Liège-Bastogne-Liège Preview

Tadej Pogačar is the big favourite to win. What if the weather was harder to forecast? Cold, wet and wintry conditions are due for the run down to Liège with the chance of snow. If so then just last Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne this could change plenty and wardrobe choices and upcoming goals can weigh on the results as much as form.

The Route: 254.5km and 4,000m of vertical gain, as much as a mountain stage in a grand tour so if the y-axis doesn’t look severe it does add up by the end. The route isn’t identical to last year because the run to Bastogne is different but once the turn back is made the route is the same to the finish.

The route is familiar with the unrelenting procession of climbs where it’s one every few kilometres. Most of these are 1-2km at typically 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.

Last year saw novelty where La Redoute was chased by an extra unmarked climb. It’s back again. So we have the same approach to La Redoute 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 in 2023 – and the descent to Sprimont, here the race turns right. It goes over to Hotchamps and there’s more climbing, 1km at 5.5% with a middle section at 7%, this is where Evenepoel rode Tom Pidcock off his wheel. 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, first used in 2008 but very selective and now a staple. 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

Where will Tadej Pogačar attack? The simplest scenario is his UAE team set a tough pace on the climbs and then he picks his moment to launch and nobody can follow. La Redoute? The Roche-aux-Faucons? Victory isn’t inevitable – see last year where he crashed out and ruined his summer – but a triumph does feel like the most likely outcome, and by a long way. If anything the weather is a serious factor and for him and everyone else, a potential rival so he’s only a four-chaining pick below. He can outclimb riders and if anyone does arrive in Liège with him he can smoke them in a sprint. Marc Hirschi is in good form and can be a second card to play from a team that is strong but not intimidating.

Tom Pidcock (Ineos) was the second pick last year after Evenepoel and is as convincing today. He’s good on the punchy climbs, in form and we saw him win the Amstel thanks to his sprint. How to beat Pogačar though? He and Ineos can let UAE do the work all day and try to exploit this and hope for a crafty sprint. Egan Bernal as one to watch too.

Mathias Skjelmose (Lidl-Trek) was last seen shivering after quitting the Flèche Wallonne. Suitably defrosted he’s good for a course like this but faces tough conditions again. Even if he can float over the climbs, his sprint isn’t reassuring especially compared to some of the rivals he has got.

Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) has the sprint, it’s just being able to wield it for the win. Was the Amstel an off day? He says the batteries are recharged but 4,000m is a lot to ask, he can handle separate five minute uphill efforts but hauling his musculature as they say in French over the climbs will take its toll. Sixth here in the past suggests he can be close but to better this he’d need some way of neutralising attacks on the Roche-aux-Faucons and his team don’t look set to ride tempo this late into the finish. He’s a contender still and if he did win it’ll be fascinating to see how.

Flèche Wallonne winner Stephen Williams (IPT) made the Mur look easy, picking his moment and surging away. Liège is a different race but he’ll be in the mix and is aggressive.

Kévin Vauquelin (Arkéa-B&B Hotels) is having a good spring and was recently second in the Flèche Wallonne. He doesn’t have a podcast but think of him as a French Geraint Thomas, a time trial rider who can climb, a versatile no-nonsense rider to point in the direction of a finish line.

Continuing the podium from Huy brings us to Maxim Van Gils (Lotto-Dstny) who is the archetypal Ardennes rider and coped with the cold, he’s got a fast finish but would prefer an uphill sprint.

Tough conditions suit Tiesj Benoot (Visma-LAB) but as ever it’s hard for him to win a sprint, he’s apparently the rider without a win but the most World Tour top-10s since 2019, as in he can place but it’s hard to see him winning

Simon Yates (Jayco) has only ridden this twice and never shone, he’s had other goals but still this ought to suit. Team mate Filippo Zana is coming into form for the Giro and makes his debut.

Bahrain fly in from a strong Tour of the Alps with past winner – in the snow – Wout Poels but he won in the uphill finish, the flat finish isn’t as ideal. Santiago Buitrago and Antonio Tiberi join, with Buitrago a podium finisher last year.

