Liège-Bastogne-Liège Preview

Pogačar. Need you read more? This blog doesn’t sell clicks so that’s up to you but he’s not invincible and the prospect of the best rider in the world right now versus the world champion this Sunday is enticing.

Also this year’s route has an added “hidden” climb, plus there’s all the usual information like weather and the TV timings below too.

The Course: 258km from Liège to Bastogne and back with more than 4,000 vertical metres, as much as an Alpine stage of the Tour de France. There’s plenty that’s familiar on the course but this year’s edition has some subtle differences and one might be crucial.

The early phase is the ride south to Bastogne but this year’s route heads for more hills than last, nothing savage to split the field, just added vertical gain. It means the first marked climb of La Roche-en-Ardenne is approached via a descent rather than the flat as normal.

The route becomes familiar with the unrelenting procession of climbs it’s one every few kilometres. Most of these are 1-2km at 10% but they’re irregular and make riders pay for being in a bad position. This in turn makes the descents risky, most are not too technical but riders jostle for position ahead of the next climb making for little recovery time.

The big difference this year is La Redoute which keeps the same approach and the steep open climb as usual, 2km at close to 9%. But unlike past years were there was a left turn at the top, a false flat – where Evenepoel launched last year – and the descent to Sprimont, now the race turns right. It goes over to Hotchamps and there’s more climbing, 1km at 5.5% with a middle section at 7%. If you’re familiar with the later climb of the Roche-aux-Faucons, it’s a similar thing with the marked ascent that’s chased with a “hidden” climb and this could be the place to do plenty of damage. Then comes an exposed section and then comes the Côte des Forges, added back this year, a steady on a wide road but more vertical gain and then a fast descent to the Ourthe valley.

The Côte de La Roche-aux-Faucons is next, it’s not a classic climb, first used 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 this second section is 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 and those beaten can’t or won’t chase. You can see this second part of the climb on the profile below. As the final climb it’s the make-or-break moment for many.

The Finish: it’s hard to close any gaps over the top of the climb and down the tricky descent into Liège, arguably the most scenic way to town as the woodland avoids views of the dilapidated steel works. The comes the flat quay road beside the river Meuse.

The Contenders

Tadej Pogačar (UAE) fits the bill. He’s good on the climbs, he’s got a fast sprint to win from a group and his team are looking increasingly effective. Of course the kicker is that he’s on a level above the rest, not invincible but almost this season. He’s still in form with this as his last race before a long break so it’s all in for the Ardennes triplé. When Mattias Skjelmose and Mikel Landa finished the Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday neither was seen theatrically banging their handlebars in frustration, they knew their podium spots were as good as it gets. In turn Pogačar’s victory on Wednesday sets things up for Sunday because while he could have tried a long range attack there, he let his team do the work instead so he’s relatively fresher for Sunday.

The rest
It’s not easy for the field to beat Pogačar to put it mildly, the course suits him and each time you think of a world class contender the next thought is he’d roll them in the sprint. So how to beat him? Either move before he does, anticiper, or just fire some team mates forward to fatigue his team so he’s not sitting in a Sedan chair all the way to the foot of the Roche-aux-Faucons. Also if he attacks early then don’t collaborate with him; in last week’s Amstel some riders in the breakaway with 80km to go were pulling on the front like pallbearers at their own funeral, although this work was also giving them an option on the podium, a top-10 or just a sackload of UCI points.

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Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-Quick-Step) is said to be flying at the moment and if he’s stopped posting his training rides on Strava, the word is he’s been rustling climbing records on Teide. So far so good but how to win on home roads? He went solo last year with a searing attack over the top of La Redoute but will be marked closely this time. If he’s away in a group his chances of winning are going to be reduced, even his boss Patrick Lefevere was critical of the way he lost the Volta a Catalunya last month, “erreurs de jeunesse” he said. Still there’s a lot of power under the hood and the finish line is nothing technical. Julian Alaphilippe starts but the question is whether he finishes. He’s over injuries and illness but brings experience having almost won twice so knows the race well which is an asset for Evenepoel, but third time lucky? It will be if he’s still there but he does have a good sprint.

Tom Pidcock (Ineos) doesn’t have the win rate but he’s knocking on the door of superstar status in the sport. He’s been playing catch-up this spring since crashing out of Tirreno-Adriatico but things seem to be coming together. Tired in the Flèche, if he’s recovered he’ll find a course to suit including some descents where he can take time and pressure rivals. If there’s a sprint remember he’s pushed the likes of Wout van Aert to a photofinish in the Amstel before.

