On the eve of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, all eyes are set on Julian Alaphilippe. The Frenchman is the main favourite for victory on his maiden race with the rainbow jersey – even more so after Alejandro Valverde’s last-minute withdrawal.
There is a very long list of outsiders. Those who were up there already in Flèche Wallonne, such as Marc Hirschi, Benoît Cosnefroy, Michael Woods or Michal Kwiatkowski, are obvious names. And then there are those who have travelled to Belgium just for this event – such as Chris Froome, Primoz Roglic or Adam Yates.
A surprise, late addition to a startlist already packed with talent is Mathieu Van der Poel. Right after winning the BinckBank Tour this very Saturday, the Alpecin-Fenix team confirmed the Dutch rider will take part in La Doyenne.
The fourth edition of the Women’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège will be held hours before the men’s event, and pretty much on the same roads. Dutch duo Anna van der Breggen and Annemiek van Vleuten are the main favourites for victory on a race that will be broadcasted live across 190 countries.
WILL THE ROCHE-AUX-FAUCONS BE DECIDING AGAIN?
Last year, Liège-Bastogne-Liège went back to holding its finish line in the centre of the Ardennes city after 27 straight years ending with an uphill finish on its suburb Ans. Jakob Fuglsang took advantage of this set-up already in 2019, when he accelerated with 16 kilometres to go, up the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons, to later launch his winning attack at its small, follow-up hill, the Côte de Boncelles. “It’s the change we were hoping for,” says route designer Jean-Michel Monin. “In previous years, riders waited until the eleventh hour at the Côte de Saint-Nicolas, 5 kilometres from the finish, to try and break away. The Roche-aux-Faucons is the key climb now, and that forces the favourites to attack earlier and provides for a more exciting finale. This year we can picture an outcome similar to 2019, although I only see one guy capable of pulling out such exploit: that’s Julian Alaphilippe, and only if he is in the same shape he was in Imola. In any case, the 90 final kilometres are very demanding and we can expect a very reduced group to contend for victory in the closing stages of the race.”
ALAPHILIPPE’S RAINBOW SPELL TO BEGIN IN LIÈGE
Last Sunday, Julian Alaphilippe crowned himself UCI World Champion in Imola. Showcasing his recently attained rainbow jersey for the first time, the Deceuninck-Quick Step rider will try to finally net victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège after placing 2nd in 2015 and 4th in 2018. Given his current shape and his knowledge of the event, he will be the man to watch – a favourite role reinforced by the last-minute absence of four-time winner Alejandro Valverde. “I’m very happy to honour the rainbow jersey by wearing it for the first time on a race such as La Doyenne,” said Alaphilippe on a virtual press conference. “It’s one of the races I’ve long dreamt of winning, and this is a new chance for it.” It’s not usual for the rainbow jersey to triumph in this race, though. Only 5 out of the 105 editions of Liège-Bastogne-Liège ended with the rainbow jersey raising his arms, with wins by: Ferdi Kübler, in 1952; Rick Van Looy, in 1961; Eddy Merckx, both in 1972 and 1975; and Moreno Argentin in 1987.
HIRSCHI FOR THE DOUBLE
Already victor at Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne, Marc Hirschi is going to try and double-up his Ardennes Classic winning tally this Sunday at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. “We knew he had a big potential, but lately everything seems to be falling into place for him,” says his DS at Team Sunweb, Michiel Elijzen. “Tomorrow it will be a more difficult race to win, though, because there are way more cards and scenarios to play. It’s a longer, more challenging route, and the quality of the field is higher. The weather will play a part, too, as the headwind will make for a slow pace at the beginning, when heading south. Another big factor for the outcome is that no one will want to be a on a breakaway group with Julian Alaphilippe or Marc Hirschi. Deceuninck-Quick Step has multiple riders capable of winning, and we have a good back-up option in Tiesj Benoot. Anyways, it’s hard to predict how the race will pan out.”
