Liège > Liège 256.9km
Liège is the last of the classics for a while, it marks the end of the first section of the cycling season. We have the usual mix of those who’ve been racing since the opening weekend, up against the GC riders who are starting to hit top form. As always, it will be a brilliant race to watch.
A little bit cloudy, but it should stay dry. Temperatures will reach around 15 degrees and the wind will be around 15km/h, coming from the north-east.
La Redoute is really the start of the finale of the race. It’s a very hard climb, but with 30km until the finish, it rarely sees any big moves from the favourites.
This is the final 15km, which begins with Roche-aux-Faucons, 1.3km at 10.5%. Once over the crest, the road kicks up again for another 1200m at 6.3%, before the run for home. If the forecast stays the same, it’s going to be headwind back to Liège.
Will we a standard edition of the race? Yes, there will be attacks, but it’s highly likely we’ll be back together for Roche-aux-Faucons, then we’ll see who has the legs to win the race. The climb is very hard, it normally slims the front group down to around 5-10 riders, then we have a tactical battle as the riders head back towards Liège. If you have numbers in the front group, you can attack and take a solo win, even with the headwind. If it’s one rider per team, we’ll have to see if there’s enough cooperation to go all the way to the finishing line.
The presence of Wout Van Aert could have a massive impact on the race. If he’s in that front group, will the others all be happy riding through, taking him to the line? I think most DSs will be screaming at their riders to stop working. The likes of Alaphilippe won’t like that, he always backs himself and will be happy working with Wout, but others won’t be too keen.
The key for Jumbo-Visma is to have another rider in the front group, but without Tiesj Benoot, that is looking unlikely. Jonas Vingegaard was a little sick the other day, that explained his poor performance in Flèche Wallonne. To turn things around in just a couple of days will be difficult, it looks like Van Aert could well be isolated deep into the race.
Ineos will be hoping this happens. In previous races we’ve seen them looking very strong, but they’ll need Kwiatkowski or Pidcock to make the front group with Martínez. Pidcock had a poor day in Flèche, it’s very hard to predict what he’ll be like on Sunday.
QuickStep have two big options in Alaphilippe and Evenepoel, but things don’t look right for them just now, I’m not sure what’s going on. Alaphilippe is still not at his best, but it could click on Sunday, and I’m not sure what to expect from Evenepoel as Roche-aux-Faucons will likely be too steep for him.
We do have some teams with a strong leader, but due to relative team strength, they’ll be letting the big teams do the work and hope to benefit in the closing stages. They’ll pray that the front group just contains one rider per team, a battle of the captains.
QuickStep – Alaphilippe still isn’t quite there, but his number one target all along has been this race, so don’t write him off. As I’ve previously said, he’s incredible at looking out of form and then suddenly pops up with a brilliant win. They go into this race with Remco as co-leader, but I don’t see him winning this. For me, it’s all about Alaphilippe and big Pat will be praying that Julian is at his best.
Bahrain – Teuns took a stunning win on Wednesday, he should be their man for this race too. He was close to reaching the front duo in Amstel, and when you remember his performance in Flanders, he’s another who’s enjoyed a very good season. The finish doesn’t suit his as well as the others, winning here will be tricky for him, but it will be easier if Mohorič survives.
Dani Martínez – currently enjoying a fine period of form, 5th in Flèche was decent, but I was expecting more. Ineos will ride an aggressive race, but the Colombian knows he won’t win this race in a sprint, he needs to attack on Roche-aux-Faucons and see if he can force a small group away.
Aleksandr Vlasov – I’ve been very impressed by him this season. On Wednesday he was up there until the end in Flèche, eventually finishing 3rd, which was a fine result. Remember, this is a man who can climb the big mountains with the best in the world, he’s a genuine contender for the Tour de France podium later this year. What we’ve seen in recent times is a massive improvement in his punch and sprint, Vlasov is quickly turning into an all-rounder, one that has a big chance of winning this race. He’ll be in the front group after Roche-aux-Faucons, we’ll then have to see if he’s got what it takes to surprise the favourites.
Alejandro Valverde – second on Wednesday was better than I expected, what a performance by the 41-year-old, he turns 42 on Monday. He’ll be supported by Mas, and there’s every chance he’s in the mix to take the win. Unfortunately, his sprinting speed is a little slower than what it used to be, but he’s still good enough to challenge for the podium.
Benoît Cosnefroy – 2nd in Amstel, but he disappointed on Wednesday. Given the strength of his team, this is a hard race for him to win.
Michael Woods – the Canadian is always challenging to win this race, it suits him very well. Illness disrupted the early part of his season, but his recent form has suggested that he’s getting close to his best. As quite a few of his rivals have a faster sprint, he needs to try and take a flyer if he wants to win.
Wout Van Aert – this race wasn’t in his original schedule, but after he missed Flanders it was drafted in. This is a race with a lot of climbing, it’s not a certainty he survives Roche-aux-Faucons, but if he climbs the same way he did in Paris-Nice, he’ll make the cut. The problems will then start after the climb, being the fastest rider in the group always puts a huge amount of pressure on that individual. With others not wanting to pull, there’s every chance of someone escaping off the front and disappointing those who want a sprint.
Without Pogačar and Benoot, this race is wide open. Van Aert starts as the favourite, and I understand that, but I’m not taking him for the win. Instead, I’ll take the rider who always turns up for the big occasion, it’ll be a win for Julian Alaphilippe.