Preview: Your guide to the 2021 women’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège
The final one-day of the Spring Classics is here, and all signs point to it being quite the show. So far this year, the peloton has been on another level, each race has been won in dramatic style and, with few exceptions, in different ways.
At Strade Bianche, Chantal Van den Broek-Blaak and Elisa Longo Borghini escaped and battled it out on the final ascent to the Piazza del Campo. Next, it was Longo Borghini who took a solo victory at Trofeo Alfredo Binda. In what should have been a sprinter’s finale, Grace Brown snuck away with 10 km to go at the Oxyclean Classic Brugge-De Panne. Marianne Vos sprinted to victory in both the Amstel Gold Race and Gent-Wevelgem, both times from a drastically reduced peloton. The Tour of Flanders was won solo by Annemiek van Vleuten and although Anna van der Breggen took her seventh straght win in La Flèche Wallonne, the race to the finish was a nail-biter.
Seven races with six different winners on five different teams. Not only that, the podiums of each race have been a colorful array of jerseys from various teams. This may just be the most depth the women’s peloton has ever shown.
Liège-Bastogne-Liège could see another name grace the top step. With a selective course but an open run-in to the finish, the race has only ever come down to a solo rider. Van der Breggen won Liège back to back in 2017 and 2018, the first time by 17 seconds, the next by only six. In 2019, Van Vleuten finished with the largest gap to second, a minute and 39 seconds, and Lizzie Deignan beat Grace Brown in 2020 by only 9 seconds.
This year the race features two new climbs, and while we will likely see the same names in the top 20, the race will be an exciting one from start to finish.
The peloton will roll out of Bastogne and into Liège 141 km later, and probably a hundred riders lighter. Between Bastogne and Liège, they will cover seven challenging climbs, with two brand new ascents smack in the middle of the second half of the race.
The climbs range from 4.6 km in length to 1.3 km with the steepest being the iconic Côte de la Roche-Aux-Faucons that tops out 12 km from the finish. Two climbs have been added this year: the Côte de Rosier and Côte de Desnié. They come in the middle of the seven-climb block that starts 56.7 km into the race with the Côte de Wanne.
Both Van Vleuten and Deignan launched their winning moves from the Côte de la Redoute. At 2.1 and 8.9%, the climb is not the longest but is one of the most challenging on course. Van der Breggen’s victories, meanwhile, were seized with the climbs behind her on the flat run-in to the finish.
The start list of Liège-Bastogne-Liège is down a few notable names. Defending champ Lizzie Deignan, who missed both Amstel Gold Race and La Flèche Wallonne, will again be absent from LBL. So will Grace Brown, which is a real bummer, to be honest. Brown looked great at Amstel Gold Race, has won a WorldTour race this year already, and was second at least years edition of Liège.
Regardless of Deignan and Brown missing the event, there are plenty of people to watch on Sunday.
The big three
The Dutch mafia of Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma), Van der Breggen, and Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) all have a shot at winning on Sunday. Vos and Van der Breggen especially have been in peak form. Vos is the only rider to have won two WorldTour races in 2021. Van der Breggen is two time champion of Liège and just won La Flèche Wallonne in commanding fashion. She looked like she’d barely broken a sweat as she crossed the line on Wednesday. Van Vleuten on the other hand has not looked her best. Especially at Amstel Gold Race when she attacked at the base of the Cauberg. Still, you can never rule Van Vleuten out. Or the other two, for that matter.
Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM)
Kasia Niewiadoma, runner up in La Flèche Wallonne earlier this week, looks like she’s in the form of her life. Her attack at the Amstel Gold Race was the highlight of the race. She has consistently been performing and sliding herself into selective moves. Although Niewiadoma has yet to win a race this year, she’s one penny away from throwing her arms in the air. The short steep climbs are great for Niewiadoma, the only setback is the lack of technical descents, something the Polish rider excels at.
Niewiadoma’s bid for glory will be helped along by Elise Chabbey, who has had a phenomenal start to 2020, especially at La Flèche Wallonne where she found herself in multiple breakaways. Hannah Barnes and Tiffany Cromwell are also integral to Niewiadoma’s hopes. Both riders have shown promising form this year, and especially Cromwell has been active at decisive moments when Niewiadoma needs a teammate most.
Amanda Spratt (BikeExchange)
Compared to other seasons, Amanda Spratt has not looked quite the same this year. Spratt did not go to Australia over the winter for the first time, which perhaps changed up her pre-season training a bit. However, her fourth-place performance at the Amstel Gold Race suggests her legs are coming around. The Ardennes are some of her favorite races of the year, and this is the last chance for her to notch a result. Without Brown on the start line Team BikeExchange will likely pass full leadership to Spratt. After all, she was second at Liège in 2018 behind Van der Breggen.
Ruth Winder (Trek-Segafredo)
As usual, Trek-Segafredo has a few cards to play. They have Elisa Longo Borghini, perhaps the strongest rider of 2021 so far, but they also have Ruth Winder who is on fine form after a late start to the season. At La Flèche Wallonne Winder had the most impressive move of the day and even after she had been off the front for 19 km she still finished 7th on the Mur de
Van der Breggen Huy. The question is, will Trek-Segafredo hand leadership to the US national champion? For weeks they’ve had the full team supporting Longo Borghini. It worked at Trofeo Alfredo Binda, but the climbs were bigger in Italy. With the short climbs the winner will need to have a tactical advantage, and Winder is as savvy as she is strong.
Demi Vollering (SD Worx)
Of all the transfers this year the most impressive newcomer has to be Demi Vollering. Vollering was impressive before joining the powerhouse SD Worx squad but is a force under the tutelage of the aforementioned Anna van der Breggen. Second at both Brabantse Pijl and the Amstel Gold Race, Vollering has shown that when she is given the chance to ride for the win she is capable of following through. In both races, she was millimeters from victory. SD Worx has a habit of switching up their leaders, so who knows who they will put their money on Sunday, but Vollering is a good shout. What indicates that they would ride for Vollering is the effort she executed in La Flèche Wallonne when she brought Winder back for Van der Breggen. That kind of sacrifice will not go unnoticed.
Alongside Vollering and Van Der Breggen, Ashleigh Moolman Pasio and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak could also pull off a result for SD Worx.
Liège-Bastogne-Liège will be available on GCN + and Eurosport starting at 11:20 CET.