BENOÎT COSNEFROY: “IT WILL BE ABOUT WHO PLAYS TACTICS BETTER”
After his aggressive performance in the Tour de France, the runner-up position at Flèche Wallonne went to confirm Benoît Cosnefroy’s prospects as one of the names to follow in professional cycling. Speaking to letour.fr ahead of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the French rider explained: “I love the Classics. It’s the races that suit better my nature and my qualities as a rider. I knew I was capable of getting a result [atop the Mur de Huy], but I needed to actually deliver it.” Well aware of his potential, the AG2R La Mondiale rider will try to make the most out of it in La Doyenne. “I really like Liège because tactics and strategy are a bigger factor than in Flèche. The Roche-aux-Faucons definitely is the climax. I need to be amongst the top four or six riders at its summit. Right after comes the downhill and the flat terrain on the way to Liège, on which it will be about who plays tactics better. Although if Julian Alaphilippe puts the same attack he did last Sunday in Imola, it will be difficult to beat him…”
ROGLIC STARTS OVER
After the disappointing, heart-breaking ending of his Tour de France, Primoz Roglic has cleared his mind and is bound to start a campaign to defend his championship at La Vuelta. The first stop will be his maiden appearance at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. A stage-race man, Roglic found out the joy of one-day racing last autumn in Italy, where he won both the Giro dell’Emilia and the Tre Valle Varesine. His DS Franz Maassen considers we may see him shine tomorrow in Liège, along with his Team Jumbo Visma teammate Tom Dumoulin. “Primoz [Roglic] has the morale and the willingness to race a Monument. The length of the race may suit him. We are sure the Côte de la Redoute will be a key point, but the defining climb will be the Roche-aux-Faucons. Tom [Dumoulin] felt a bit tired at Flèche Wallonne, but it is entirely possible for him to surprise everybody tomorrow.”
POGACAR STILL IN THE MIX
UAE Team Emirates was one of the most relevant outfits at Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne. “We did a great job, indeed – the best we could,” asserts DS Neil Stephens. In the final lap, both Sergio Henao and Rui Costa attacked to set-up a hard course in the benefit of their leader Tadej Pogacar, who could only deliver a 9th place atop the Mur de Huy. “We have to be realistic about Tadej,” Stephens explains. “The Tour de France was obviously very demanding for him, and he hasn’t recovered from it yet for a number of reason. Even if he wanted to perform in Flèche Wallonne and was in the right mindset to do so, he couldn’t do better than 9th. And it’s the same situation for tomorrow. Liège is one of the most beautiful Classics of the year. We have good cards to play, with several very good riders who are perfectly able to crack a top10 but for whom a victory is a tough ask. We expect the race to be decided at the Roche-aux-Faucons. The winner will go clear there – be it solo or in a group.”
FROOME + KWIATO = DOUBLE THREAT FROM INEOS GRENADIERS
It won’t be a first, because he has already participated six times in Liège with the 36th position achieved in 2013 as his best result – but it will be a last. Liège-Bastogne-Liège will be Chris Froome’s final one-day race with Ineos Grenadiers. The four-times winner of the Tour de France will play a domestique role, working for his teammate (and loyal domestique) Michal Kwiatkowski, who has stood twice at the podium of La Doyenne (3rd in both 2014 and 2017). But Ineos Greandiers’ DS, Brett Lancaster, doesn’t rule out the possibility of seeing Froome on a different note. “Chris [Froome] has worked very well over the last few weeks in Andorra and is in very good shape. He is set to work for Michal [Kwiatkowski], but he might be on the offensive if any dangerous break goes early. It’s true Michal is very focused on this Classics campaign. We’ve been discussing it for three months already and he is determined to race all the way to Paris-Roubaix.”
VAN DER BREGGEN AND VAN VLEUTEN SPEARHEAD WOMEN’S LIÈGE
Despite the long tradition of the men’s event, the Women’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège is still a relatively young race with only three editions on its record books. The two marquee names of the female peloton in this decade have so far been dominant in this Classic, with two victories under Anna van der Breggen’s name (2017 and 2018) and one under Annemiek van Vleuten’s (2019). Both Dutch cyclists will take part on this 2020 edition with their respective teams Boels Dolmans Cycling Team and Mitchelton Scott, spearheading a field with contenders such as Great Britain’s Lizzie Deignan (Trek Segafredo), Poland’s Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon // SRAM Racing), Netherlands’ Marianne Vos (CCC Team) or Flèche Wallonne’s runner-ups to Van der Breggen, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) and Demi Völlering (Parkhotel Valkenburg). The 134-kilometre long route from Bastogne to Liège features five climbs, with the Côte de la Haute-Levée as main addition for this year, and the Côte de la Redoute and the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons as final challenges before the rolling run-in to Liège. As happened at last Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne, the Women’s Liège Bastogne-Liège will be broadcasted live across 190 countries via 20 TV channels thanks to a 90-minute coverage provided by host broadcaster RTBF.