Liège-Bastogne-Liège Preview

La Doyenne gets a facelift with the oldest race on the calendar getting a new finish, gone is up the uphill finish in Ans and now there’s a flat finish in downtown Liège.

The Route

256km, almost 4,000m of vertical gain and a return to tradition. It’s just over 100km to Bastogne and then the return features the classic trilogy of Wanne-Stockeu-Haute Levée, in place of the triptych of climbs leading to the Ferme Libert. The Col du Rosier is the high point of the race and adds to the fatigue.

La Redoute, once the strategic rendez-vous, is a very awkward road to ride with a gradient that keeps changing. It’s the Walloon version of the Koppenberg or Kapelmuur, painted with PHIL, PHIL, PHIL – freshly painted – in tribute to local hero Philippe Gilbert but with a twist as a Japanese chef living nearby has refreshed the PHIL, PHIL, PHIL over 300 times and added “ジルベール” or Gilbert in kana.

The Côte de La Roche-aux-Faucons is next, it’s not a classic climb only appearing in 2008 but very selective. Listed as 1.5km at 10%, this is hard enough but after a brief descent of a few seconds it starts rising again to the village of Gonhis and it’s 1.6km long with a gradient of 5.5% which isn’t steep but with all the climbing before, both cumulatively in the day and the sharp effort just before, it’s a difficult moment.

The Finish:

Gone is the Côte de Saint Nicolas, leaving the guy with the eccentric fashion tastes (kilt, fur coat) to find another place. Instead they race into Liège and the descent features a couple of sharp corners but the riders will all have ridden it by now. The idea is to mix up the race, to change the script but it’s also a tale of Walloon machine politics with the mayor of Ans being a kingmaker in the world of Belgian socialism and so he was long able to keep the race in his fiefdom.

The Contenders

Julian Alaphilippe is the obvious pick given his recent results, he can jump away on the climbs and he can win a sprint from a group. His problem is being the certain pick for an uncertain scenario, the new finish means nobody knows how the race will play out, it’s not as predictable as Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne. Deceuninck-Quickstep will try to set things up for Alapahilippe to reach Liège with a small group but easier said than done. Philippe Gilbert was off the radar in the Amstel but was the last Quickstepper left once Alaphilippe was up the road and Enric Mas looked strong in the Flèche Wallonne.

Jacob Fuglsang is having his best spring ever but still not winning races. So what to do? Perhaps he could have outsprinted Alaphilippe last week as the Frenchman was grimacing and cramping, so the harder the race the better and Astana bring a very strong team with several riders able to act as meat tenderisers to soften the legs of everyone else. Alexey Lutsenko plus Ion and Gorka Izagirre bring more options.

Michał Kwiatkowski is made for a race like this with the sharp climbs and then the finish in Liège suits him even more. It’s the last outing for Team Sky before the squad’s great future in plastics under the Ineos label. Tao Geoghegan Hart enjoyed two stage wins in the Tour of the Alps showing a handy sprint while Wout Poels has come out of the same altitude training camps and ought to feature but has been quiet so far in the classics.

Fifth in the Amstel, fifth in the Flèche, Max Schachmann is likely to place again. Bora-Hansgrohe bring a strong squad with Davide Formolo and Patrick Konrad in support.

Alejandro Valverde was 11th on the Mur de Huy, an unusual result for but the story of his spring so far. Bad luck, age, the “curse” of the rainbow jersey (also known as commercial obligations/cashing in on the title) or other changes this season. Either way he’s not been a factor in the classics this month. Still he’s not ruled out and Movistar’s Carlos Verona looks strong too.

Bjorg Lambrecht hit the headlines after fourth place on Wednesday. Another 50km today make this a different race but the Lotto-Soudal neo-pro coped fine in the Amstel too where sixth place was his worst performance so far in the “Ardennes” races. Tim Wellens and Jelle Vanendert should feature as well.

Dan Martin was a pick for the Flèche Wallonne but had a jour sans, we’ll see if this extends to a semaine sans and if he’s thrived in this race before he’s now less of a reassuring pick. Diego Ulissi still got third in Huy.

EF Education First’s Simon Clarke is quietly assuming the role of freshly retired Simon Gerrans, a rider who doesn’t, and proabably can’t, make flamboyant attacks but instead saves their energy while others are busy wasting theres. Useful on the climbs and with a good finish, Clarke’s an outsider on a team with options like Michael Woods and Alberto Bettiol.

