Liège-Bastogne-Liège Preview

The last of the spring classics, Liège-Bastogne-Liège is a race of transition. Part Belgian classic, part-mountain stage and a rare chance to see the grand tour specialists go all-in for one day over a tough course. There are ten marked climbs but countless more rises.

Alejandro Valverde is the obvious pick as he hopes to double-up his Flèche Wallonne win but too many teams need a result on Sunday and it’s worth taking a risk to get the last reward. Here’s the usual preview with the route, contenders, ratings, TV times and more.

The Route: 253km plus the 5km neutralised roll-out. It’s 107km to Bastogne with one categorised climb, the Côte de La Roche-en-Ardenne, but plenty of rolling roads and extra climbing. Things get serious after the Côte de Wanne with 84km to go as the fight for position becoming ever-more vital and the climbs come thick and fast. The Côte de Stockeu is next, short but 12% and the Eddy Merckx statue at the top.

Liege Bastogne Liege Climbs Profiles

La Redoute is the big strategic rendez-vous, a very awkward road to ride with a gradient that keeps changing and the Walloon version of the Koppenberg or Kapelmuur, it’s already painted with PHIL, PHIL, PHIL in tribute to local hero Philippe Gilbert.

The Côte de La Roche-aux-Faucons is next, it’s not a classic climb only appearing in 2008 but very selective. Finally there’s the suburban Côte de Saint-Nicolas as the penultimate climb before the finish.

All these climbs are the obvious strategic points but they’re almost the easy part in that they represent defined points with signposted beginnings and endings. Yet there are dangers everywhere, the descents and narrow roads can catch a rider out. Experience counts for plenty.

“A lot of riders mistakenly think you should attack on the hardest part, but in reality you hurt people on the slightly flatter section that comes after this”
– Four time winner Moreno Argentin on how to ride La Redoute

Many of these climbs are followed by an open section across a plateau or worse, a false flat. It’s here that moves often go clear. In short the climbs matter but the rest of the course is very technical. Take the Côte de La Roche-aux-Faucons which looks small on the profile above but it drags on beaucoup and the climb after the “summit” is just one of the many hidden climbs of Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

The Finish: after many scenic climbs with woodland the race returns to Belgium’s grim rust belt. Deceptively the finish isn’t in Liège but five kilometres away in Ans, an unremarkable suburb. There is a long climb to the finish line and it’s regular in gradient and wide, a suburban road rather than a rural lane. Riders climb together, often watching each other before the road flattens and turns left with 250 metres to go and the sprint for the line begins.

The Scenario: a gradual process of elimination will see riders ejected along the way. Things get serious in the final 50km but in recent years a sizeable group has arrived in the suburbs of Liège and the more riders, the harder it’s been for some to slip away given the chasing power available. This Sunday’s forecast for poor weather could mix things up a bit.

The Contenders

Alejandro valverde

Flèche Wallonne winner Alejandro Valverde can win the race but he’s not got the zippy sprint he once had. He might have to strike out alone in order to win and that is going to be a big ask. As we’ve seen in recent years in this race and the Worlds he can get in the front group but he struggles to convert this into a win. This is one race where he’s struck before with wins in 2008 and 2006 although that was Valverde 1.0 rather than today’s post-Puerto rider. Movistar come with a strong team, Nairo Quintana probably isn’t up for much but Giovanni Visconti and José Herrada offer support.

Joaquim Rodriguez Dan Martin Panda Liege

Again a similar story for Joaquim Rodriguez, he can make the front group but can he outsprint the others? Fresh from a win in the Basque Country built on the time trial he could well try some probing attacks on the hills in the hope of shaking off faster finishers while drawing some fellow climbers with him. Team mates Giampaolo Caruso and Dani Moreno should survive late into the race and can try to sneak away knowing Rodriguez will be heavily marked.

Michał Kwiatkowski wasn’t as incisive as predicted on the Mur de Huy but could use his finishing kick again to win. The Amstel winner says he’s in great shape but struggling on the Mur, at least in relative terms as he was among the second row of riders. But he’ll be an obvious pick, he was on the podium last year. Julian Alaphilippe will be worth watching again, he can go the distance but there might be too much climbing again.

Vincenzo Nibali

Vincenzo Nibali has been targeting this race. Apparently he’s still frustrated by the loss in 2012 to Maxim Iglinskiy. He’s been wasting energy in the Amstel and Flèche Wallonne but Sunday’s course suits this style, it’s harder to pull him back as the chasers will be reduced after 240km and all that climbing and he can count on extra support from the large Italian population in and around Liège. Talking of Italians if he does it he’ll be the first to win a Monument since Damiano Cunego way back in 2008. L-L Sanchez and Jacob Fuglsang bring extra options to the team but the team tends to follow the old Italian model with lieutenants in loyal service of a single leader.