Ben Healy was a revelation a year ago; he was a worker a week ago when pulling what was left in the peloton for his EF team. Likewise Richard Carapaz but both can play their own cards here and Healy especially is wildcard if he can get clear before others like Pogačar go.

David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) quit the Flèche Wallonne but normally handles cold conditions better, or perhaps he just doesn’t like the heat and while he’s worked at being a GC contender he’s suited to relatively shorter climbs like this, it’s helped on get on the podium here before. Romain Grégoire is worth watching too.

Romain Bardet (DSM Firmenich-PostNL) comes of a strong Tour of the Alps to a race that he’s thrived in but as ever his win rate is low so he can feature and has the experience – he’ll start for the tenth time tomorrow and has three top-10s – but a win would be a surprise.

Pidcock, Skjelmose, Williams, Hirschi, Healy
Gaudu, Carapaz, Vauquelin, Buitrago, Van Gils

Weather: updated Sunday morning – very cold with wet roads on the run to Bastogne and 4°C. The temperature will go up a couple of degrees on the way back but all this wintry weather is being delivered by a northerly wind. So the riders face a headwind of 25km/h for the return leg which could gust to 50km/h.

TV: host channel RTBF lists coverage of “Liège-Bastogne-Liège à bicyclette” from midday CEST and the men’s race live video should begin around 12.30pm on Eurosport or the channel you watch the Tour de France on. The series of climbs begins around 2.00pm, 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 4.30pm CEST.

Women’s Liège: it’s Bastogne to Liège and the novelty this year is the men’s race has been brought forward so the women can finish at 5.50pm CEST, a double bonus as they no longer have the early start in the cold and they should enjoy enhanced TV ratings. This blog’s preview is the Flèche Wallonne podium but with Vollering on the top step and for a more informed and fuller preview, click for ProCyclingUK’s version.

32 thoughts on “Liège-Bastogne-Liège Preview”

  1. It’s hard to know for Yates, invisible in Catalunya and DNF in the GP Indurain, but he surely can’t be there for the scenery. A top ten this year would be a surprise though at his best a podium could easily be possible. Which will it be?

    Will La Flèche finishers have recovered?

    • Amstel and Fleche were both won by British men resident in Andorra, like Yates, so maybe an unlikely hat-trick of Andorran British wins will occur. If the weather is at the worse end of predictions then anything could happen. Hopefully teams have learned their lesson from Wednesday and will be erring on the side of caution with start line clothing choices.

      • With Yates last two Monuments starts 86th in il Lombardia 2021 and 153rd in L-B-L 2017 a top result tonight would be a surprise.

        I see Pidcock as a much stronger favourite than Williams at this distance, although both of course well behind Pogacar.

        L-B-L being 90 minutes longer than la Flèche could mean a two-speed start to the race, with favourites wrapping up early and waiting for the return, while riders chasing the breakaway dressed down for a fast start on the less demanding outward journey. It’d be interesting to see the tactics around who chases an early break with 5-10 minutes at half way…

        With Pogacar such a strong favourite it could be entertaining to see MvdP test things early – if he wants a chance to win it won’t come by being alongside Pogacar into the last hour.

    • Agree — he seems to like colder weather. I haven’t watched him riding in really bad weather, though. Hoping all the riders are able to cope. Fleche Wallone was certainly memorable this year, but I hope there won’t be as many DNFs due to hypothermia at Liege.

      • The forecast has improved now it, it’ll still be very cold but the band of rain and snow is likely to run ahead of the race rather than on top of it and any snow won’t build up. So the peloton won’t be iced and we should get a more classic race. So he’s probably five chainrings now.

        This only makes it relatively easier however as 250km in 4°C means huge energy requirements and thoughts about where to get the food from, what to wear and so on.

  2. Most of Belgium’s housing stock resembles South Wales and Yorkshire so Pid the Kid and Stevie W are certain to be distracted by waving to imaginary relatives. It’s Pog for me, Pepper.

