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, countless more rises and a new cobbled climb right before the finish.

Alejandro Valverde is the obvious pick as he hopes to double-up his Flèche Wallonne win but this is a harder race to control and bad weather could make the race wilder still. 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.

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, painted with PHIL, PHIL, PHIL in tribute to local hero Philippe Gilbert who won’t be riding.

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 as 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. If anything the marked climbs are the obvious parts, 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 swoops into to Belgium’s rust belt and its decaying steel mills. Deceptively the finish isn’t in Liège but five kilometres away in Ans, an unremarkable suburb. New for 2016 the Rue Naniot, a cobbled residential street introduced to shake up the finish with 2.5km to go and it’s 10% average. Here’s a screengrab from Google’s Streetview:

Rue Naniot

After a brief descent on a wide tarmac road with sweeping bends the race returns to the familiar 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 should make things harder still with more riders prone to cracking late on if they get a chill or don’t eat enough, it’ll add more variability to the final hour.

The Contenders

Alejandro Valverde Mur de Huy

Got that déjà vu feeling? Alejandro Valverde returns after winning the Flèche Wallonne, exactly as he did a year ago on his way to the win in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He’s got the form, he’s got the experience and if he wins he’ll join Moreno Argentin as the second most successful rider in this race after, of course, Merckx. He’s got a strong team backing him which we saw control the Flèche Wallonne but they’ll have to race differently here, the added climbing and extra distance means this is a harder race to put under lock down and if Valverde was almost a certainty last Wednesday he’s less of a certain pick this time. Ion Izagirre and Giovanni Visconti could be there in the finish and offer extra cards to play.

Julian Alaphilippe

Etixx-Quickstep have the twin attack of Dan Martin and Julian Alaphilippe. Martin has won this race already and would have been on the podium in 2014 had he not crashed out on the final corner and packs a stronger sprint than his stick build might suggest. Alaphilippe is an even stronger sprinter to win from a small group in the finish and his form is looking excellent after re-emerging in the Amstel and confirming his abilities in the Flèche Wallonne. It’s hard to pick between the two, Martin has experience but is the form there while Alaphilippe has the faster finish and his compact build is perhaps better suited to the cold. It’ll be interesting to see how the two work together too and they lose a valuable helper in Gianluca Brambilla, a late withdrawal.

Another classics campaign ends and the last chance this spring to get that Monument classic win craved by Team Sky. Michał Kwiatkowski is never the certain pick. A top tip for the Amstel he had a wardrobe malfunction and got iced by the sudden downpour in the race. The form should still be there and he’s been on the podium in this race too. Chris Froome rides but has never featured in the front group of this race and the grim conditions seem unlikely to encourage him to suck in lungfuls of icy air for seven hours, instead Wout Poels is probably their best back up.

Romain Bardet

Romain Bardet is coming into form after a training block and likes this race. He’s had steady progress in the event since turning pro and will aim to improve on his sixth place last year. However if he’s riding well in the Giro del Trentino he’s not looked so zippy, citing training camp fatigue. Ag2r La Mondiale come with a strong team. Domenico Pozzovivo has been in the front group in the last two years coming into Liège and in form again ahead of the Giro. Jean-Christophe Péraud is beginning to purr, saying he’s finally starting to rediscover the form that carried him through 2014 while Jan Bakelants, Cyril Gauthier and Mikaël Cherel can all offer extra support in the closing stages.

Rui Costa

As repeated a lot here Rui Costa seems to show in well in the Ardennes but rarely wins and more of the same seems likely. However this course probably suits him best, he can grind out a winner and his slight outsider status might give him more room, the chance to slip away and if others hesitate he’s very hard to pull back. Diego Ulissi was seventh in the Amstel Gold Race, eighth in La Flèche and a good candidate for a top-10 again. Louis Meintjes is coming back into form too.

Simon Gerrans

Simon Gerrans won in 2014 thanks to a textbook display of economical riding, more impressive for its technical execution than its flair. Now he’ll hope for more of the same as he returns in good form, 11th in the Amstel Gold Race and as Orica-Greenedge’s sole leader. He’s got a good record of targeting races and succeeding. Michael Albasini, Daryl Impey and the Yates brothers could be outsiders but it’s likely to be all in for Gerrans.

Vincenzo Nibali returns to a race that haunts him after he lost out to Maxim Iglinskiy in 2012. As much as he’d like to win here is the form there? He was dropped in the mountains of Trentino this week and the road was not even that steep while Jacob Fuglsang and Tanel Kangert didn’t wait for him leaving Nibali to try and wave the TV camera away as it lingered on his isolation. Maybe it’s just fatigue from training, like Bardet. The Sicilian can turn the tables around and has the ability to liven up a race once he puts his mind to it.