Dan Martin

Cannondale-Garmin must be scouring Belgium for panda suit rentals in order to recreate the days of old. Dan Martin crashed in the Flèche Wallonne and any injury can take it’s toll and at pixel time his presence in the race isn’t certain. But sometimes it can mean the pressure is off and so let’s not count him out. Tom-Jelte Slagter is backup too but an increasingly infrequent winner.

Another injured rider is Philippe Gilbert who will start as BMC Racing’s leader. This was only confirmed on Friday afternoon which leads to question of whether he’ll finish because he’s still in pain. He was only able to ride a bike on Friday for three hours and couldn’t push more than 500W when he knows he’ll need to pump out 1,200W to contend for the win. That’s some gap to close. Almost nobody knows the roads as well, he grew up next to La Redoute. Tejay van Garderen looked out of place in the Flèche Wallonne with his late attack but his abilities are better suited to Sunday’s race with the series of longer climbs although he’s rarely touted as a one day rider and seems more at ease on a 20km mountain pass or a 40km time trial rather than the awkwardly erratic roads of the Ardennes.

Lotto-Soudal pairing Tim Wellens and Tony Gallopin aren’t exactly first choice picks but a win is plausible. Wellens put in brave (read foolhardy) late attack in the Flèche Wallonne but it’s sign he’s going well. The distance is no problem, he was 15th in Milan-Sanremo and made the front group in the Amstel Gold Race. Gallopin was sixth in the Amstel Gold Race and sat out the Flèche Wallonne to be extra fresh. Jelle Vandendert bolsters the team even more.

Ag2r La Mondiale come with a very strong team. Domenico Pozzovivo wasn’t far from winning last year and is back in form having won the mountain stage in the Giro del Trentino. Romain Bardet has been close in Trentino too and has been targeting Sunday’s race for a long time, convinced by his 10th and 13th place that with some experience and maturity he can land a result. In addition there’s Rinaldo Nocentini who seems to be back in form plus the promising Alexis Vuillermoz, sixth on the Mur de Huy despite a late crash and a broken wheel which was rubbing the brake blocks although the ex-MTB rider is still learning his trade and this race never smiles on a novice. Add a leader Carlos Betancur too and the brown short brigade are promising.

Rui Costa

Rui Costa is able to feature but seems to be more of a podium outsider than a winner. He might be famous for his Worlds win in 2013 but it’s an exception as one day race wins are very rare but he’s often close and finished fourth in the Amstel Gold Race. Another outsider is Pierre Rolland who’s been targeting this race and was visible at the front on the Mur de Huy. This race is much more suited to his efforts although a win still seems wild, he’s never won a one day race even below World Tour level.

Finally a few more names likely to feature. Sergio Henao seems Sky’s best bet after crashes have left others injured and Nicolas Roche doesn’t seem in peak form yet. IAM’s David Tanner has been looking sharp and with Mathias Frank looking to test his climbing legs. Tanner’s move with Orica-Greenedge’s Simon Clarke was solid last week, Clarke and Michael Albasini are the Australian team’s best bets as 2014 winner Simon Gerrans is still recovering with Simon Yates one to watch too, he’s got the finishing speed if he can arrive in a group. Roman Kreuziger has been top-20 of late and this race suits him more. Wilco Kelderman is finding some form again for Lotto-Jumbo. Bauke Mollema is Trek Factory racing’s leader and suited to the hilly course. The Ardennes races haven’t worked out for Giant-Alpecin’s Tom Dumoulin but there’s one last chance to catch a break. Among the wildcards Cofidis have a better team than many think with Nicolas Edet, Rudy Molard, Yoann Bagot and Stéphane Rosetto all useful on this kind of course but lacking experience and the condition aquired from riding other races.

Weather: cool and cloudy at times with a chance of rain and a top temperature of 16°C. A southerly wind of 20km/h offers a tailwind for the return section.

Alejandro Valverde
Michał Kwiatkowski, Joaquim Rodriguez
Vincenzo Nibali, Rui Costa
Tim Wellens, Dan Martin, Tony Gallopin
Gilbert, Pozzovivo, Albasini, Bardet, Moreno, Mollema, Henao, Caruso, Rolland

TV: local coverage starts at 1.35pm Euro time and the finish is forecast for 4.50pm. It’s an ASO race so notionally available on the same channel you watch the Tour de France. If not there’s Eurosport… if not you’ll find streams via and

History: it’s a race for the climbers these days but when it started in 1892 it was almost flat, or at least over rolling roads. More and more climbs have been added to help thin the field. Eddy Merckx holds the record with five wins. Italy’s Moreno Argentin has four and, if he wins on Sunday, Valverde can join Léon Houa (1892, 93, 94), Alfons Schepers (1929, 31, 35) and Fred De Bruyne (1956, 58, 59).


