If it’s not over until the fat lady sings, then here’s La Doyenne to chant the end of the spring classics season.
With Tadej Pogačar a late non-starter, there’s contest between Julian Alaphilippe and Wout van Aert and several other contenders.
The Route: a starts, then south to Bastogne and back to Liège. It’s the return leg that’s longer as the route twists and turns through the Ardennes hills. The 2022 edition is almost identical to last year’s race and similar to 2019 and 2020 too. There’s 4,000m of vertical gain, equivalent to a Tour de France mountain stage.
La Redoute is still the big climb of the day but the times when it was the launchpad to victory are long gone, it’s still 35km from the finish. Instead look to see who is floating over, which teams have numbers over the top and other tactical points. The road goes over the plateau and along to the climb to Forges.
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 Boncelles 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 and where the winning move often forms. You can see this second part of the climb on the profile below.
The Finish: it’s hard to close any gaps over the top of the climb and down the tricky descent into Liège but the flat roads in the finish can allow chasers to get back into the mix. The final kilometres are flat beside the river Meuse.
Tadej Pogačar is a late non-starter which blows the predictions of bloggers and rivals alike out of the water. Without him among the attackers on the final climb there might now be more space for others. His absence leaves a strong UAE team drafting in Brandon McNulty and Marc Hirschi as their best bet for the day although with more options like Diego Ulissi.
Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step) has made this the target of his spring campaign and when he takes aim at something he rarely misses. However he’s had illness and crashes to cope with and visibly hasn’t been in sizzling form: he’s good but there are doubts. If he can get to the finish he’s got a tidy sprint. Remco Evenepoel is a contender and a local too and should try in his all-or-nothing style, he could launch a raid after La Redoute. Mauri Vansevant, he of the pecking chicken pedalling style, gives the team an extra option too.
Can Wout van Aert get over the Roche-aux-Faucons climb with the best? He’ll want to stay in contact so he can clean up in the sprint, everyone one else will make a point of ensuring he’s ejected. His racing calendar’s had its interruptions but he was arguably the strongest in Paris-Roubaix last weekend and at his best he can float over the climbs. Tiesj Benoot is ill
very versatile but will be a bodyguard for van Aert or fired up the road? Jonas Vingegaard ought to be another contender but was dropped early in Wednesday’s Flèche.
Bahrain come with a very strong team led by Flèche Wallonne winner Dylan Teuns but Jack Haig, previous winner Wout Poels, Mikel Landa and Matej Mohorič can all stir things up too and for Teuns to have a chance they all need to make the race as hard as possible so that Alaphilippe is cooked and van Aert is distanced. Mohorič can try another breakaway but this time he risks losing a lot of time on each climb. Update Saturday 3.00pm: Damiano Caruso is added to the team and given his form from Sicilia, an contender too.
Ineos’s best rider in Flèche Wallonne was Dani Martinez with his fifth place. But how to win Liège? He’s more of a diesel suited to a slug-fest summit finish. Michał Kwiatkowski has the better sprinting skills if he can get to Liège in a position to use them and since he’s looking sharper this spring, he’s one to watch. Tom Pidcock is having a volatile spring, one minute a contender and the next being dropped early. Carlos Rodriguez is on the up and Geraint Thomas is showing form and could round out his palmarès but is more of a team captain style rider these days.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) came close to winning the Flèche Wallonne so the form is there. He rode the perfect climb of the Mur de Huy thanks to experience but coping with multiple climbs and the big attacks later on is going to be harder. Enric Mas is going very well but an infrequent winner at best, he’s never won a one day race.
Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe) was an impressive third in the Flèche Wallonnne given it was his first go at the Mur de Huy. But how to win here?
Søren Kragh Andersen has been targetting the Ardennes races and so far no big results. He’s always a danger rider but where can he sneak away just when others sit up for a breather? Romain Bardet has had four top-10s in this race and isn great shape from the Tour of the Alps where he’s showing some good sprinting but how to win here outright?
Benoît Cosnefroy (Ag2r Citroën) a strong rider but firmly a puncheur more than a grimpeur and this course is at the upper end of his abilities. Michael Woods (Israel) knows how to race this course well, his problem is the flat finish and being smoked in the sprint. Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ) impressed in the Ronde and can stay in the mix late into the race. Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) can make the top-10 but how to win? Michael Matthews (BikeExchange) has been fourth here but the irony of the “new” flat finish in Liège is that the Roche-aux-Faucons has become the launchpad to victory and it’s likely too steep for him. Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic) is having a good spring and in top form this race is within his reach but beating the names cited above is a big ask.
|Wout van Aert|
|Alejandro Valverde, Dylan Teuns, Kwiatkowski|
|Evenepoel, Hirschi, Martinez, Bardet, Pidock,
|Caruso, Mohorič, Vlasov, Woods, SKA, Barguil|
Weather: cloudy for the most part with the chance of a rain shower, a top temperature of 16°C and a north-easterly wind meaning a bit of a headwind from Bastogne onwards that turns into a crosswind for much of the roads from the Col du Rosier onwards.
TV: the race starts at 10.15am CEST with TV coverage from 1.30pm. It’s on RTBF for locals and VPN users, otherwise the same channel you watch the Tour de France on and/or Eurosport-GCN. La Redoute is soon after 4.00pm The finish is around 5.00pm.
Women’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège: the race starts at 8.30am and the finish is due around 12.30pm CEST, head over to Pro Cycling UK for a good preview.