Michelton-Scott are another team who won’t stir up the race but will try to set up Daryl Impey and Michael Albasini for a sprint with the latter a regular dark horse for Liège but he’s 38 now, while Adam Yates leads but he must be sore after a hard crash on Wednesday.

Vincenzo Nibali widens the cast of characters we’ve seen so far in the “Ardennes Week”. Active in the recent Tour of the Alps, Liège has been a sore point for the Italian who almost won in 2012 and this is a race to add to his palmarès. Dylan Teuns brings another option but Bahrain-Merida are struggling so far this season, just one win to their name.

The flat finish suits Michael Matthews, it’s getting there that is the hard part. Team Sunweb also bring Tom Dumoulin, a rare glimpse of him before the Giro and he’s been aggressive in the Ardennes before.

Romain Bardet has been chasing this race for ages and made the podium a year ago but without the uphill finish things are harder now. Ag2r La Mondiale team mate Benoît Cosnefroy is quietly impressing in one day races too.

Greg Van Avermaet (CCC) has made the top-10 in this race before and that was with the uphill finish into Ans so in theory his chances are better here. Only he’s seemed on a downward glide ever since the Omloop.

Among the wildcard invitations Lilian Calmejane (Total Direct Energie) is a long shot but suited to hard racing and coming into form.

Julian Alaphilippe
Michał Kwiatkowski, Jacob Fuglsang
Max Schachmann, Philippe Gilbert, Michael Matthews, Simon Clarke
Alejandro Valverde, Vincenzo Nibali, Bjorg Lambrecht
Yates, Dumoulin, Woods, Impey, Bettiol, Bardet, Wellens, Ulissi, GVA, D Martin, Calmejane, Formolo

Weather: a cold and damp day. A top temperature of 12°C and frequent rain showers and a light tailwind on the return leg of 10-15km/h.

TV: coverage starts at 2.00pm CEST and the finish is forecast for 4.50pm. It’s an ASO race so look for it on the same channel you watched Paris-Roubaix or the Tour de France and local coverage is by RTBF.

Women’s Race: it starts in Bastogne at 10.35am and finishes at 2.30pm CEST and shares the same final 40km as the men’s race. If you can share a good preview add it to the comments below and I’ll link to it here.

33 thoughts on “Liège-Bastogne-Liège Preview”

    • Thanks, there’s a good run through the contenders but the preview doesn’t tell us when the race starts or finishes and only touches on the course quickly. A pity it’s not on TV but the piece says ASO have chosen not to put it on TV which is odd as you’d think a race owner would love to have it on TV. When I looked at this before 2-3 years ago, it’s not the race doesn’t produce the TV, instead the problem was down to the host broadcaster RTBF who didn’t have the budget to cover two races together.

      • Thijs Zonneveld wrote a piece in Dutch newspaper AD in which he called ASO a brake on women’s cycling, as they do put very little effort in it. I tend to agree… They could be a very big factor in pulling women’s cycling to equality with the men, but they seem to choose not to. It’s a pity, as they were on the right track with La Course, but the follow up on that seems quite hollow.

        For anyone interested: Here is the course. Looks like it’s B-L for the women, not L-B-L.

        • Equality is different to equity. I agree that more efforts must be made to give women the same OPPORTUNITIES as men in road cycling such as equivalent races and race coverage. However, at the end of the day that does not guarantee equal OUTCOME. Pro Cycling is a business and for the moment it seems that fans perhaps – though not necessarily – aren’t as interested in women’s cycling meaning sponsors are less likely to enter. Football players earn more than cyclists because it is more popular as a business because of the popularity of football; the difference in pay, sponsors and coverage between men’s and women’s cycling is likely – again, not necessarily- because people want to watch the highest quality sport available. This is exactly why I watch all the monuments and the grand tours but only bits and pieces of the week long stage races and classics/semi-classics. I want yo watch the best fastest riders race each other.

          • ” the difference in pay, sponsors and coverage between men’s and women’s cycling is likely – again, not necessarily- because people want to watch the highest quality sport available. ”

            This idea of women’s sport ‘likely’ not being viewed as the highest quality, is exactly what’s holding it back.

            Have you watched any Women’s racing? Have you seen the amount of spectators of the Amstel women’s race? Have you seen the CX and MTB world cups, that consistently offered better racing than the men (and therefore attract more and more viewers, almost on par with the men)? Do you think anyone noticed Niewiadoma and Van Vleuten rode 3-4 kms/hr slower in the last straight line of Amstel than the men? It’s being on the edge of your seat that counts.

