Liege Bastogne Liege 2018 Preview

The final race of the Ardennes’ week sees the riders tackle the fourth Monument of the year. We saw a tactical race last year but one that was ultimately decided by the final drag into Ans, which saw Valverde double-up after his win in Fleche earlier in the week.

Alejandro-Valverde-Liege-Bastogne-Liege-Movistar-2017-salute-Michele-Scarponi-pic-Sirotti

Can Alaphilippe repeat the feat this year? Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Pretty much a carbon copy of last year’s race!

liege-bastogne-liege-2018-profile-be36aba470

Roughly 4000m of climbing over 258km makes it a long day in the saddle for many, especially with the majority (9 out of 11) of the categorised climbs featuring in the final 100kms of the race. Expect to see a race of attrition

There is a chance we see some action on the Côte de La Redoute (2km at 8.9%) as this was a springboard for a group of escapees to go last year. With the climb cresting at just over 35km to go, if several strong teams are represented then it could be the spot of the winning attack of the day.

The Côte de la Roche-Faucons (1.3km at 11%) comes next and again offers those not wanting to wait until the end of the race to spice things up. Over the top only 19kms so a chase will have to be organised quickly to bring anyone ahead back: especially when the following few kilometres are all down hill.

Last but not least, the Côte de Saint-Nicolas (1.2km at 8.6%) can split the bunch again on the run in to the line. If not, it will all come down to the final uncategorised ramp in Ans.

cote-de-ans

Although it isn’t very tough when taken alone, once you consider everything else that the riders will have faced then the 1.4km rise will see gaps in the peloton. There are a few hundred metres of flat once the riders turn left at the top of the rise, but if a rider has a few seconds gap then it is race over. Will it come down to a reduced sprint?

L for Legs

Liege will be one of the longest races on the calendar for many of the riders here and it is this length combined with the rolling terrain that makes it very difficult for a lot in the peloton to win. For a rider to go well, ideally they have had to show in the past that they can cope with the distance so an ok result in any of the monuments are almost a necessity but obviously the ones with more climbing take precedent, i.e. here or Lombardia.

Every winner here in the past 5 years has competed at this race a minimum of 3 times before they have gone on to take glory. So course knowledge but also effort management are important factors to consider too.

However, statistics and records are there to be broken and we’ve had riders go very well on their first attempts here: Alaphilippe’s 2nd place in 2015 springs to mind.

Liège-Bastogne-Liège-2015

Nonetheless, experience often shines through so those at the head of the betting reflect that with Valverde, Alaphilippe, Nibali and Matthews as the favourites.

No doubt though you will have read a lot of previews the past few days that go into great detail about them and their chances, so as I don’t want to bore you (and I’m short of time), I will avoid them and just focus on 4 other riders who I think might have a chance.

The Countdown Approach

One from the top, one from the middle and two from the bottom…

Romain Bardet.

This is the Frenchman’s 6th appearance at the race, having previously finished 13th (2013) / 10th (2014) / 6th (2015) / 13th (2016) / 6th (2017). Not a bad string of results, he seems to be very consistent here! He was an outsider of mine for Fleche, a race in which he finished 9th at, but apparently he suffered from a crash not too long before the final ascent of the Huy so it makes the result an even better one. 2018 has been a solid year for the AG2R rider and although he hasn’t performed too well in stage races, he has really shone in one-day races. In the 7 one-day races he has competed in so far he’s finished in the top 10 on 6 occasions: the only time he didn’t achieve that feat was in the not very climber friendly (unless you’re Valverde) Dwars Door Vlaanderen. Not bad! The longer ascents of Liege should suit him very well. I’m intrigued to see how he approaches the race but no doubt we will see him attacking at some point towards the closing stages of the race. He’s one who might take advantage of the “big favourites” marking each other.

Tiesj Benoot.

03-03-2018 Strade Bianche; 2018, Lotto - Soudal; Benoot, Tiesj; Siena;

He finally got the monkey off his back after taking a great win at Strade Bianche earlier in the year. In general he has really taken a step up in the level of his performances and he seems to be moulding himself into someone who can go well on a variety of terrain. This was highlighted with a 4th place on GC in Tirreno which was closely followed by successive top 10 places in the WT Belgian one-day races. This will be his first attempt at Liege which does make it harder for him to go well here but given he has been at the pointy end in Flanders before, I think he should be ok. Deliberately missing Roubaix to focus on the hilly Ardennes, the past week hasn’t gone exactly to plan for him. He DNFd Amstel after having a bit of an off day before working for team-mates in Fleche, possibly still recovering from whatever made him struggle in Amstel. However, this is the parcours that should suit his characteristics and I think we will see him near the head of the action tomorrow. Lotto Soudal have plenty of strong riders so they should approach the day aggressively, can Benoot make the right move?

Stephen Cummings.

The most difficult rider to read in the peloton, the British champion arrives at the race not named as one of Dimension Data’s potential winners in their press release. When has that ever stopped him going well though? Cummings set his sights on an unnamed Monument last year (according to Brian Smith) but he didn’t really shine in either San Remo or Lombardia so potentially it is Liege he will be gunning for this time round. He has raced here before, finishing in 19th place in his last outing back in 2016. Theoretically he should go well on the rolling terrain but as I’ve suggested above, it is hard to tell where he is at form wise and if he can actually be bothered to try. His best result this year on an open road stage is 73rd in Milan Sanremo, with a 92nd place on the third stage of Itzulia the only other time he has finished within the top 100. An almost impressive achievement! Clearly the form is good…

Sam Oomen.

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A talented rider, it is incredible to think he is still only 22 years old. Liege is a race that Oomen has competed at twice already, finishing 26th on his first attempt in 2016. It was an 11th place in Lombardia last year that caught my eye in regards to his classics potential; no mean feat for someone so young to go well in that brutally tough race. With his first Grand Tour in his legs, he should reap the benefits of it this year. Tomorrow he will most likely play a supporting role for Matthews but he will probably be used in an attacking sense so that no one else from the team has to work behind. We have seen in previous races that early attacks stick if enough of the stronger teams are represented; could Oomen get lucky? He has the punch on the slopes to fancy his chances in a group of “second-tier” riders.

Prediction

A tactical race with some of the bigger favourites marking each other, leading to a bold attack from Romain Bardet paying off and securing the Frenchman his biggest ever win.

BARDET_10_BD_©Vincent-Curutchet

Betting

Tweeted out my selections yesterday.

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Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think is going to win La Doyenne tomorrow? Will we see a surprise or will the favourites be at the fore? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

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