66 thoughts on “Liège-Bastogne-Liège Preview”

      • I also think Dan might miss Ryder this year. If you look at his previous big wins Ryder has been there doing a lot of work for him either on the front or going solo to take the pressure off.

        Anyway as a big Martin fan I hope he recovers in time.

        • An excellent point, Gareth.

          Dan might be a marked man Sunday for obvious reasons, but his team has so underwhelmed that I wonder how much other teams currently even think about them with regard to strategy/potential threat.
          I would imagine that the dearth of wins this season can only put more pressure on their GC riders like Talansky.
          My theory is that the horrifically ugly sunglasses and helmets are holding them back.

    • Yes, a revised course. It’s shorter but more concentrated with some of the distance taken out between the final climbs, notably La Redoute and La Roche plus the La Côte des Rosiers and La Côte des Maquisards are back.

      As for FDJ it’s just not working out for them. Arthur Vichot is supposed to be the leader but he’s not having a good time of late. Worse he rode the Amstel and knew it wasn’t his day but didn’t tell his team mates as he didn’t want to let them down. But this risks the team doubting him the next time rather than committing to ride for him. We’ll see how Pinot fares in Romandie, usually one of his preferred races but he’s had a busier earlier season than usual with Tirren0-Adriatico.

    • The approach to la redoute is now much better so with le ROsier, downhill, le maquisard, slight downhill, false plate, big downhill to remouchamps, la redoute.
      There are also less kilometers from la Redoute to la Roche aux faucons, but maybe they could pick one little climb more on the way to it.
      Anyway, I think the big problem in the route is what happens after the roche aux faucons. Very poor landscapes and saint nicolas + Ans tends to lock the course. Maybe it would be good to go down to the ourthe valley via Colonster after the Roche aux faucons, to pick another climb in the otherside of the valley, then to go down to a finish line in central Liège near Ourthe/Meuse. It would be much more scenic I guess.

  1. Based on the way AGR and FW went you’ve got to expect a 20/30 man group to arrive at the final climb in Ans together and sprint it out from there. That would make someone with a good sprint like Valverde, Kwiatkowski or, and quite an outside shot here, Alaphilippe the favorite to win (if i was Orica i’d bring Matthews here but they hvn’t but at least Albasini seems in shape to take over from Gerrans.

    Luckily LBL seems to bring some decent racing with it so there is an actual chance of some attacking and small and select group of riders battling it out rather than a bunch sprint. At least that’s my hope after an Ardennes week that so far has failed to live up to pretty low expectations in terms of action.

    • I go with a lot of that. The hope is that the tighter course with one climb chasing another will encourage more action rather than the idea of riders regrouping on each section in between. Last year’s race wasn’t exciting to watch, the race only came alive right and the end.

  2. I love Valverde. Mature, smart, cagey rider with a phenomenal team behind him. He’s a new man with a new life paradigm. That was then. This is now. BUT Nibali will win this. Right or wrong, Astana got a green light for the season and they’re set to shake it off. And Nibali’s been all kinds of edgy and frisky in the last two.

    • I was wondering if Nibali’s “wasted energy” that Inrng alluded to in the preview might have actually been in-race training for L-B-L.

      And it look as though I lost my wager on Vino being shown the door as the minimum penalty to Astana.

    • despite every aspect of his riding style appealing to me, I will be with @NYVelocity in rooting for “Not Valverde”.

      Having heroes and villains is part of what makes following sport interesting – I’m one of the Brits who leaves Wiggins for the johnny-come-lately Sky groupie supporters….

      I see Garmin have revamped their Vector pedal, streamlining it to make it more Dan Martin cornering friendly, to no avail I fear.

  3. Kwiatkowski, I think: climbing and sprinting well, plus he came third last year, having been held up by the crashing Martin.
    And at last some bad weather! (Can’t believe the only big race I’ve missed this year was Gent-Wevelgem – gah.)
    Nibali’s frustration: how ironic.
    Gallopin as an outsider.
    Ben Hermans as an even bigger outsider.

