de Saint-Nicolas, and there’s no uphill run to the line in Ans — the finish has been moved to Liege, ensuring a much flatter run-in.
The final climb peaks 12km from the finish line and from there it’s 5km of flat road, a 3km descent, and then four flat kilometres to the line. This altered finish could change the complexion of the race entirely.
The race is likely to be won by a solo rider or from a small group.
The final ramp to Ans might be gone, but Liege-Bastogne-Liege still has a very hard parcours that will thin the field right down as the kilometres drag on.
You can expect for the attacks to come thick and fast in the closing kilometres, particularly on the final few climbs. The Cote de la Roche-aux-Faucons is the most likely spot for the race to be decided — if a solo rider or small group gets away there, they could be quite hard to bring back.
Julian Alaphilippe is the red-hot favourite.
He won Milan-San Remo, he won Strade Bianche, he won Fleche Wallonne on Wednesday, and he has a total of eight wins for the year already. The Frenchman is in career-best form and it’s not hard to see him winning again on Sunday.
He’s unlikely to go it alone — if he’s victorious it will almost certainly be by winning the sprint from a small group.
Alaphilippe isn’t the only option for Deceuninck-QuickStep.
Defending champion Bob Jungels mightn’t be racing this Sunday (he’s focusing on the Giro now) but Deceuninck-QuickStep certainly won’t be without options. In addition to Alaphilippe, keep an eye out for Philippe Gilbert who took out Paris-Roubaix a fortnight ago and won this race back in 2011. If he can get over the climbs and be in the lead group at the finish, watch out.
Jakob Fuglsang is flying and desperately wants a win.
Second at Strade Bianche (behind Alaphilippe), third at Amstel Gold Race (after being away with Alaphilippe), second at Fleche Wallonne (behind Alaphilippe) — the Dane has had a spring of near misses and of being beaten by Alaphilippe.
Fuglsang is strong enough to be there at the front over the final climb on Sunday, but he’s unlikely to beat Alaphilippe (and others) in a sprint. He’ll probably need to get away on his own to win … which isn’t out of the question given the form he’s in.
Don’t be surprised to see Alejandro Valverde in the mix.
The 39-year-old probably wishes the finish had stayed in Ans — he won there four times after all. But winning for a record-equalling fifth time isn’t beyond him.
He should be able to match it with the best uphill, and if he’s there in a small group at the end, he’s a big chance. He has been a little off his ridiculous best so far this year — he had nine wins by this point last year; this year he has one — but don’t underestimate the world champion on the big stage.
Look for Michal Kwiatkowski to feature late.
The former world champ hasn’t had the results he would have liked this spring, but don’t rule him out. He’s great uphill and super-strong in a reduced bunch sprint. A big threat.
It’s a stacked startlist full of many potential contenders.
Here are just some of the would-be challengers:
– Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) – Been nibbling at a big result. Loves a late attack.
– Michael Matthews (Sunweb) – Also on the cusp of a big spring result. Sixth at Flanders, fourth at Brabantse Pijl, eighth at Fleche Wallonne. He’s climbing well and is very dangerous in a small group sprint.
– Bjorg Lambrecht (Lotto Soudal) – He’s had a great time in the Ardennes — fifth at Brabantse Pijl, sixth at Amstel Gold, fourth at Fleche Wallonne. Is a breakthrough win on the horizon for the 22-year-old?
– Dan Martin (UAE-Team Emirates) — A former winner who likely suffers from the flatter finish, but dangerous nonetheless. Could he try for a late escape?
– Simon Clarke (EF Education First) – Second at Amstel Gold Race. He’s had a great spring — another strong finish is a possibility.
Live coverage should be available wherever you are.
In Australia, SBS has live coverage from 10pm AEST on SBS Viceland, and via the Cycling Central website and OnDemand apps.
NBC Sports Gold has coverage in the US. Eurosport is a great bet for viewers around the world. As ever, be sure to check your local guides and Steephill.tv for more info.