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EF Education-Easypost have the spring revelation in Ben Healy and he’s a form pick but in L’Equipe today he says he is “nul au sprint” and regardless of the exact adjective he used in English during the interview, he’ll want to arrive solo but easier said than done. Neilson Powless and Esteban Chaves give them more depth and it’ll be interesting to see their plan.

Trek-Segafredo bring an interesting team with Mathias Skjelmose, Giulio Ciccone and Bauke Mollema. Do they sit tight and hope for the first two to give them a numerical advantage later as they’re clearly in form, or play riskier cards?

Jumbo-Visma aren’t the same force in the Ardennes but Tiesj Benoot and Attila Valter have a shot.

Quinten Hermans was on the podium last year but hasn’t looked as incisive this season for Alpecin-Deceuninck, Søren Kragh Andersen is always a good card to play.

Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-hansgrohe) wants to be a grand tour contender but can still be punchy on the climbs, but enough to go solo? That’s hard and he’s not an obvious sprinter. Andreas Kron (Lotto-Dstny) is a strong rider but an infrequent winner but the form is there for a top-5, Maxim Van Gils keeps getting solid results too. Romain Bardet (DSM) looked lively on the Mur de Huy and if anyone can launch a move on the climb, he had the staying power to finish in the top-10 and Liège is a race he’s enjoyed over the years. Mikel Landa (Bahrain) is having a good season so far but converting visibility into a one-day Monument win is another. Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ) is versatile but will probably find his climbing limit here, likewise Matej Mohorič (Bahrain).

Tadej Pogačar
Tom Pidcock
Remco Evenepoel
Skjelmose, Benoot, Mas, Powless, Healy
Kron, Bardet, Valter, Ciccone, Lutsenko

Weather: mostly cloudy and with rain showers, a top temperature of 15°C. A pesky wind of about 20-30km/h from the south is forecast meaning a tailwind for the return but as the route snakes around the countryside it’ll mean parts of the course are exposed to crosswinds, especially atop the climbs.

TV: host channel RTBF lists coverage of “Liège-Bastogne-Liège à bicyclette” from 10.55am CEST and the men’s race live video should begin around 1.00pm on Eurosport/GCN or the channel you watch the Tour de France on. The series of climbs begins around 2.30pm, tune in from here on to see if Pogačar attacks from afar… although it’s more likely he lets his team soften up the field first. The finish is forecast for 4.55pm CEST.

Women’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège: Demi Vollering can do the Ardennes triplé before Pogačar and SD Worx have a stranglehold over the spring classics. The race starts at 8.30am and finishes at 12.30pm CEST. As you’ve probably worked out by now, does a knowledgeable preview of women’s races so click here for Liège.

48 thoughts on “Liège-Bastogne-Liège Preview”

  1. Thanks for the preview.
    All depends on how much Pogacar has left in the tank – he’s been on top form since February. Evenepoel has the heavy task of carrying the hopes of Belgium, but a defeat to Pogacar would not be a disaster.

  2. Tough to see past Pogacar or Evenepoel for this one. Pidcock could certainly win this race in the future, but he seems a bit off his best over the past few weeks. I like the Trek duo of Sjkelmose and Ciccone as dark horses if one of them goes up the road early.

    Counting the chickens before they are hatched, but if Pogacar does do the Ardennes treble+Flanders+P-N combo, where would that rank in the list of all-time greatest Spring campaigns? I feel that Sean Kelly or Mercxx have had similar type Springs, but any others that come to mind?

    • The comparisons to Merckx keep coming as he didn’t just win a lot of races, he won them often in the same year. The Ardennes triple is more a modern thing with the Amstel-Flèche-Liège and Gilbert and Rebellin won this in the same year each; Gilbert took the Brabantse Pijl in the same season too for the “Ardennes” grand slam.

    • Kelly never won Flanders believe it or not, that was the won monument he never got although he won the others on multiple occasions.

      • Yes and not just the one Monument that got away but the one big race he was capable of winning that he didn’t get. Reading books from the time in the late 80s/early 90s it’s striking how races like Paris-Tours on Kelly’s palmarès are held up as part of his triumphs, it’s more along the lines of “he won 19 out of 20 great races” more than “he missed one of the five”.

  3. Likening the giving of a turn to Pogacar to being a pall-bearer at your own funeral. Funny and true. I guess the calculation is whether to help and get dropped later, or just get dropped. Nobody remembers second place.

  4. It surprises me that you see Pidcock as more of a favorite than Remco. I just don’t see anyone other than Remco or Pog winning.

    Also, just a small correction, Julian Alaphilippe has been runner-up multiple times, but never won the race.

    I’ve enjoyed the previews for all the big races this Spring, thanks!

    • Pidcock seems in form and can also sprint well, he’s got more routes to the win than Evenepoel although as we keep seeing with Evenepoel, give him ten metres and he’s gone.