          • I don’t think you understood the point I was trying to make. I’m not saying that the women are bad at what they do; clearly they are are all very well trained and performing at their peak physical potential, just like the men. What I’m saying is there’s an aspirational aspect to watching sport too. Using the football analogy again, sure I could watch the Europa league, Europe’s 2nd tier of football; the matches will be exciting and the quality very high. However, when you are aware that there is a parallel competition running with higher quality, there’s only going to be one winner – The Champions League. Watching professional sport is not just about the entertainment, it’s about the awe-inspiring feats on-display. In this respect, this is why I enjoy watching women’s gymnastics, tennis, badminton etc just as much as the men’s: these are largely skill-based sports where the skill on display is as impressive or more so than the physical feats.

          • Wow, it’s just incredible that somebody still believes that “same opportunities” can be given to any group without substantially changing the social context.

            To start with, some women races, when properly broadcast, have already reached audience results comparable to men’s. Yet, that didn’t grant more sponsorship nor better broadcast, which were mainly obtained through activism or social pressure towards equality (which, among human groups, is pretty much the same as equity and the other way around).
            People in universities are studying this sort of things and keeping track of the TV figures, which is a little more trustworthy that generalising one guy’s personal experience or idea of cycling.

            By the way, you’ll probably see the best and fastest riders racing each other in some one day races or week-long stage races rather than in GTs or Monuments… so, it’s not just that factor.

        • I agreed with the sentiment of what Thijs was trying to say but like I say above it seems to be RTBF not ASO who struggle with the TV coverage. If only Sporza/Een could cross the frontier and make it happen.

          • I always like to reference the ‘boatrace’. A slightly odd phenomenon in the UK (between two old universities). The men’s race has always been a TV staple on the BBC. The women’s race wasn’t even on same course and never on TV. Then a new sponsor (with female CEO) came on board, one meeting with the powers that be, ultimatum of both live on prime time, same course or no money for anybody!! Sponsor got their way! Now you can’t remember why they always weren’t both shown.

          • Sporza to cross the linguistic boarder? This is unthinkable in belgium to have a flewish tv doing the wallony stuffs, and vice versa.
            Now I am not surprised about the fact rtbf claims they have no budget for women races. Some years ago during a world cup football, a watcher asked to put the score board on screen all game long (as all other broadcaster did at that time already). They just answered that this was technically complicated and that would require a significant budget effort.
            Now the rtbf got better in the last years, but it should not be forgotten that wallony is not the same of Flanders (in terms of cycling culture, total population and overall prosperity).

        • The boat race is much shorter and on the same fixed course and, from what you’ve said, has a single amin sponsor. The costs to run both races are negligible and there’s just one sponsor that has to agree to cover the additional cost. This isn’t the case for cycling so the example is a bit “apples and oranges” I’m afraid.

          It is a catch 22. Without visibility through media the sponsors don’t want to get involved and without sponsors you can’t pay for the media.

          • I know that the specifics are different. The point I wanted make was that every body said it couldn’t be done (issues about tides, women’s ability, the extra TV time) and had been making those excuses for years. All those so called impossible hills were suddenly overcome when just 1 person in a position of some power put their foot down. If there was a will to change things they could be.

        • Women’s cycling seems to lag in Belgium as a whole. I get the feeling this is because of Belgium’s great cycling tradition, which sometimes stands in the way of progress. The same reason Engeland was slow to pick up on women’s football.

  1. Wonder whether the under the radar rider is GVA? This course looks well suited to him, he can sprint from a small group and he’s been thereabouts in most one day races. He does seem to lack that edge of a few years ago though.

  2. What about Mohoric, can he take a late flyer and win on this course? He hasn’t performed so well at LBL in past years but perhaps he was working for others, I don’t recall. Maybe he’s not quite explosive enough to win it

    • He’s a good rider but seems to be launching attacks from too far out, as if he knows he’s not going to win but is softening up the race for team mates etc. But some day one of these attacks will stick.

  3. 46 x ‘Gilbert’ renditions by the Japanese chef.
    Wikipedia relates that 46 may be pronounced as “yon roku” and “yoroshiku” which means “my best regards” in Japanese and people sometimes use 46 for greeting.

    It would be rather nice if the above is true.

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