The women’s race
It’s just the third edition of the women’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
The race started in 2017 as part of a push to create an ‘Ardennes Week’ (Amstel Gold Race, Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege) for the women’s peloton, mirroring that of the men’s. All three races are part of the Women’s WorldTour.
The women’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege doesn’t start in Liege.
Unlike the men’s race, which actually does start in Liege, the women’s race begins in Bastogne. From there it winds its way north to Liege, taking in many of the same roads as the back half of the men’s course.
The women will race over 138.5 tough kilometres.
That makes it longer than the Amstel Gold Race and Fleche Wallonne, but shorter than the Tour of Flanders.
There are five designated climbs for the riders to tackle.
Five mightn’t sound like many, but there’s plenty of climbing in between these designated climbs. For reference, last year’s women’s race included roughly 1,800m climbing. Expect a similar amount this year.
The finish of the women’s race is similar to that of the men’s.
Like the men’s race, the women’s event features the Cote de La Redoute and Cote de Roche-aux-Faucons in the closing kilometres, but while the men race the Cote des Forges between the pair, the women go straight from La Redoute to Roche-aux-Faucons before dashing to the finish.
The final 15km of the women’s course is the same as for the men — the Ans ascent is gone and the race now ends with the climb of the Cote de la Roche-aux-Faucons, a 5km flat section, a 3km descent, and then a 4km flat run-in to the line.
The final two climbs are likely to decide the race.
The Roche-aux-Faucons in particular. Expect the strongest in the bunch to attack on this final climb and to get away. Based on how this race has unfolded in recent years, plus how the Ardennes week has unfolded so far this year, we can expect a solo rider or small bunch to reach the finish in Liege.
Then again, the stretch of flat road into the finish might make it possible for a chase group to catch on, depending, of course, on who’s out front and who’s chasing.
Anna van der Breggen has won both editions so far and is a favourite for Sunday.
The reigning world champion won in 2017 and 2018 by riding away late and taking a solo victory. While the finish is different this year, that shouldn’t faze the Dutchwoman — she’s more than capable of riding solo for 15km (she won Worlds last year after 40km alone).
Van der Breggen had a slow start to the year, focusing on her mountain biking and only riding a handful of road races, but she’s well and truly hit her stride now. She won Fleche Wallonne on Wednesday — getting away on the final climb to the line — and will start as one of the riders to beat on Sunday. Look for her to attack over the final climbs and ride to the line solo.
Annemiek van Vleuten is due for another big win.
The time trial world champ has three runner-up finishes in a row; at the Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold and Fleche Wallonne. She’s clearly riding very well and a second victory for the year is surely just around the corner.
Van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) is one of the best in the world at getting away solo, late, and holding off a chase. That’s her best avenue to victory, if she can dispatch the likes of van der Breggen in the process.
Amstel Gold and Fleche Wallonne are good indicators of form for Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
All three races are similar in that they feature plenty of climbing. Expect the riders that performed well at Amstel and Fleche Wallonne to shine on Sunday.
Here are some of the riders we expect to be in the mix:
– Marianne Vos (CCC) – Third at Amstel, fourth at Fleche Wallonne. Her best chance is a small-group sprint.
– Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) – Won Amstel. A late attack is her best chance, but the 12km downhill-flat run-in might work against her.
– Annika Langvad (Boels-Dolmans) – Fourth at Amstel, third at Fleche Wallonne. Stellar MTBer who climbs wonderfully.
– Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) – A little off her best so far these Ardennes but dangerous nonetheless.
– Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Bigla) – Third at Flanders, top eight at Amstel and Fleche Wallonne. Podium is a real possibility.
There will be no live coverage of the women’s race.
Yep, bummer. Race organiser ASO hasn’t invested in live coverage (TV or online) of the women’s Fleche Wallonne or Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Thankfully that’s something of a rarity for Women’s WorldTour events these days. Hopefully we’ll be able to see these races live next year.
Who’s your pick for the men’s and women’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege?