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LIÈGE’20 PREVIEW: The Ardennes Classic

La Doyenne Preview: The oldest and possibly the hilliest Monument on the WorldTour calendar will roll out of Liège this Sunday and, via Bastogne, will return to the Walloon city 256 tough kilometres later. Ed Hood previews the 2020 Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

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It probably won’t snow on Sunday, but the forecast is for rain. Gerrie Knetemann (TI-Raleigh) and Adri van der Poel (DAF) battle the elements in Liège 1980

Luik – Bastanaken – Luik they call it up in Flanders; Liège – Bastogne – Liège down in French speaking Wallonia – ‘La Doyenne’ is her Sunday name, afforded to the most senior and respected lady in the Monuments Salon.

Will we see the World champion first in Liège?

Milan – Sanremo is longer; Flanders has the ultimate bergs/cobbles combo; Paris – Roubaix is crazier and maxes-out on cobbles and Lombardy is more beautiful, but Liège is the oldest – first run as an amateur race in 1892 – and arguably, the toughest.

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The road to Bastogne and back

The route does as it says on the tin; south out of Liège (main town of the province which bears that name) to Bastogne (rather confusingly situated in the Belgian province of Luxembourg) and back again – AND, deep joy, it no longer finishes at a disappointing and drab retail park in the Liège suburb of Ans – instead it’s actually in Liège. The Ans finish made for a cagey conclusion with everyone well aware that the race was all down to the last couple of kilometres.

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The race profile

Last year saw a different race with Fuglsang coming in solo with a gap of 27 seconds on Formolo rather than the usual handful of seconds which separated the top 10 on Ans. The parcours have changed over the years; there are no early categorised climbs; the first major joust with gravity comes 76K in at the Côte de la Roche-en-Ardene. The second is the Cote de Sant-Roch with 123 kilometres on the Garmins. The third climb, Mont-le-Soie at 164K marks the start of the ‘real’ race with the final nine categorised climbs coming within 100K of the finish at 256K – that’s one around every 11 kilometres.

This has the effect of making the tail end of the race profile look like an advert for high quality timber hand saws; the last 14 of the 256 kilometres of lumps and bumps which make up the 106th edition of what was the last classic of the Spring season are the only ones that are ‘flat’. There are 11 classified climbs in all but little of the parcours is flat; and these are not ‘power’ climbs, they’re bona fide killers – take the legendary La Redoute.

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Climbing La Redoute – Robert Millar and Mathieu van der Poel’s father, Adri

La Redoute used to be where the winner would make his move, 2.4K long and with a grade that varies constantly to thwart you finding a rhythm. It’s no longer decisive albeit in pre-Covid days it was a great place to watch the race with huge crowds, giant screen TV, bars and barbecues. And we’re sure to see favourites shelled here.

Cote de la Roche-aux-Faucons 2019

The final ascent is the nasty Cote de la Roche-aux-Faucons with just around 14 of the 256K to go – the spot where Fuglsang launched his victorious attack in 2019. With more names ‘popping,’ here, no doubt. All told there’s more than 4,000 metres of climbing in the race – as much as a Grand Tour mountain stage.

Philippe Gilbert in 2011, but he won’t be in Liège on Sunday (knee injury)

‘Back in the day’ L-B-L used to run back to back with the Flèche Wallonne, the two races were known as the ‘Weekend Ardennais’. Only the best riders of their respective generations have won both races in the same season; Ferdi Kubler (Switzerland) twice 1951 & 1952, Stan Ockers (Belgium) 1955, Eddy Merckx (Belgium) 1972, Moreno Argentin (Italy) 1991, Davide Rebellin (Italy) 2004, Philippe Gilbert 2011 and Alejandro Valverde thrice 2006, 2015 and 2017.

Eddy Merckx in 1973

Unsurprisingly, ‘Big Ted’ – as we named Baron Merckx back then; is the ‘record man’ on five wins with the classy Italian, Moreno Argentin on four.

Liege - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Alejandro VALVERDE BELMONTE (Spain / Team Movistar) - Daniel MARTIN (Ireland / Team Quick Step - Floors) pictured during Liege - Bastogne - Liege 2017 - UCI Worldtour - foto VK/PN/Cor Vos ¨© 2017
Liège’17 – Valverde

But so is Alejandro Valverde who’s record in the race is exemplary with four wins, two second places and a third, making him the second most successful rider in history in this event. Merckx also holds the record for top 10 finishes, a feat he achieved on 10 occasions. The fact that five of the ‘doubles’ were completed in the last few years says much about the changes in pro cycling. Merckx would charge through the early season from Milan – Sanremo (which he won seven times) to the Amstel – which closed the Classics season back then and which the Belgian won twice – without missing a beat.

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Merckx looking cool in Liège’77

In this millennium, such a thing would be out of the question as riders specialise in cobbled, sprinters’ or Ardennes Classics. Until season 2020 that is when more than half of the season’s races are crammed into two months – hectic!

Let’s start with the 2019 top 10:
Jakob Fuglsang and David Formolo, last year’s first and second placed, don’t ride, with Fuglsang on Giro duty.