      Fixed Alaphilippe’s win, could see him winning in my mind’s eye but famously he was disqualified soon after. I didn’t add it above but from a piece in L’Equipe today he’s starting this Sunday but all this thoughts now are on the Tour de France and delivering here.

      • Alaphilippe did not cross the line first, Roglic pipped him. He was disqualified from 2nd place. I guess this is what jypyter89 meant.

      • I’ve been suspecting all year that Juju’s main goal this year is le Tour. If he can deliver a good performance there it could mean both a kind adieu to Quickstep and a guarantee for nice long term deal with TotalEnergies (although that is probably being negotiatied right now rather than in july/august). The TdF parocurs fits him and this will probably the last year Remco is not going for yellow in l’Hexagone so perfect setting for some of that old Juju magique.

    • I saw that too, I know the chainrings are pretty subjective but it is an interesting view. I suppose we have evidence of Tom Piddcock’s form but Remco Evenepoel has not been seen recently beyond rumours of training runs up the volcano.

  5. It’s going to be very interesting tactically to see if it plays like RVV with action from the second tier favorites a big way out. That’s showing ambition to win not just top 10. There’s also the Remco factor who poses a different challenge who will take any half chances on offer

  6. “pulling on the front like pallbearers at their own funeral”…exactly right! It is hard to watch sometimes, guys who spent years being the fastest sometimes struggle to see that they are more than outclassed by a dude like Pogacar and need to ride that way.

    I’m so pleasantly surprised by EF this year, its so hard to see beyond Pog and Remco but if you can, I would love to see an EF underdog win and they might be under the radar enough for a group to let them go–unless the “pallbearers” carry help Pog chase them down.

      • Sincere thanks Inrng for yet another comprehensive and entertaining big race review. I know they’re what you do but races for me just aren’t quite the same without them.

        EF is certainly an interesting and developing prospect and a team capable of achieving top results when not quite expected – Bettiol at Flanders and Powless at Sam Sebastian among others. I thought I’d seen Carapaz in an earlier start list but he’s not there now which is one less solid option for them, even if he’s yet to return to Olympic form.

        Hard to disagree with most picks although I can’t see Pidcock stepping up to win such a hard and especially long race off recent form and challenged buildup.

        The two riders I’d see with a little more chance are Lutsenko and Mohoric, either have slim chance of getting past Pogacar and Evenepoel but neither would be a complete shock as an outside winner.

  7. It should be a good race as always. There is plenty of onus on all the teams but two to get up the road.
    What is becoming increasingly clear in the personality and humility stakes is that Pogacar is the clear winner.
    The real finishing sprint winner is simply too hard to predict.

  8. Pid is 25/1 in the UK betting, same as Alaphilippe, which seems like value to me. (Pog, evens, Remco, 13/8). Pogacar will likely win, but after his magnificent sinking of The Pint, he deserves all the respect in the world anyway.

  9. For the sport I’d love to see Pog take the Ardennes triple. It’s a rare feat and I’d like to witness it, having enjoyed Phil Gil’s quadruple over a decade ago.

    But …. this isn’t a done deal. The field is super strong and maybe has more places to be crafty than previous races.

    I never thought Pog would win MSR as the climbs just don’t suit. Flanders / Amstel / Fleche all had an air of inevitability and he duly delivered.

    I want to see it again on Sunday, but something tells me it’s not going to happen.

    • Definitely not a done deal. But not much more than a year ago, people were saying Pog can’t win Flanders or PR. Those are all about W, not W/kg, and he’s just too small. Now nobody would be surprised to see him win PR. Also, MSR favors the heavy hitters least because it’s not selective enough, but this year the top 4 included the Big 3 (+ Ganna), so it’s not totally unselective and maybe his chances will get better. It would not be surprising to see him get stronger for 2-3 more years.

      For LBL, I’m thinking everyone besides UAE and SQS will try to anticipate, like RVV. See if Pog and Remco can run down an elite breakaway group. If they make that group (like Amstel) it’s hard to see anyone else with a chance. Unless Pog runs out of gas after what has been an incredible Classics season and Remco’s training form doesn’t immediately transfer to race form.

  10. Pogacar must be a bit drained but as Evenepoel is 100% certain to attack I think Pogacar’s game will be to cover him. I have no idea who would win the sprint in that scenario.

  11. Pidcock can follow both Remco and Pogacar attacks and probably beat them both in a sprint, but I think the concussion derailed his spring, these guys need a clean run through the training and racing to stay in the game nowadays, just 1% off and thats enough.