Warren Barguil

Warren Barguil is back in form and this race is made for him. Still 24 this is a learning experience but Alaphilippe shows any apprenticeship needn’t last long. An outsider he was ninth on the Mur de Huy and is Giant-Alpecin’s leader.

Enrico Gasparotto Wanty

Include the Brabantse Pijl and Enrico Gasparotto has finished now lower than fifth in the “Ardennes” races so far. A win? He’ll surely be marked now but given he’s back to his pomp the finish suits him well.

As predicted for Wednesday Joaquim Rodriguez isn’t shining as brightly this year as shown by the way he had to attack on the Mur de Huy rather than confidently bide his time. Don’t rule him out for Sunday though, this race suits him more than most and if he’s looking less sharp he’s close to the front and made the podium last year.

Tim Wellens

Is Tim Wellens agoraphobic? He certainly loves trying to escape the crowded peloton. So far it’s looked folorn and desperate although it’s cheered TV producers desperately willing for some action. But like all attackers there comes a day when it works, when the move sticks and this is how Wellens won the Eneco Tour last year, in the Ardennes too. Jelle Vanenedert and Tony Gallopin should be around too.

Finally a quick tour of the other names. BMC leave out Philippe Gilbert and bring in Richie Porte but their best chances probably hang on Samuel Sanchez, sixth on the Mur de Huy and still battling on aged 38. Floris de Tier is riding well for Topsport Vlaanderen, Arnold Jeannesson and Daniel Navarro lead for Cofidis, Serge Pauwels and Kanstantsin Siutsou could feature for Dimension Data. Cannondale’s Michael Woods was just outside the top-10 on Wednesday but this Sunday requires more experience and craft so watch to see how far he can stay with the top riders. Trek-Segafredo’s Bauke Mollema is suited to a race like this and so is fellow Dutchman Robert Gesink at Lotto-Jumbo but if a genie emerged on Sunday morning offering them, say, eighth place would they sign up? Probably. Roman Kreuziger has been visible recently but yet to crack the top-10 in the Ardennes so he should be close as he battles with the race and hypothyroidism condition while Tinkoff also bring Rafał Majka for his first race this month.

Alejandro Valverde
Julian Alaphilippe, Dan Martin
Michał Kwiatkowski, Enrico Gasparotto, Simon Gerrans
Rui Costa, Romain Bardet, Joaquim Rodriguez, Diego Ulissi, Roman Kreuziger
Barguil, Sanchez, Fuglsang, Pozzovivo, Poels, Gallopin, Albasini, Bakelants, Nibali

Weather: there’s been talk of snow for Sunday, conjuring up images of Bernard Hinault’s 1980 ride. However the forecast is for sleet and rain, little better for the riders. Currently the prediction is a dry but cold start before the clouds come in, bringing in showers, sleet and mist atop the climbs. A top temperature of just 7°C.

TV: the race starts at 10.30am Euro time, local TV coverage starts at 2.05pm and the finish is forecast for 4.45pm. It’s an ASO race so notionally available on the same channel you watch the Tour de France. If not there’s Eurosport… and you’ll find more options over at, 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; Moreno Argentin has four; Valverde, Léon Houa (1892, 93, 94), Alfons Schepers (1929, 31, 35) and Fred De Bruyne (1956, 58, 59) all have three.

63 thoughts on “Liège-Bastogne-Liège Preview”

  1. Confused by your diagnosis of Wellens, Dr. Inrng. I thought agoraphobia was fear of big, open spaces? If so, wouldn’t young Tim be more comfortable in the snug environment of the peloton?

  2. In the contenders section you say “He’s got the form, he’s got the experience and if he wins he’ll join Moreno Argentin as the most successful rider in this race” but under the history heading there’s this, “Eddy Merckx holds the record with five wins; Moreno Argentin has four…”

    I think Merckx did, in fact, win it 5 times but I’m no cycling history expert.

    Thanks for the excellent preview, as usual. Apologies for the pedantry.

    • I couldn’t agree more. “Piti” is an unrepentant ex-doper going back to the Armstrong era. It infuriates me every time I see him on the podium. Yes, he “served” his “ban”, but that was a mere slap on the wrist, a vacation.

      Am I being petty and singling him out? Probably, but the list of his palmarès after Puerto and his absolute silence about his doping and current anti-doping efforts make him stand out as someone who never really paid for his past but and has come back to the top step of the sport without remorse.

      • you do hear people say ‘he’s such a nice guy…’ – could it be a lack of english and engagement with the english speaking media (plus his conservative, rather a podium than a win-or-bust style) that has led to a misunderstanding of him? I don’t know, just posing the question.

