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Race Wrap: How Evenepoel Dominated Liège

Key Takeaways: Liège-Bastogne-Liège

Liège’23 Key Takeaways: Breaking down a dominant and seemingly inevitable victory over a brutal race through the Belgian Ardennes. Spencer Martin takes us through the 2023 Liège-Bastogne-Liège blow-by-blow to analyze how Remco Evenepoel did what he said he would… Win his second ‘La Doyenne’.

– This article is an excerpt from the Beyond the Peloton newsletter. Sign up here for full access. –

Remco Evenepoel won Liège-Bastogne-Liège after launching a searing attack on the steep slopes of the brutal Côte de La Redoute climb set to set himself up for a 30-kilometer solo breakaway to the finish line for the second consecutive edition on Sunday. With pre-race favorite Tadej Pogačar out of the race due to a broken wrist from an early-race crash, no one was left to challenge the World Champion. After being dropped by Evenepoel, Tom Pidcock sprinted to second place ahead of young Colombian Santiago Buitrago, nearly 90 seconds behind Evenepoel.

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Double Liège for Remco Evenepoel

To expand on Monday’s Liège Three Quick Thoughts post-race breakdown, I’ve broken down the key moments and takeaways from the race below:

Liège-Bastogne-Liège Top Ten:
1) Remco Evenepoel +0
2) Tom Pidcock +1’06
3) Santiago Buitrago +1’06
4) Ben Healy +1’08
5) Valentin Madouas +1’24
6) Guillaume Martin +1’25
7) Tiesj Benoot +1’37
8) Patrick Konrad +1’48
9) Mattias Skjelmose +1’48
10) Marc Hirschi +1’48

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All of Belgium was pleased

Liège Race Notebook:

171km-to-go: Tadej Pogačar crashes and breaks his wrist before TV coverage begins.

133km: As soon as the TV images come on, we see Evenepoel’s Soudal-QuickStep team has all seven riders at the front. They are already controlling the race in preparation for Evenepoel’s inevitable attack on Côte de La Redoute.

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84.8km: Despite everyone knowing Evenepoel’s attack is coming and that they likely won’t be able to respond to it, almost everyone continues to sit tight in the group QuickStep. Jumbo’s Jan Tratnik bucks this trend and launches a powerful attack to get ahead of the move. Valentin Madouas and Magnus Sheffield briefly join him, but Tratnik drops them both en route to bridging up to the breakaway.

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48.8km: While Tratnik briefly builds up a lead of over a minute, Soudal nails it back to 30 seconds as they approach the base of La Redoute. With two teammates remaining, we know that Evenepoel won’t launch yet. Everyone tucks in behind Evenepoel while they wait for the coming attack, and Evenepoel feels confident enough to tell Jumbo’s Atilla Vaulter to chill out and accept his fate.

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34.6km: At the base of La Redoute, Evenepoel is down to a single rider. Since we know that he will attack as soon as his last teammates peel off, and Ilnar van Wilder appears to be giving his last few bits of energy, we know an attack is near.

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34.2km: When the camera zooms out, we can see just how much QuickStep’s pace has shredded the field. Jan Tratnik is close to being reeled in up front, while the peloton is almost completely shredded behind the cluster of leading contenders.

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33.6km: As soon as Van Wilder peels off, Evenepoel launches his attack in almost the same place on the climb as the year before. Pidcock has done a great job of marking Evenepoel and can respond.

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33.5km: Despite having perfect position, Pidcock and the other chasers lose ground to Evenepoel on the steep slopes.

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33.4km: As they go over the top, Evenepoel has a small gap to Pidcock, while the others have blown up and are further off the back.

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31.5km: Pidcock eventually gets even with Evenepoel, but he can’t, and shouldn’t offer any help, as the World Champion opens up a significant gap to the chasers behind.

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29.9km: After opening up a 30-second gap to the chasers without any help from Pidcock, Evenepoel rides away from his rival. The fact that he could dump Pidcock over just 4 km with such a mild acceleration after sitting on his wheel is somewhat shocking.

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28.4km: In just over a kilometer, Evenepoel opens up nearly 30 seconds on Pidcock, who is about to be overtaken by the chase group. His super area position and raw strength mean he will be impossible to reel in at this point.

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10.4km: Ben Healy attacks and pulls a group containing himself, Pidcock, and Buitrago away from the peloton. Evenepoel’s gap has ballooned out to 90 seconds.

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3.4km: Despite building and holding a massive lead, Evenepoel looks incredibly at ease as he slowly coasts down a descent toward the finish line, attempting to minimize the risk of crashing.

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Finish: Evenepoel rolls over the line for his second consecutive solo victory at Liège, while Tom Pidcock beats Santiago Buitrago in the sprint for second. Ben Healy comes in 4th.

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A young Liège podium

Key Takeaways

The first three takeaways are my initial post-race thoughts sent to premium subscribers on Sunday after the race. Click through on each point to see the full breakdown.

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Will Evenepoel be swapping Vuelta red for Giro pink?

4) Remco Evenepoel’s chances for the upcoming Giro d’Italia are now looking incredibly good

  • The fact that he came in and destroyed the competition at a Monument with such little racing in his legs and so much pre-race pressure should tell us that Evenepoel is both physically and mentally ready for the Giro d’Italia, which kicks off in just under two weeks.
  • He will still face a stiff challenge from Primož Roglič, who is almost certain to show up in world-beating conditions fresh off a targeted altitude training camp, and the infamously difficult stages through the mountainous regions of Italy, which have punched many unacquainted stars in the mouth in the past.
    • But, the fact that the conditions around his dominant performance on Sunday are almost identical to his performance at last season’s Clásica de San Sebastián before he went on to win the Vuelta should certainly give him and his QuickStep team confidence heading into the Giro and make him the odds-on favorite to win his second career grand tour.

