Preview: The route and riders to watch for the men’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège

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It’s a busy time to be a climber. A day after plenty of big names get their Giro d’Italia campaigns underway in Sicily, Belgium will host a whole other collection of stars vying for glory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday.

The one-day race in Wallonia may be taking place five and a half months later than originally planned, but it will be just as big an opportunity for the many contenders set to take on the race to score a Monumental prize.

Here’s what you need to know ahead of the men’s race at the 2020 edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège …

The Route

This year’s Liège route is very similar to that of last year’s race. The riders will take on the same collection of short but steep climbs on Sunday that the Liège peloton did in 2019.

The 257-kilometer race that runs, unsurprisingly, from Liège to Bastogne and back to Liège, features a bit of early up-and-down in the first third of the race before really ratcheting up the difficulty after turning back from Bastogne. At around 160 kilometers into the race, the hard stuff begins, with the quartet of the Côte de Mont-le-Soie, the Côte de Wanne, the Côte de Stockeau, and the Côte de la Haute-Levée. Then it’s the Col du Rosier, the longest of the late climbs, followed by a downhill run into the Col du Maquisard. With 47 kilometers to go from the top of the Maquisard, this succession of ascents is probably too far out to spring the day’s winner, but will wear down the legs of the contenders and thin out the pack for what’s to come.

With a little under 40 kilometers to go the peloton will hit the iconic Côte de la Redoute, two kilometers in length at an 8.9% gradient, which will likely serve more to draw out favorites than to launch the winning move. Then comes the Côte des Forges, 1.3km at 7.8%. The top of the climb is 23 kilometers from the finish, so this could a launch pad for a big move, or the favorites might wait until the final official climb of the race, the Côte de la Roche-Aux-Faucons. It may only be 1.3km in length, but with its 11% gradient less than 15km from the line, it was just the place for Jakob Fuglsang to launch his winning move last year.

Jakob Fuglsang on the attack at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Photo: NV/PN/Cor Vos © 2019

Following the steep climb is further uphill stretch and then a descent with only a few flat kilometers before the finish.

As is often the case at this race (particularly last year) the tough route could be made all the harder by the weather. As of Friday night in Belgium, the forecast calls for a bit of early rain on Sunday in Liège to go with high winds …

The Contenders

Defending champion Jakob Fuglsang and three-time Liège winner Alejandro Valverde won’t be in attendance this year, but plenty of other very big names will, including a newly crowned world champ, the many protagonists of Wednesday’s edition of La Flèche Wallonne, and some of the biggest Grand Tour stars in cycling.

Coming off a brilliant world championship victory, Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) did not defend his title at Flèche, preferring instead to rest up for Liège. Alaphilippe may have faded at last year’s Liège after dominating in several races in the lead-up, but assuming he’s feeling fresh, he’s a deserving favorite for Sunday.

Julian Alaphilippe on his way to victory at Worlds. Photo: ©kramon

It would be hard to design a route more tailored to the skillset of a rider with Alaphilippe’s combination of punchy climbing legs, a powerful engine, and a handy sprint, and he has finished as high as second before. He also has a strong team that includes 2018 winner Bob Jungels, who could try a long-range attack.

Considering how good an indicator of form La Flèche Wallonne tends to be for this race, Marc Hirschi (Sunweb) also has to be feeling good about his chances. In the span of a month and a half, he has gone from promising up-and-comer to the winner of multiple races.

Marc Hirschi wins La Flèche Wallonne. Photo: Cor Vos

He showed in the Tour that he is an explosive rider who can also put in a lengthy power effort. Watch for Hirschi to try to drop everyone on one of the last two climbs.

Mike Woods, who was third at Flèche, leads a strong one-two punch for EF that also includes Rigoberto Urán and Daniel Martínez. With Woods’s explosiveness, EF might try to set him up for a big move on the Roche-aux-Faucons.

Michal Kwiatkowski (Ineos Grenadiers) has started several editions of this race among the very top favorites.Like his former teammate Alaphilippe, he has a very well-rounded skillset and could conceivably win in a number of different ways, getting clear on either a climb or a descent or winning a small finishing sprint.

In last-minute update, Mathieu van der Poel made his plans to attend Liège known on Saturday, just before he went on to a brilliant overall win over a strong field at the BinckBank Tour. He’s obviously a contender for a hilly one-day, but it’s hard to say how well he’ll handle something this hilly because he’s never done this race before. That said, he’s flying right now and it really wouldn’t be a surprise to see him battling for the win in the finale.

Quite a few of cycling’s biggest Grand Tour stars are in attendance at the race as well. Newly crowned Tour de France champ Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates), Jumbo-Visma’s Primoz Roglic and Tom Dumoulin, Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), and Mikel Landa (Bahrain-McLaren) will all look to get clear on the climbs and potentially avoid a showdown of speed with riders like Alaphililppe.

Max Schachmann rode to a podium finish at last year’s edition of Liège and was also on the podium at Strade Bianche two months ago. The 26-year-old German seems ready to take that next step to actually win a big one-day race, and he leads a strong Bora-Hansgrohe squad that also includes Lennard Kämna.

Max Schachmann on the Liège-Bastogne-Liège podium in 2019. Photo: ©kramon

2013 Liège winner Dan Martin looked good at Flèche, riding to fifth on the Mur de Huy, and at this year’s Liège he represents his Israel Start-Up Nation team’s best shot at a Monument yet. He was runner-up as recently as 2017 in this race.

Others to watch in Liège on Sunday include Greg Van Avermaet (CCC), Benoit Cosnefroy (AG2R La Mondiale), Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal), Tiesj Benoot (Sunweb) Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), and Warren Barguil (Arkea-Samsic).

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