  4. A more compact course that could be slippary when wet will favour a more attacking race I hope…i do enjoy dreaming and belive if those conditions do appear Mr Gallopin can once again slip off the front…

  5. I’m with you on Valverde being favourite and the most likely winner, he looks in great shape at the moment. Nibali won’t win, he won’t be able to shake this lot off and he won’t win a sprint. Rui Costa is an interesting ‘outsider’ for me, I think he could go well, especially if it’s wet. Romain Bardet is 10/1 to make the top 3, I think he has a chance, he’s really motivated and has ridden Trentino purely as a training race for LBL. Also like that you have picked out Nocentini, he’s a 150/1 fun bet for me. Let’s hope Dan Martin is fit enough to give it a go though, if he has recovered enough he is Valverde’s biggest danger..

  6. @Seeingelvis personally I think Garmindale’s helmets and sunnies (jersey too) are the most stylish in the bunch. Kwiatkowski for this one, hopefully not Valverde (although I do enjoy a good villain… He needs a good scar and a white cat though).

  7. Excellent preview! I’d put Pozzovivo a little higher in the rankings but in any case hope for an exciting race in a spring classics season that’s been less than stellar (so far).

    • He’s mimicking the celebration of Sebastian Giovinco, an Italian football player who, at the time when the “quote” began, was playing for the team Pozzovivo rooted for, Juventus if I remember well; both are referring to their short height, and to Giovinco’s nickname “Atomic Ant”. “Short but strong” is their motto.

  8. As if things about him weren’t yet enough stirred up, I’d like to put in some perspective the idea of a “post Puerto” Valverde.

    What would that mean? The blood bags can be related at the most to 2004. Is “post Puerto” the Valverde who stopped doping with Fuentes? That would be from 2005 on. Or should it be considered what happened after his name was exposed, because we may imagine that the event implied more prudence on his part and more control from above? It would be from summer 2006 on. Is it the judgement by Italian CONI in May 2009, or the TAS sentence one year later?
    In any case, Valverde’s results are impressively consistent. Even more if we consider that you’re not winning a race like Liège every possible year, and that in cycling (especially in Classics) the results doesn’t depend just on your physical performance but also on strategy and on race dynamics.

    LIÈGE: 2003-2004, not racing (stop Fuentes) //2005: 34º, 2006: 1º /OP/ 2007: 2º, 2008: 1º, 2009: 19º /CONI/ 2010: 3º /TAS/ 2012: -, 2013: 3º, 2014: 2º.
    WORLDS: 2003: 2º, 2004: 6º (stop Fuentes) // 2005: 2º /OP/ 2006: 3º, 2007: 57º, 2008: 37º /CONI/ 2009: 9º /TAS/ 2012: 3º, 2013: 3º, 2014: 3º

    In the Amstel and in the Flèche, just as in the Lombardia, he got quite better “post OP”, whatever you mean with that.

    In GTs, too, it’s hard to see any pattern besides utter consistence:
    TOUR = 2005, 2006: DNF, 2007: 5º, 2008: 8º, 2012: 20º, 2013: 8º, 2014: 4º
    VUELTA = 2003: 3º, 2004: 4º (stop Fuentes) /OP/ 2006: 2º, 2008: 5º /CONI/ 2009: 1º /TAS/ 2012: 2º, 2013: 3º, 2014: 3º.

    He’s lost some sprint, one could say (but is that really true, when he’s loosing *the sprint* from the like of Gerrans?), but it would be quite normal at 35. He’s generally being as painstakingly defensive as always, which is favouring him in some races and penalising him elsewhere.

    But, all in all, if you had to have a say just looking at Valverde’s results, one would never suppose that anything has changed in cycling.
    Obviously, that’s not what I’m saying: a sum of different changing factors could lead to an apparently similar result. I don’t know and I suspect nobody here can.
    Nevertheless, it’s quite hard to defend that in the equation one thing hasn’t changed at all (for example, Valverde doping as always) and *the other has* (for example, the peloton being way cleaner)… that would mean doping is pretty useless.
    More generally speaking, as I’ve said before in these pages, if we consider how many political shifts and different “doping styles” Valverde has lived through, it’s quite hard to believe that, in his case, those are the main variables which determine his results.
    “Doping affects people in *different ways*, even if a doper wins among dopers, he still may be a clean loser in a clean world”, “People maybe are still be doping, but *everything is so different* because they have to do it less/differently”: not much of those big *differences* is to be seen along Valverde’s career.
    Valverde is no immaculate rider, no doubt about that, but a good number of Vulgate dogmata about doping should be rethinked, in his case at least.

      • Gabriele does indeed post lengthy replies. In his favour, though, the comments like those above do make me hesitate before my instinctive dislike of Valverde’s success kicks in. It is a bit of an odd thing that we seem to demand “remorse” before we can admire (or even respect) a post-ban rider again. Or is there some innate or subconscious racism (based on a perception that the southern Med countries have had a worse problem for longer)?

