The Spring Classics conclude this Sunday with Liège-Bastogne-Liège offering the final opportunity for riders to earn a coveted Ardennes’ crown.
The fifth edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège will see the peloton tackle 141km on the punishing and hilly roads of Wallonia, Belgium. Starting in Bastogne, the peloton will head north over undulating terrain for the first 53km before the first of 7 classified climbs – the Côte de Wanne (3.6km/ 5.1%) – drops the metaphorical flag on the ensuing war of attrition.
Over the next 30km the bunch face 3 further classified climbs via the Côte de la Haute-Levée (3.1km/7%), the longest climb of the day – the Col du Rosier (4.4km/5.9%.) – and a new addition for 2021 – the Côte de Desnié (1.6km/8.1%).
The descent of Desnié will then drop the riders into arguably the most decisive phase of the race. A technical and twisted approach leads into the famed (and feared) Côte de La Redoute (2km/8.9km) whose steep slopes have often provided the launch pad for winning moves. Cresting Redoute, 35km remain, and the race is likely to be in pieces. More undulations offer little chance of respite and soon enough the stinging gradients of the Côte des Forges appear (1.3/7.8%) at 118km.
10 km later, the strength-sapping Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons (1.3km/11%) is the last official climb of the day. However, this unrelenting course cruelly mocks tired legs as it continues to climb along a false flat for several further kilometres. Only with around 10 km to go will the riders finally descend into Liège leading to a flat run in over the final few kilometres.
The past two editions of the race have been won solo with the winning move initiated on the notorious Côte de La Redoute. Last year saw Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) hold off a late chase from Grace Brown (BikeExchange) in a thrilling pursuit over the final kilometers. Deignan has been a noticeable absence so far during Ardennes week, so it is unlikely we’ll see her defend her title on Sunday. Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), however, will certainly look to repeat the emphatic 35km solo win of 2019. The course suits her well and encourages the long ranging ‘trademark Annemiek’ attacks. Having yet to raise her arms aloft this week, she’ll be hoping to do so in Liège.
Anna van der Breggen (SD Worx) won the first two editions of the race in 2017 and 2018 and the World Champion will be looking to replicate those successes this year. With her seventh consecutive La Flèche Wallonne win on Wednesday confidence will be high, and she’ll want the last Ardennes race of her career to finish the same way the majority have gone – with a win. From a team perspective, teammate Demi Vollering is also a rider with a good chance of grabbing the top spot particularly if the race comes down to a select group sprint.
Likewise, compatriot Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) is always a rider to note. Having ticked off Amstel Gold last Sunday, she’ll also want to scratch off Liège-Bastogne-Liège as one of the very few races she has yet to win in her illustrious career.
Polish rider Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon SRAM) came third in this race back in 2017 and is another favourite to watch. After her second place in La Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday where she was the only rider who could follow van der Breggen on the Mur’s brutal slopes, Niewiadoma will be hoping she can rise to the top spot on Sunday.
Trek Segafredo have ridden impressively so far in the Ardennes showcasing the strength of depth that lies within their team. Brabantse Pijl winner Ruth Winder and Lucinda Brand have been animating the racing and Elisa Longo Borghini has shown her great climbing form on both the Cauberg and Mur. With such strength and teamwork expect to see them challenge the Dutch stronghold in a bid to take an elusive Ardennes win.
Similarly, the Australian squad of Team BikeExchange will be hoping to finish the week off with a win. 2nd last year, Grace Brown will be hoping she can go one better this time if the opportunity arises, but with Lucy Kennedy and Amanda Spratt the team has plenty of options.
Other riders to watch include FDJ’s Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, Mavi Garcia (Alé BTC Ljubljana), Julliette Labous (Team DSM) and Erica Magnaldi (Ceratizit-WNT).
When: 25th April, 8.50am (CET)
Where: Bastogne, Belgium
What: 141km hilly road race.
Who to watch:
Anna van der Breggen *****
Annemiek van Vleuten ****
Kasia Niewiadoma ****
Marianne Vos ****
Demi Vollering ****
Top Outsider: Mavi Garcia
TV Coverage: GCN+