Preview: The route and riders to watch for the women’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège
After Anna van der Breggen took her sixth consecutive title at La Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, the Ardennes Classics continue with Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, October 4.
A hilly and usually quite wet race, Liège was won by Annemiek van Vleuten last year after she attacked solo on the penultimate climb. Even though the women’s edition of this iconic race only started in 2017, it has become a favorite among the riders, due to the rolling nature of the course, and the added fun of the weather. Most of the marquee names in the women’s peloton will be in attendance to take on Sunday’s race.
Here’s what you need to know about the route, the favorites, and a few outsiders to watch ahead of the women’s race at the 2020 edition at Liège-Bastogne-Liège …
The course for the fourth edition of Liège this year is basically the same as the 2019 version of the event. The only difference this year is the removal of 3.5km of flat from around the 78km mark.
Starting in Bastogne, the women have 135 kilometers to the finish in Liège, and to get there they will have to tackle a series of climbs that are roughly 1-3km long, concluding with the Côte de la Redoute with 29.5km to go – where Van Vleuten made her move in 2019 – and the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons with only 13.5km to go. Côte de la Redoute will be a decisive moment in the race. It may only be 2km in length, but it averages 8.9% with one section of 13% in the middle. Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons is also a doozy, only 1.3km long, but averaging 11% with 13.2% as the max. After this final climb, it is mostly downhill to the finish in Liège.
With the challenging ascents at the end, the race has been won by strong climbers every year. The first two editions were won by Anna van der Breggen. In 2017 Van der Breggen won by 17 seconds, in 2018 by only six. When van Vleuten won it last year she was over a minute and a half in front of second place. These three finishes really speak to the difficulty of the final climbs. On paper, they are short, but based on the results, and the time gaps over the years, they are what makes the race.
Based on how the Women’s World Tour races have gone so far, there are a handful of riders who have timed their peaks to perfection. We’ve seen the same riders dominate the few races since the re-start of the season. Mitchelton-Scott’s Annemiek van Vleuten was outstanding in Strade Bianche and La Course and at the beginning of the Giro Rosa. The 2019 World Champion won every race she entered until the Dutch National Championships when Van der Breggen was finally able to dethrone her. Still, Van Vleuten went on to win the road race at the European Championships and wear the pink jersey until crashing out of the Giro Rosa on stage seven.
Just a week after the crash Van Vleuten placed second with a broken wrist at the World Championship road race in Imola. Van Vleuten did not start Flèche Wallonne on September 30th, however, she is on the start list for Liège. She was incredibly strong at the Worlds, even after quite a stressful week where she had a plate inserted into her wrist while only under local anesthetic. It is certainly possible she can defend her win in Liège this year.
Anna van der Breggen of Boels-Dolmans is on another level at the moment, having won the Giro Rosa, the Worlds Individual Time Trial, the Worlds road race, and her sixth straight Flèche Wallonne in the last three weeks. After Flèche, she moved into the lead of the Women’s World Tour rankings. The new world road champion can not be ruled out of continuing her recent winning streak as she goes for what would be her third Liège win in four years.
As for the rest of the riders to watch, the names are those that have been featured in pretty much every race so far this season. With many of the flatter races canceled and only the races that favor a climber or a puncheur remaining, it means that the same riders have contended in the bulk of the races on the revised 2020 calendar. In addition to Van Vleuten and Van der Breggen, the riders to watch in the last handful of races have been Marianne Vos of CCC-Liv and Elisa Longo Borghini and Lizzie Diegnan of Trek-Segafredo. All four of them climbers, with the exception of Vos who can climb well enough but whose strongest asset is her finishing kick.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig of FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope has been up there a lot and is absolutely on the verge of a win, especially after her second place at Flèche Wallonne. Canyon-SRAM’s Kasia Niewiadoma is another one who has been oh so close but had yet to seal the deal this season, and who would be a deserving winner. She is phenomenal on climbs like the ones at Liège, and her two most impressive results have been on this style of course, Amstel Gold in 2019 and Trofeo Alfredo Binda in 2018.
With the big favorites out of the way, here are a few riders who have yet to actually crack the podium, but whom it would be great to see getting amongst it in Liège-Bastogne-Liège…
The young German rider on Team Sunweb looked incredible at the start of the 2020 season in January. She took an impressive win at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and even after the abrupt change of the calendar she has continued to be around the top five in many of the races. She was fifth in Imola in the road race, and then eighth at La Flèche Wallonne. Add to her consistency the fact that Team Sunweb needs a victory. Their last major win was with Lippert in Australia, and with Amstel Gold canceled and other races looking uncertain, it would be great to see the whole team really fighting for a win in Liège.
At the beginning of her career, Barnes was a top-notch sprinter. In 2016 when she moved into the big leagues and joined the then-new Canyon-SRAM outfit she transformed into more of a climbing type, winning the British National Championships that year. Since then Barnes has had victories here and there, with multiple stage wins at the Giro Rosa over the years and the overall at Setmana Ciclista Valenciana in 2018. This season Barnes can be spotted near the front all. the. time. On stage 6 of the Giro Rosa, she placed second to Marianne Vos. She was crucial in helping Niewiadoma to second overall at the Giro Rosa. In the Worlds road race, she landed herself in the only legit break of the day (not including the solo one that won). It’s hard to say if she will once again be on team duty taking care of Niewiadoma for Liège, but if given the chance, she is climbing well enough to make it to the finish and she can most definitely take a bunch sprint with her current form.
Mikayla Harvey and Niamh Fisher-Black
These two young riders on Paule Ka may not be able to outsmart their more experienced rivals in a one day race like LBL, but they are most definitely worth a mention. They were both very impressive at the Giro Rosa, especially Harvey, who ended up as the best young rider solidified by her climbing abilities on the eighth stage. Fisher-Black also had a few impressive rides and has continued to improve every race. With the help of their team, they could definitely land on the podium in Liège.
Vollering has been mentioned in the lead up to other races but with her third place in Flèche Wallonne, she will find herself on many more “riders to watch” lists moving forward. In 2021 the Dutch rider will move from Parkhotel Valkenburg, the team that, for lack of a better term, discovered her, to the power-house Boels-Dolmans team (SD Worx next year). As for Liège, she is just the right type of rider to do well at a race like this. She can climb, but she is also resourceful and strategic. She has teammates like former Dutch National Champion Anouska Koster and the Belgian rider Romy Kasper, both very talented riders as well. With Parkhotel’s exclusion from the Giro Rosa, a pretty weird turn of events for the team, it would be great to see them get a WWT win like LBL.
Watching it live…
The race could be won by Van Vleuten, Vos, Diegnan, or Van der Breggen, but just to switch things up it would be fantastic to see someone win who may not even be here in this article. The season is quickly coming to a close, which is pretty wild, because it feels like it only just began, and many teams have yet to win a race. Hopefully, this means that Liège-Bastogne-Liège will be an epic one to watch, and watch it you can! Live coverage of the race will be available on Eurosport, Flobikes, SBS, and most channels where bike racing is found.