      • His absolute silence about his doping and current anti-doping efforts *don’t* make him stand out among his contemporaries. The difference between a lot of them and him is that he got caught – and at least paid for his past a bit. Not making any excuses for Valverde – just saying that he is the same as the rest.

        • I agree, but not many of his contemporaries who were riding the Tour in 2003 are still wining classics and GT stages by the armload.

          • So, the other riders are the same, but less successful – is that what bothers you?
            The thing is we don’t know, but we can suspect that an awful lot (probably most) riders around his age were at it. Most weren’t caught. Only the ones who were are castigated.

          • I’m no Valverde fan but are people forgetting who won Amstel Gold just 6 days ago? A well documented client of a certain banned doctor. I just try to believe that things are better now. The style of racing tends to corroborate that (hence the complaints about why the hilly classics are so dull these days). We can’t have it both ways. I respect Valverde’s incredible racing nous but I don’t particularly like the way he wins (although his win in the ill-fated Roma Maxima (what happened to that?) a coupe of years ago was a cracker). Ditto Gerrans.

            Having read Dan Martin’s preview, the weather (cold and predicted headwind) and extra climb near the end could make for a bit of a dull edition unfortunately. I’m hoping Tim Wellens proves me wrong!

          • I hear you Karl. But Valverde is NOT like the others as some here are saying. Why not? Because he keeps on winning and winning and winning and saying absolutely nothing. Omerta. He is the embodiment of everything bad about cycling. He is Armstrong before Armstrong talked (minus the strong arm tactics). Lots of fans dislike him. Lots of fans want “anyone but Valverde”. Does he care? Probably not. Valverde is a good example of why dopers who get caught shouldn’t get second chances. Ever.

          • RonDe:
            Is Valverde any different from, say, Contador?
            And do you look at other Spanish (not picking on the Spanish, just sticking with them for similarity) riders of a similar age, who were not caught, and think they were clean?

      • Everybody dopes.

        At least he is silent, and successful, instead of being a hypocrite like so many others. I understand that it is frustrating, but he has abided by the rules after being caught. He is also VERY clever tactically which is as rare or rarer today than “the good old days”. So it seems like he’s doping himself to the front, but I believe that, clean or not, he is a head above most of his peers.

        • Come on. He is very good, a real all-rounder, extremely professional (he really lives for his cycling, and never gets tired), and very gifted both physically and technically. But tactically clever he is NOT. The number of silly race-losing mistakes, of all kinds, he has made throughout his careerwould make for a book. That’s actually his most endearing feature.

          • Exactly. He has accrued a vast number of 2nds and 3rds by riding so conservatively and refusing to work.
            There have been exceptions to this tactic and he has also won a great number of races, but there have been many I’ve seen where his ‘Do nothing until the final sprint no matter what’ tactic has failed him. 2014 Amstel Gold is but one example.
            You’re right about Sagan too: it would be great to see more riders do all of these races – is Kwiatkowski the only one? I can’t see any reason why Sagan could not win LBL.

      • Uuugh…..another keyboard moralist opining on a doper doing exactly what most of the peloton has been doing for generations. Including virtually everyone who has ever podiumed at any of these monument races.

        Tiresome, really tiresome. Like virtually everyone who has the chance to be a pro wouldn’t make exactly the same choices when presented with a chance to fulfill a lifelong dream or go home and work at the local hardware store. Easy to sit in your office building and say what you would or wouldn’t do.

        • Surely you’re passing judgement on another reader for expressing their view, it’s like some never-ending loop?

          If this race preview is going to become the trial of Valverde it’ll descend into a flame war and I’ll have to start zapping the comments, so be warned. I’d rather not delete messages.

          • What I find most annoying here is that no one is raising anything new. These are the same tired talking points on Valverde that we’ve seen for years now and they no longer bear repeating.

            Those who wish to endlessly relive the same 5 minutes of their life should take their comments to a more appropriate forum.

          • I would also encourage you strongly, Inrng, to just delete those messages dealing with personal hate and assumptions about riders’ doping. They can sweat all that hatred out on FB or elsewhere but not on your blog.
            Valverde doped (like many others at that time), he got caught (sort of) and busted, served his two year suspension, end of the story, basta!

            I think with the forecasted weather it’s probably time for the man from “a dull place in the center of France” (your words, maybe not exactly 😉 ) who still lives and trains there.
            Dan Martin will be on different tires than in previous years and maybe his Belgian mechanics are wiser with regards to tire pressure, so maybe he can stay upright.

            May the best man win!

    • His wins don’t seem to be celebrated much beyond the Pyrenees and he’s one of several riders who are part of that Puerto generation. Retirement doesn’t seem to be on the card either which probably frustrates fans and the likes of Dan Martin, Romain Bardet etc in equal measures.