        Anyway, I’ll concede Valverde is an extraordinary rider. In another era, probably one of the best. But I just cannot applaud his success, which saddens me.

        • Gabriele is not into “That whole brevity thing,” to paraphrase The Dude, but the research is astonishing.
          There is no doubt, and the data illustrates it, that Valverde is a very, very talented rider, dopage and/or otherwise.
          I was glad that Gabriele pointed out the defensive element, because it can make watching him challenging- at least in Grand Tours. This of course spoken from my arm chair, which does not typically register more than a few watts.

          Tricky Dicky, great point; I might go as far to add that we might very well demand remorse from all of our villains, riders or otherwise. I don’t see the rasicm angle myself.
          When ones makes a mistake, the forgiveness and acceptance flow more easily when said mistake is accompanied by an admission or apology. Human nature.

          Looking forward to a great race and thanks as always Inrng for the superb blog and for the opportunity to air our views.

          • I agree with both SE and TD. I want remorse. I also distrust Italian and Spanish riders more (as well as ex-Soviet ones; and Americans of that era) purely because more of them have been caught.
            And I’m aware that there is no particular logic in this, given how widespread doping was (although French and Beligian cycling seems to have had a long dip in success coinciding with that period).
            I’ll never like a proven cheat who doesn’t at least admit it, but as Gabriele points out Valverde’s consistency has made him one of the riders of his generation.
            If only he’d ride with more guts: his defensive tactics infuriate me more than anything else about him.
            (I’ll also admit to inconsistency in how I regard dopers: I don’t dislike Contador the way I dislike Valverde. And I think that’s purely down to their riding styles – AC attacks; AV defends.)

        • Remorse is one thing… Admitting it would be a start. Not going to court to claim the blood bag was mishandled in such a way that its DNA morphed into an exact match of his own. That sort of thing.

      • a) well-deserved scolding
        b) I’m more of a gregario character, I wouldn’t know what to write about (to say nothing of those photos you’re able to find and choose). Besides, nobody would love posts as long as mine…!
        c) believe it or not, sometimes I’m busy doing something different from writing here, hence when I’m back and I’ve sort of a rainy afternoon, I tend to have lots of questions to comment on. I’ll try to hold back 😉
        d) sorry!

  9. A true compliment to Inrng: having gone from pointing out the occasional typo, we are now officially parsing his words.
    Be careful, Sir/Madam- the offers to host Grand Fondos and Caribbean cruises will arrive shortly:)

  10. Gabriele might be long-winded, but most of his arguments and observations are well-thought-out and interesting despite the fact I don’t always agree with them. Pre-Puerto I was a fan of The Green Bullet. He was one of those “dagger in the teeth swashbucklers” but once they exposed him as a Fuentes client, his rather nasty denials put me off the guy. Some of his racing actions have been debatable as far as being sporting as well, but it’s hard to expect much from a guy who thinks the rules don’t apply to him. Just like people used to groan when Vino “won” a race, I groan when The Green Bullet crosses the line first.

  11. I can relate to the Gregario role Gabrielle, keep bringing words to the table that some of us arnt able to aticulate. Valverde interests me on a human level these days. If he wins, more fool the guys for handing him the high ground to dominate. He has assumes the role of favourite and wears it well. For my sins i will always root for the other guy. Praying that Kwiat, D-Mart, Stybar and Purito turn him over today in Ans

  12. gabriele, I enjoy your posts always a good read as are many others here. It is about the only sensible pro cycling discussion to be had on the internet, unless there are others I have not yet discovered.

  13. Eurosport UK, here’s an idea: if the car racing over-runs, why not show LBL on the other channel until it’s finished – instead of showing the Tour of Croatia?

    • Thank god for illegal streams.
      Even if does mean listening to a Spanish gentleman say ‘Greg CcccHenderson’ about 17 times.

  14. 81km, ad breaks, other bits n bobs, transmission breakdowns and poorer tv direction than 20 years ago reduced it to look like a mid week stage of The Tour Of Anonymous! not one of the most prestigious classics in existence.

  15. Looked like a foregone conclusion other than the brief cat and mouse delay when Moreno jumped clear. Katusha had numbers.
    Couple thoughts- great team effort by Stybar. Rode his eyeballs out to pull in the trio. Roman K having his last say for a bit, maybe?
    Another great race from the young Julian A- not sure what contract he is on, but he will have many an offer coming his way.
    Sorry for those who hit the deck, including at least three past winners.
    Chapeau to Gilbert for a gutsy ride.

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