    How about Gaudu? We’ve seen him hang onto Pogacar before and he does possess a little sprint, outsider for the podium I think.

    • Gaudu has been ill. Hard to see him coming back so soon for >250km.

      For the big three:
      Evenepoel has raw power and (over) confidence galore but little in the way of strategy or technique
      Pidcock has the technique but lacks the raw power and maybe stamina too
      Pogacar has the lot but Pidcock could maybe be able to open a gap on a rechnical descent


    • ‘Pidcock can follow both Remco and Pogacar attacks’

      That sounds wildly overly optimistic to me and probably everyone who isn’t either employed by Ineos Grenadiers or a close relative of the Pidcock family.

      Pogacar for another easy win for me.

      • Yes, on current form, I don’t think Pidcock can stay with Pogacar – couldn’t in Amstel and said he felt tired at Fleche and was nowhere near at the finish. And I think Pogacar can stay with Evenepoel on any terrain.
        The only possibility for others is to get strong riders up front without Pogacar and for the other teams to work together against him.

    • Big Pidcock fan but he seems that bit off the pace of the podium despite his good results. Ben Healy rode away from him at Amstel and he only just held on for third. Meanwhile Pog was already sipping an Amstel in the doping control.

      I’m hoping the other teams will wise up and realise they need to ‘do something’ to stop Pog, hopefully leading to some creative tactics and an open race.

    • Pidcock’s Spring included Strade, DDV, Flanders, Amstel, Fleche, and now LBL. I think expecting a 23 yr old to maintain a high level of consistency throughout is asking a bit much. Pog’s having an extraordinary run of form, of course, but 1) he’s a year older, and 2) he’s a freak. Statistically, Pidcock has plenty of time and should be even better next year (unfortunately for him, so should Pog)

  12. I feel it will be a two horse race between Tadej and Remco! Shame Pidcock and Alaphilippe were not in the same blazing form, what a prospect that would have been.

  13. If Jumbo would have their A-team lined up here, with WvA, Roglic and Vingegaard it might have given some interesting racing. As it is now, I find it hard to see anyone else than Pog or Evenepoel for the win.
    I am hoping for a RVV scenario with a large group of podium contenders going very early and a long chase.

  14. No Ulissi for UAE at L.B.L. which might change the team’s team plan. He did a good lead out job at F.W. and is an experienced rider.
    If many teams go for being in the break, then I suspect the first 100 km will go by fast.

  15. Remco needs to do a blistering attack when TP is distracted or not quite near the front, during a 90 degree turn?
    How ever Remco or TP attack no body will chase much, giving up quick for 3rd. Teams dont seem to work together much anymore to chase down a break, makes a race dull.

    • Personally I don’t see that scenario as giving up for third. I still believe most teams try to win with their strongest rider and helping Pogacar chase Evenepoel or vice versa doesn’t necessarily help that – better to let/force/cajole UAE to chase Evenepoel so they in turn can attack an isolated Pogacar later. That, at least, is a theory – unfortunately what’s good in theory becomes harder to execute the longer the race goes on…

      Of itself I don’t find teams not chasing boring, as long as that’s part of a strategy to win or at least contend. Far more boring according to my opinion is watching a rider or team so dominant that the importance of tactics and strategy are diminished…

      To me there’s little as boring as a rider who can win without team support or any real tactics. May as well watch a time trial then.

  16. ASO showing their disrespect for the women once more. 😞

    An 8:35 race start means that the women have to get up around 5h (or not much later) in the morning if they want to respect a normal pre-race feeding schedule…

    • It is a deliberate choice? Maybr not, could be down to broadcast schedules or policing availability as well.

      Remember it wasn’t long ago the organisers were blasted for not having TV coverage of Liège and Flèche Wallonne, as if they’d deliberately run races at their expense without the valuable media coverage. It was down to the local broadcaster RTBF who owned the TV production rights to the race and they said “non” because of limited resources. But a new deal and a state broadcaster, whose directors are local politicians, didn’t want to be seen as showing the men and not the women and so now it’s on TV.

      • Remember ASO too had to be strongarmed by public opinion and (as a result) sponsors into doing women’s races years after many other organisers already had them. And I’m sure there are others who’d be happy to help RTBF out when it comes to “resources”. Most of the production is done by people from an external company & independent subcontractors anyway, and it’s not like the equipment/personnel isn’t available in Belgium or France, as (again) others are perfectly capable of doing this…

        Also, I know that some minor (men’s & women’s) races in Flanders pay for (part of) TV production themselves, because (even for these small races!) the extra sponsoring money you get for a race that is on TV is a significantly higher amount than the cost of paying for the coverage. So not providing a broadcast from the start seems like it was always wrong from an economic PoV?

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