      • I dislike Valverde intensely for being an unrepentant busted doper, despite his racing prowess.

        My favourite GT rider is Contador, who I love for his racing prowess despite being an unrepentant busted doper.

        Perfectly at ease with my own hypocrisy, and having heroes and villains just adds depth to my ‘investment’ in following the racing.

        Hopefully Dan Martin can avoid rogue pens/oil patches no one else in the entire peloton hit/grounding his Garmin Vector pedal unit (delete according to preferred theory).

      • He did whatever he did back then. Served a penalty not nearly enough others have. Came back and got to work. He doesn’t have to say anything. His mature, patient, tactical racing is continually impressive. Movistar are deep and dialed in and Valverde’s upcoming Giro debut is exciting.

      • His wins don’t seem to be celebrated much beyond the Pyrenees… but last Wednesday two young riders (1990 & 1994) from the Netherlands and Poland asked him for a photograph. “New generation” European riders didn’t seem to bother much about his past (?).
        In my opinion, to repent or not to repent doesn’t make a huge difference, just PR. Only dopers who have been caught repent, I don’t know any case of a rider who was never suspected of but came clear about his cheating.

        • “In my opinion, to repent or not to repent doesn’t make a huge difference, just PR.”

          Judgemental, unknowable, and extremely convenient to your POV. Confirmation bias in a nutshell. Repentance is never, ever genuine? By anybody? Really? You’re a mindreader as well as a historian now?

        • Hello to M daily Diaz… I suspect that Valverde is not much appreciated by many of his fellow spanish riders, more due to his way of riding races than for something else.

        • I don’t know any case of a rider who was never suspected of but came clear about his cheating.

          Frankie Andreu.

          Attacked by everyone, including the federation, for doing the right thing. I’m pretty sure it’s never happening again..

      • I like that Valverde is racing all season and does not only appear for the tour or the vuelta. He even did E3 and dwars door vlaanderen a couple of years ago.

      • Strange. Seems the people who apparently celebrated Valverde and chanted his name at the team presentation today at Liège-Bastogne-Liège never got that memo…

  3. Valverde isn’t a big fan of the cold is he? I seem to remember he suffered in the cold stage of the 2014 Vuelta after the race transferred from the deep south to the pyrenees and the temperature difference was huge…maybe he’s hardened to cooler weather at the moment though

    • Perhaps I should have stressed it even move above, the climbs are hard but tend to leave everyone in their own private battles with gravity, it’s the top that can so hard, putting the chain in the big ring and having the energy to accelerate. Take La Redoute, when you get to the top there’s an exposed ridge across the top to cope with.

    • The team were counting on him for Wednesday, he’s made for a finish like that but his training had been hampered by his crash out of Paris-Nice. He’s too sore to ride the bike this week but should be back racing soon and will be part of Ag2r’s Tour de France team.

  4. I’d planned to see L-B-L live, in-person but it was not to be. Maybe 2018? I too will be in the “anybody but the Green Bullet” camp in front of the TV on Sunday. But hey, pro cycling needs villains as much as heroes, right? Inrng’s pretty clear of the “You suck!” “No, YOU suck!” comments and I hope it stays that way.

  5. It’s going to be really cold and damp race. Riders will also face a strong and cold headwind when going back towards Liege. Legwarmers and a pocket flask of brandy are in order ;-D

  6. I’d love Dan as I’m Irish. But more that anyone but valverde. The race could do with being won by a rider without a tainted past

  7. Interesting that Dan Martin retained his British citizenship when he switched (he has dual).

    Still, he got cocked around by the British Federation as a junior, Ireland’s gain. It would be great for him to win LBL again, such a popular figure.

  8. Again… Why is not Sagan here? It’s a monument, for heaven’s sake. With the new cobbled street, it even gives him more possibilities. And, come on, the way L-B-L is raced these days, with Movistar trying to block everything, even a guy like Gerrans, largely inferior to Sagan in every aspect of the sport, could make it. I wonder why Peter doesn’t give it a go. It’s not like he has another race to prepare for next week.

    • You mean dreading that it will be applied today? Yes, I do. Looking at the photos taken from the team cars accompanying the race it should most probably be applied, shouldn’t it? Let’s see if this turns into a snowball fight later on.

      • Depends how it’s applied.
        If the road is covered in snow, fair enough (as is the change they’ve made so far).
        If, however, it’s applied without there being snow on the road then we’d know that the races don’t happen in cold weather anymore.
        The stage of T-A was cancelled without taking account of the conditions *on the day*. Let’s hope this is decided by necessity.

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