No Fuglsang in Liège 2020

Max Schachmann [Bora-hansgrohe &apm; Germany] was third; post lock down he’s been third in Strade Bianche, seventh in Lombardia and top 10 in the Worlds – he’ll be there. And don’t forget team mate and countryman Lennard Kämna and his two Tour stage wins.

Maximilian Schachmann
Schachmann – Solo win?

Whilst bruv, Simon tries to win the Giro, Adam Yates [Mitchelton-Scott & GB] will be trying to improve on last year’s fourth place; he was top 10 in le Tour with a spell in yellow so no doubting his form.

Will Adam Yates come out of the Tour flying?

Michael Woods [EF Pro Cycling & Canada] lit the blue touch paper in Wednesday’s Flèche with only ‘young guns’ Hirschi and Cosnefroy getting round him. A move up from last year’s fifth to the podium may well be on the cards. Sixth placed in 2019, Frenchman David Gaudu doesn’t ride.

Canada’s Michael Woods – Podium bound

Spaniard, ‘Mickey’ Landa [Bahrain-McLaren] was seventh last year and back for more but he’s not really a single day man. Vincenzo Nibali was eighth last year but has business to do closer to home in the Giro, this year.

Mikel Landa could do with a ‘result’

His 2019 team mate Dylan Teuns [Bahrain-McLaren & Belgium] was ninth last year but after a sparkling early 2020 hasn’t shone post lock down.

Dylan Teuns – Another hopeful for Bahrain-McLaren

Rounding out the top 10 was Wout Poels [Bahrain-McLaren & The Netherlands] a man who won this race in 2016; he was top 20 in the Flèche and will be in at the death.

Wout Poels – Bahrain’s third possible

And then there’s…

Dan Martin [UAE Team Emirates & Ireland]: he’s won here before and been third as well; he was fifth in Wednesday’s Flèche but a man who the new finish may not suit.

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Winner in 2013 – Dan Martin

Alessandro Valverde [Movistar & Spain]: as mentioned above the man’s record in this race is second only to Merckx – enough said. But this season has not seen the Valverde of old; could it be Tiempo de Papa is catching up with him at last?

Valverde way back in 2008

Then there’s the Slovenian ‘Tour Terrors,’ Primoz Roglič [Jumbo-Visma] and Tadej Pogačar [UAE Team Emirates] – whilst neither has ‘previous’ as single day riders the latter is still only 22 years-old and his talent is still flowering.

The two Slovenians at it again!

Benoit Cosnefroy [AG2R-La Mondiale & France] was second in Wednesday’s Flèche and since he won the u23 Worlds in Bergen in 2017 his trajectory has been upwards; but history is against him, it’s 40 years since Bernard Hinault last gave France a win in this race.

Benoit Cosnefroy – Tour KOM… for a while

Warren Barguil [Arkea Samsic & France] was fourth in the Flèche but those extra 90 minutes of racing make Liège a different proposition.

Warren Barguil – A big win for Arkea would be good for the French team

Michal Kwiatkowski [Ineos Grenadiers & Poland] was 12th last year; with fourth in the Worlds and sixth in the Flèche he’s a man on form.

Michal Kwiatkowski – could be a Classic winner for INEOS

On the subject of ‘men on form,’ young Tour star, Flèche winner and Worlds medallist, Marc Hirschi [Sunweb & Switzerland] has to be in the frame for the ‘double?’

Hirschi is storming

Like the song says; ‘Saving the Best ‘til Last’ – it would be magnificent to see Julian Alaphilippe [Deceuninck – Quick-Step & France] over turn that 40 year hiatus I mentioned above and christen his rainbow jersey in the best way possible. He was second here in 2015, remember?

Flèche last year – Liège for the World champion this year

Les femmes:
I know, it should really be ‘ladies first’ but as this is edition four of the ladies’ race and the men’s race will be the 106th then you will forgive me. And it’s only ‘half an LBL,’ running from Bastogne to Liege with six categorised climbs including the legendary La Redoute and with the tough Roche-aux-Faucons as the final grapple with gravity.

World champion and winner of Flèche on Wednesday – Anna van der Breggen

It’s been a ‘Dutch Fest’ during it’s short history with double World Champion and SIX time Flèche winner, Anna van der Breggen winning the first two editions of Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes, both of which finished in Ans. However, with a start sheet hard to find at time of going to press she doesn’t appear to be riding.

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Annemiek van Vleuten – Second in the Worlds

Nor does the 2019 World Champion, Annemiek van Vleuten who won last year’s race solo by an emphatic 1:39 margin over a similar course to this year. The two ‘orange women’ head the race stats as ‘toppers’ – as they say in the Netherlands – whilst the same stats tell us that Britain’s Lizzie Deignan [Trek-Segafredo] is the third most successful in the race on past performances with two top 10 finishes including second in 2017. She was fourth in the Flèche and sixth in the Worlds, so the legs are good but again, at the time of going to press we don’t see her name down to ride.

Marta Bastianelli – No. 1

There are 23 teams down to ride with dossard number one goes to Marta Bastianelli [Ale BTC Ljubljana] who was World Champion way back in 2007.

2020 Liège profile

# Stay PEZ for the ‘PEZ Liège-Bastogne-Liège Race Report’ on Sunday, live action on SteepHillTV. #

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