La Doyenne or “the Old Lady” for the Anglicised among you, returns on Sunday for its 103rd edition!
Normally a very attritional race in its own right, last year’s race had the added dimension of truly awful weather with snow and rain throughout the day. In the end it was Wout Poels who took the victory from a small group that had escaped on the penultimate climb and stayed away until the end, sealing Sky’s first Monument win. Albasini and Rui Costa rounded out the podium.
Poels isn’t here this year to defend his crown so it opens the door for a new winner, or one of the previous champions to step up to the mantle again.
Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.
258km of rolling road through the Ardennes awaits the peloton.
Don’t let the fact that there are only 10 categorised climbs on course fool you, this is a tough and attritional race where the road is up and down a lot throughout the day.
The first 160km will serve as a warm-up for the riders and we’ll see our usual relatively large break go composed mainly of the Pro-Conti teams with a handful of World Tour representatives in their for good measure.
Once we get to 90km to go, the climbs start in earnest, beginning with the Côte de Pont. But it’s the Col du Rosier which could be the site of the first potentially race winning attack I think. At 4.4km in length it is the longest ascent of the race and averaging 5.9% it is steep enough to gain some distance with a strong attack.
From there they tackle a descent before the Maquisard. However, it is probably the final three climbs that this race is famous for.
The Côte de la Redoute comes at roughly 40km to go.
Short and steep, it’s one that might entice the punchy riders into a move depending on the race situation.
Next up after that is the Roche-aux-Faucons, with the Côte de Saint-Nicolas coming at under 10km to the finish line.
There’s little time for the race to regroup once over the summit as they descend before starting the approach into Ans.
The closing climb up to the finish line averages 5.3% for the 1.5km so isn’t overly difficult but at the end of a tough day riders will still need something left in the tank to cope with it.
How will the race pan out?
I think our aggressive Spring racing will continue here and we’ll see a similar race to Amstel. Plenty of teams have several options in their ranks and I would be very surprised to see them all happily wait for the final climb like they do in Fleche.
So we could well see some relatively serious attacks come on the Rosier. Who makes it and what teams are represented will then shape the rest of the race.
If we get strong enough riders from Movistar/Sky/BMC/Orica/Quick Step then it stays away in my opinion. Well, that is of course if they continue to work hard while out in front and everyone co-operates. Although we did see that the front group managed to stay ahead at Amstel even with JJ Rojas sandbagging them.
From there it’s just about being not only one of the strongest riders but one of the most tactically astute.
Or of course, it could all come back together and we get an aggressive final couple of climbs like we had in last year’s edition.
With it being such an open race there is no clear favourite in my opinion, but Valverde is most definitely the closest to one that we have. Imperious on the Huy midweek, he seems to get better with age which is ridiculous when you consider his already illustrious career. In Amstel his Movistar team was caught out and probably would have preferred a different rider up the road. I’m sure they won’t make the same mistake twice but their team still doesn’t look that great. Having already won this race 3 times, he knows what it takes and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him on the top step of the podium again come Sunday afternoon!
Team Sky in theory pose the biggest threat to the Spaniard as they have the great 1-2 punch of Kwiatkowski and Henao (Sergio), heck, you could even through Rosa into that mix too. This race looks best suited to the former world champion though. He’s really regained his footing as one of the best one-day racers in the world this year. With a monument win already under his belt this season he could well go on to make it two!
Dan Martin is QuickSteps leader for this race and rightly so. A former winner here, this is one of his favourite races in the calendar and he always seems to find himself at the pointy end of the day. Finishing 2nd to Valverde (again) on Wednesday, he’ll be hoping to go one better this Sunday. Yet, I have my eye on one of his team-mates and there is certainly some fantasy-league bias to this one; Petr Vakoc. With no Gilbert or Alaphilippe the Czech rider is co-leader elect and has all the abilities to go well on Sunday in my opinion. The way he easily bridged across to Wellens in Brabantse shows how well he is going because Wellens isn’t exactly short of form at the moment. He was unlucky to have suffered a mechanical at a bad time in Amstel and I get the feeling that we haven’t seen the last of him over this past week…
BMC will have two leaders in this race who aren’t clear favourites according to the bookmakers, although I’m unsure as to why one of them isn’t. Those two riders are of course Teuns and Van Avermaet! The former was excellent in La Fleche, taking a great third place. It’s nice to see him living up to the lofty expectations that were put on him after his breakthrough performance in the 2014 Tour of Britain. He certainly has a good opportunity on Sunday to repeat that result. However, it’s his team-mate GVA that interests me more. According to the bookmakers he’s a relative outsider and I just can’t get my head around why! Yes, he was only 12th place in Amstel and looked jaded chasing the front group, but that’s because he was the rider shouldered with most of the workload. The climbs here aren’t too tough and the Olympic Champion has a very, very good chance of taking his second monument of the year.
I expect an attacking race from Orica as they have plenty of good climbers in their team. Likewise the same can be said for Cannondale and Astana. Yet, I just don’t see any of their riders winning this race.
I would love to see Haas go better than his 4th in Amstel for Dimension Data, but he was struggling with illness in Fleche. Maybe it was just a small bug and he’s managed to turn it around?
Izagirre is dangerous for Bahrain, so too are the UAE duo of Costa and Ulissi. I think the Italian will have a really good race here as he prepares for the Giro.
He impressed me a lot in Pais Vasco, especially his 8th place in the TT. Since then he was in the second group in Amstel and finished in 10th place in Fleche. Not bad form!
Bardet and Barguil will hope to top 10, but this is me just filling up some words and naming some more names as I’ve already suggested my winner…
Greg Van Avermaet to show that Amstel was just a blip and he rounds out one of the best spring classics seasons of all time with a fine victory in Liege!
Set my stalls out with this tweet earlier this week and again this morning;
I’ll be marking him down as 200/1 with 0.5pt EW on. He’s into 150/1 now with most places and I still think there’s value to be had with that, especially if you can get the 4 places available.
I went a bit heavy-handed on Vakoc thinking I’d only have two picks and that would be it, but I’m going to have three now so the stakes have risen. It is the last monument for a while though so YOLO as the kids these days say…
0.5pt EW Vakoc @ 200/1
1pt EW Ulissi @ 66/1 with Bet365 (take the 50/1 and 4 places available elsewhere)
2pts EW GVA @ 22/1 with Coral who’re paying 4 places. (would take 20s)
Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated like normal. Who do you think will win La Doyenne? Will we see an attacking race or will it come down to a relatively large group heading towards Liege? I’ll be back again with my Liege Femmes preview so please return for that! Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.