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The Soudal-QuickStep team has changed its emphasis

5) Soudal-QuickStep is now almost entirely centered around a single rider

  • Evenepoel’s Soudal team’s poor performances across the cobbled classics, 2x World Champion Julian Alaphilippe working all day for Evenepoel, and the fact that this entire early season is focused around Evenepoel winning major races should underline just how much of their former Wolfpack identity they have shed in recent seasons and just how Evenepoel-centric they have become.
    • To highlight just how important Evenepoel is to the team, his PCS points haul through just four races (3x stage races and 1x one-day) is more than double their second-place rider, Mauro Schmid, and more than four times the team’s former star Alaphilippe.

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Tom Pidcock got the better of a surprising Santiago Buitrago

6) Tom Pidcock finishes off a slightly disappointing but ultimately promising spring season

  • The 23-year-old up-and-coming British rider matched the pace of the eventual winner, only to be quickly dropped, for the 3rd time in the past month. This isn’t a great look from a rider who is supposed to be a budding star on the same level as The Big Six (Pogačar, Roglič, Vingegaard, Evenepoel, Van Aert, Van der Poel) and is the center of Ineos’ one-day Classics team.
    • However, unlike at Flanders and Amstel, Pidcock adjusted his strategy and did not attempt to follow the winning move, only to blow up. When he realized he couldn’t match Evenepoel’s pace, he backed off, regrouped, and waited for the chase group to overtake him before picking up 2nd. This race is his first career top ten in a Monument, and his best career result in a race over 250 kilometers.
      • If we zoom out and look at Pidcock’s body of work this spring (1st at Strade, 2nd at Liège, and 3rd at Amstel) it is impressive for a relatively young and inexperienced rider.
  • Going forward, there will be pressure on Pidcock to compete directly with, and sometimes win against, his elite peers like Evenepoel and Pogačar.
    • A potential adjustment Pidcock could make going forward to challenge the top riders at these races is to narrow his race window. Attempting to stretch peak fitness over the nearly eight weeks from Strade in early March to Liège in late April is too heavy of a lift. For perspective, some of the most talented riders target small chunks of that window.

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More to come from Buitrago

7) Santiago Buitrago’s surprise podium portends a potential future GC talent

  • The young Colombian (23) picked up a massive, and unexpected third place after an impressive day of riding through demanding conditions.
    • While he had a few solid wins on his Palmarès, like a Giro d’Italia stage win in 2022, this result shows he could be a budding mid-tier GC rider, or top-tier stage hunter, in the making.

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Healy had a stunning Spring

8) The youth of the top five highlights the current depth of talent in the peloton

  • On the note of unexpected results from relatively unknown young riders, the average of the top five (Evenepoel, Pidcock, Buitrago, Healy, Madouas) was a shockingly low 23.4 years old.
    • This extremely young top five, and somewhat out-of-the-blue result from riders like Healy and Buitrago, illustrates the depth of the current peloton and why it is so hard for veteran riders like Romain Bardet to get the results they once did.

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Is racing now a case of waiting for the top stars to make their move?

9) Racing tactics aren’t dead. The top talent is just too diluted across the calendar

  • There was chatter during both Pogačar’s dominance at Flanders/Amstel and Evenepoel’s at Liège that the current class of top riders has killed in-race tactics. Instead, they’ve turned the sport’s biggest races into staring contests where the contenders wait for the favorite to attack before struggling for lesser positions in their wake.
  • While this can be frustrating to watch, the reason for this style of racing isn’t because tactics have suddenly gone away. Rather, the talent of The Big Six (Pogačar, Roglič, Vingegaard, Evenepoel, Van Aert, Van der Poel) is so much higher than the rest of the peloton that attempting to attack them to get out in front will likely result in being caught and passed when the attack eventually comes (see: Jan Tratnik at Liège).
    • The fact that all of The Big Six, or even a group of them, rarely race against each other means that there is currently a massive disparity in talent at even the biggest races, blunting the importance of tactics and strategy.
    • If all six were duking it out at significant races with dynamic courses like Liège, pre-race strategy and in-race tactics would play a far more prominent role.
      • To highlight how few major stars race against each other, when we look at the biggest one-day races in 2023, the largest concentration of the sport’s top talent was three at MSR, E3, and Flanders. With Evenepoel skipping the Tour de France and World Championships in between the Tour and Vuelta, all six will likely not face off at any point throughout the season.

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  • Number of Big Six at Major 2023 One-Day Races:
  • 3: Milano-Sanremo (Van Aert, Van der Poel, Pogačar)
    3: E3 (Van Aert, Van der, Pogačar)
    3: Flanders (Van Aert, Van der Poel, Pogačar)
    2: Paris-Roubaix (Van Aert, Van der Poel)
    2: Liège (Pogačar, Evenepoel)
    1: Strade-Bianche (Van der Poel)
    1: Gent-Wevelgem (Van Aert)
    1: Amstel Gold (Pogačar)

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Evenepoel has time on his side

# You can read the full ‘PEZ Race Report’ HERE. #

# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #

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