  3. Hypothermia is a pretty serious, potentially life-threatening condition. It’s hard to see how Skjelmose will have recovered sufficiently from Wednesday to warrant 2 rings. Given the forecast, I’d say he’s more likely a DNF.

    • It can be if it’s sustained but shaking is usually the first stage, it’s when you stop shivering and things start to feel warm that the problems build up. Anecdotally in the sport riders who get this – from maybe a grim day on the Giro – can find they recover quickly and even have enhanced energy reserves in the coming days. Anyway, hope he is ok now.

  4. Thanks for the preview!
    How many will finish? 44 at FW, so not a lot more today, I believe. Pogacar the big favourite, but UAE messed it up at FW but even sans team Pogacar should win.

  5. Thanks for the preview.
    POG is the standout pick and other then him i would say there is no clear 2nd fac. I’m not thinking any of the rest are strong enough to break away on strength alone.
    Rather is POG does not win then the winner will likely be someone strong enough to take advantage in tactics whilst everybody else blinks or in a sprint taking advantage of others lead-out. So a tactically victory by a rider strong enough or quick enough in a sprint to take advantage of others.
    If POG does breakaway to early then a dedicated group of next strongest riders swapping turns can chase him down. But more often than not the right group will not form or work together well enough to do this.

  6. Looking forward to today.
    Even if it’s a ride away there’s a lot of names in the favourite list that I’m excited to see how they fair.

  7. That reads like Pogocar wins if he stays on his bike?
    Snow in 30mph winds sounds painful on the face.
    And interesting that chocolat au lait is so much cheaper than chocolat belge, despite tasting so much better.

    • It’s hard to argue?

      We know he turn up at races from training camps and win by a distance – so any fear of not having racing legs seems unlikely.

      We’ve know he can drop anyone over a short distance climb like those at LBL and go solo – so again no fear that he lacks quality of either climbing or riding solo to win in that way.

      We also know re can attack repeatedly to drop any hangers on – so again he has another ace up his sleeve.

      And the final kicker we also know he’s an exceptional sprinter in these kind of races as third at MSR this year re-demonstrated – so he has every option to win.

      Best climber, best sprinter, probably strongest rider – it’s a full house.

      He also comes with a great team, and LBL is a race where it’s tougher to get up the road than in Roubaix or others so usually less tactical games aside from the final phase if riders and more evenly matched.

      The big story here is INRNG giving MVDP zero stars!!!!!!!!!!! I’m not disagreeing but it’s a controversial shout, probably the most I’ve ever seen from INRNG! I see the logic though, will be interesting to see what happens. For me the most interesting version of this race is a face off between POG/MVDP because if Mattieu does drop out and we end up with riders like Pidcock with Pog at 50km to go, I will have absolutely no faith they can or will genuinely challenge him for the win. But let’s see what happens!

      • apologies for terrible spelling errors. blame excitement.

        he turnS up at races… and CAN win by a distance
        We know he can drop anyone
        We also know He can
        tougher to get up the road than in Roubaix AND others, so usually
        aside from the final phase if riders ARE more

    • utterly brilliant from MVDP to stay calm and let the race come back together.

      I feel he’s always been strong at tactics (although always easier to be tactically good if you’re strong) but really impressive the way he rode after the crash and even in the finale to third. Different ride from his wins but really eye catching in a different way.

      Excellent from Bardet also, firmly expected him to be caught when he had only 9secs and knowing his an average time-trialist but no, fantastic result and a podium any rider would love to be on sandwiched between two all time greats.

      I’ve long felt Bardet’s be underrated, not necessarily his talent but his work ethic and intelligence of how he gathered this AG2R team around him during the late Froome era and maximised has results to be close to the most successful French rider of the last three decades despite being one of the least showy.

      AND Pog. What do you say? I was convinced he was going easy on La Redoute hoping someone would come with him but eventually saw he was solo and had to go alone – either way, he’s simply outrageous and a privilege to watch.

      Enjoyed today a lot.

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