For many Liege-Bastogne-Liege is the ultimate one-day race. Nicknamed “La Doyenne” or the oldest, it is not only the highlight of the Ardennes week, but one of the most thrilling single-day races on the professional calendar. It is the race that traditionally marks the end of the Spring Classics season with the world of cycling changing its focus towards the Grand Tours of the summer.
First ran in 1892, the area’s long and steep climbs have made this race a huge physical challenge. This year is the 99th edition of the race, seeing the riders take on 257 kilometres with numerous iconic climbs. As with many long and arduous one-day races, it is the back end of the race where the difference is made. It is normally the Cote de La Redoute where the race will begin in earnest. At 2.0km in length and an average of 8.8% it is where the first selection is made. After this point the race is within 30 kilometres of the finish, 30 kilometres that are still filled with some fearsome climbs.
The Cote de Colonster (2.4km at 6%) and Cote de Saint-Nicolas (1.2km at 8.6%) will be enough to slim down the lead group. This year sees a slightly different circuit, with the Cote de Colonster, replacing the Roche aux Facons. The change that this will have to the race is yet to be seen. Road works on the Roche aux Facons means that its replacement climb is longer, but less steep. Traditionally it has been the Roche aux Facons that has reduced those in the lead group to a very select few.
Going into La Doyenne, there is much talk within the Belgian press that they are still without a win in the Classics season, something close to a national tragedy for the country. This means that all eyes will be on Philippe Gilbert (BMC). He has proved that he is in good form at the moment, but maybe a little too eager to go on the offensive, as seen at Fleche Wallonne. His team is going to ride for him, but he will have to rely more on his head than his legs to cross the finish line in Ans first, due to some serious competition.
Names such as Nibali, Froome, Contador, Valverde, Rodriquez, Rolland, Martin, Hesjadal, Henao, Gerrans, Moreno and Kreuziger will all be looking to take the victory. With such a wide list of favourites it is going to make for a very aggressive race, but could also play into the hands of an outsider. Nibali (Astana) is coming out of the Giro de Trento where he is going toe to toe with Wiggins (Sky). He will be aggressive, but last season he popped in the final 10 kilometres dropping to 3rd of the podium.
Froome (Sky) will be a real threat. His form has been nothing short of incredible this season. There are very few races that he has been in where he has not been a major factor in the race. With the steep climbs and long distance, it suits his aggressive riding, but with his competitors coming into their Grand Tour form he will have to ride a little smarter than normal to be sure of taking the win. Valverde (Movistar), Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) and Rodriquez (Katusha), will all be out to make the most of their explosive power on these steep climbs. Valverde has not been on 100% winning form yet, but might prove otherwise on Sunday.
Rodriquez is coming back from an injury sustained last weekend in Amstel Gold; though slight, it might be enough to make the difference at the end of such a long hard race. Contador did not look to be on 100% form either during Wednesday’s Fleche Wallonne, deciding to ride conservatively. Do not count him out, because if on form he has the power to really make the others hurt.
French rider Rolland (Team Europcar) has been following a different programme to those on the World Tour teams. Last year he was extremely aggressive at the back end of the race, with his team mate Voeckler. With Voeckler out he will shoulder the hopes of his team, and this could give him the free card to catch the others by surprise.
Martin and Hesjadal (Garmin-Sharp) have both shown great form during the Ardennes classics. Martin came back to just missing out on a podium at Fleche Wallonne, whilst Hesjadal’s last minute attack at Amstel Gold showed everyone he is ready for the Giro d’Italia. Both riders have a tendency to make tactical errors in races, the fore-mentioned attack by Hesjadal doing nothing more than towing the peloton up to the counter attack. If they get some luck then they can catch the bigger names by surprise and add La Doyenne to their palmares.
Moreno (Katusha) and Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) have proven already in the past seven days that they have the legs to win. Kreuziger’s solo to Amstel Gold was nothing short of impressive and Moreno’s explosive sprint at the Fleche Wallonne catching many by surprise. Both will be motivated to prove that their respective victories were not one-offs.
Three outside bets for the race, who have shown great form in the Ardennes classics are, Weening (Orca Green Edge) Ten Dam (Blanco) and Betancur (AG2R). Weening and Ten Dam have really shown they have the legs, by making significant attacks late in the day, Weening at Amstel Gold and Ten Dam at Fleche. Betancur caught many by surprise by with his late attack or early sprint on the Mur de Huy on Wednesday. All three could create an upset, if the peloton looks towards BMC and the favourites to control the race.
Live coverage of the race can be found on British Eurosport. So Sunday put your feet up and get ready for some real action during this, the hardest of the one day races, which brings to a close the Spring Classics.