After the cobbles classics and the first two installments from the hilly classics it’s time for Liège-Bastogne-Liège to bring the curtain down on what’s been a thoroughly exciting and at times unpredictable spring classics.
Ahead of Sunday’s showdown VeloNews has sifted through the start lists and picked out five riders each from the men’s and women’s race to watch out for.
Team: Bahrain Victorious
Liège-Bastogne-Liège pedigree: Ninth back in 2019
Can he win? Out of contract and with Bahrain reportedly lukewarm on a renewal at this stage, Teuns’ stock rose significantly on Wednesday when he put a host of WorldTour stars to the sword on the Mur de Huy.
His record in Liège-Bastogne-Liège is mediocre though, with one top-ten finish in several attempts. That said, he’s never been in such a rich vein of form, with sixth in the Tour of Flanders also on his season record. A previous third place in Il Lombardia demonstrates his all-round ability to go the distance, while the team around him is stacked with former winner Wout Poels, Matej Mohoric, Mikel Landa, and Jack Haig in the team.
Team: FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope
Liège-Bastogne-Liège pedigree: Three starts but never made the top-10.
Can she win? Cavalli won Amstel Gold, La Flèche Wallonne and is on course for a clean sweep in the Ardennes classics. Right now she looks virtually unstoppable, and the way she handled Annemiek van Vleuten on the Wall was incredibly impressive.
The Italian is in a different league right now and it’s difficult to see past her at this point. Liège-Bastogne-Liège is a far more complex race than La Flèche Wallonne, so there will be a number of new and different dynamics in play but FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope has never looked this strong as a collective force.
Liège-Bastogne-Liège pedigree: First-timer.
Can he win? The Russian has finished on the podium in three of the four one-day races he’s competed in this season, and although his performance in La Flèche Wallonne was impressive, the 25-year-old does go under the radar when it comes to Liège- Bastogne-Liège. That’s probably because he’s never raced the April classics, and his consistency across the board is still a lacking ingredient when it comes to banking on which version of Vlasov will turn up for any particular event.
He has finished on the podium in Il Lombardia, so like Teuns, he should have no problem with the energy-sapping profile and duration of the course. Like Teuns, he also has a strong team around him with Sergio Higuita, a contender in his own right, also among the squad.
Annemiek van Vleuten
Liège-Bastogne-Liège pedigree: Won in 2019.
Can she win? Van Vleuten finished as low as second in La Flèche Wallonne and the result sparked debate as to whether she is a spent force. Granted, she will turn 40 later this year, but she’s already totted up the wins this year and finished fourth in Amstel and second on Wednesday. This hardly speaks of a rider fading in obscurity. There are new riders in town, that’s true, but writing off Van Vleuten at this point seems ridiculous. Some were doing it after the time trial at the world championships back in 2019 and look what happened a few days later in the road race.
The veteran heads into Sunday’s monument with all the motivation that she needs to put a few doubters right.
Age: 2. 3
Team: UAE Team Emirates
Liège-Bastogne-Liège pedigree: The defending champion.
Can he win? He can seemingly do almost everything on a bike, so of course he can win. There was a slight glimmer of hope for his rivals on the Wall of Huy when Pogačar failed to hold the leaders, but his positioning on the lower slopes of the climb was not perfect, and being out-shone on such an explosively short climb shouldn ‘t matter too much when Liège-Bastogne-Liège is more about the repetition of short efforts over a much longer distance. Of course, his family life took him back home for a short stay, and that understandably takes center stage over any bike race, no matter the stature.
There will be plenty of column inches written about the circumstances of that personal break but we shouldn’t speculate as to whether he’s mentally ready or not. Suffice it to say that if he’s on the start line come Sunday morning we should respectfully assume, and expect, that he’s ready to race.
Elisa Longo Borghini
Liège-Bastogne-Liège pedigree: Third in 2021
Can she win? Paris-Roubaix once again demonstrated the Italian’s ability to blend power with precision with one of the most complete performances we’ve seen in pro cycling all season. That form hung around for La Flèche Wallonne where Longo Borghini was sixth fastest up the Mur de Huy, and while that result wasn’t onpar with what happened in Roubaix, it was such a different style of finish that the two results cannot be compared.
All we can say is that the 30-year-old is on form and that Liège-Bastogne-Liège is one of the few one-day races she has left to win in the sport. The team is well-drilled, the condition excellent, and if she can create a similar sort of gap to the one that she managed over the cobbles then a second monument of the season could be on the cards.
Team: Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl
Liège-Bastogne-Liège pedigree: second, fourth and fifth. Probably should have won in 2020 but he decided to ride the sprint like no one in authority was watching and was subsequently relegated to last in the final group.
Can he win? He’s the reigning world champion and the course looks ideal for his characteristics as a rider. It’s also the last chance for his team to rescue a dismal classics campaign but there are legitimate questions over his consistency and form.
He was off the pace in De Brabantse Pijl and then gave himself too much to do after following the wrong wheel – Pogacar’s – in La Flèche Wallonne. He remains a major threat nevertheless with a well-drilled team that includes outside contender Remco Evenepoel.
Team: SD Worx
Liège-Bastogne-Liège pedigree: The defending champion.
Can she win? Ashleigh Moolman would have been our SD Worx pick for this race given her form and the untimely mechanical she suffered mid-week but it’s impossible to ignore Vollering at this point. She won the race back in 2021, while her record since Flanders reads second, first and third.
Road van Aert
Liège-Bastogne-Liège pedigree: debut
Can he win? So much depends on what’s left in the tank after such a long spring. He might have only raced 13 days so far, but Van Aert has been everywhere, from the illness-infested Paris-Nice, right through to most of the major classics. He missed the Tour of Flanders with COVID-19 but was in the mix at every race he started before and after.
The 27-year-old has never raced Liège-Bastogne-Liège but with Roglič out through injury and Jonas Vingegaard out of sorts, the Belgian should take responsibility and leadership alongside Benoot before taking a well-earned break.
Team: Canyon-SRAM Racing
Liège-Bastogne-Liège pedigree: third, fourth and six over the years.
Can she win? Niewiadoma may not have been on the top step of the podium since 2019 but that doesn’t mean she won’t be in the mix on Sunday. Wednesday’s 12th place was a rare blip in terms of results this season but the 27-year-old was second in De Brabantse Pijl, fifth in Amstel Gold Race, eighth in the Tour of Flanders and fourth in Strade Bianche.
The level has just risen in the women’s peloton over the last couple of seasons but Niewiadoma remains a major player and has all the credentials to crack the code on Sunday and win her first major race in a couple of seasons. It she comes out on top it would mark one of the stories of season, so far.