Liege Bastogne Liege is the oldest monument in cycling, it’s also the last race of the Spring Classics season. Alejandro Valverde has been the dominant rider of this generation, winning four times in his career. For most of the early 2000s, grand tour contenders were the quickest finishers, with winners of all three tours finishing first.
In recent years strong climbers capable of a punchy finish have won. Irish Brummie Dan Martin won in 2013 before famously crashing out on the last corner whilst leading in 2014. The most controversial finish though was in 2010 when allegations of bribery surrounded Alexandre Vinokourov’s win. This may be the last finish in Ans as the race is looking to move back into Liege from 2019.
Liege – Bastogne – Liege 2018 Contenders
The first two riders to cross the line in Fleche Wallonne (as predicted perfectly in my preview no less) Alejandro Valverde and Julian Alaphilippe are the main favourites. Both finished relatively well ahead of the next rider and history shows that the double Ardennes win is possible – Valverde himself did it last year (as well as 2006 and 2015). If it’s a sprint for the line then, in theory, Valverde would have the edge.
Also in with a chance after animating most of the Spring Classics he’s been involved in is Vincenzo Nibali. The winner of Milan San Remo went on an attack in Fleche Wallonne that held off the peloton until the foot of the Mur de Huy. Winner Alaphilippe was convinced that Nibali was still ahead and didn’t celebrate, thinking that he’d finished 2nd. Expect him to do something, he won’t just roll through tamely.
Michael Matthews got his best result of the Spring by finishing 5th in Fleche Wallonne. After proving he can scale the climbs there, he’s in with a shout on the finale to Ans. Expect some of the teams to try and distance him on the steeper sections like the Cote de la Redoute. Lotto’s leader will be Tim Wellens, he’s in good form winning Brabantse Pijl and finishing in the top-8 in both Amstel Gold and Fleche Wallonne. He got beaten by his lead-out man up the Mur de Huy but still finished well, he should get some help in Ans too.
Michal Kwiatkowski will lead a Team Sky charge that also has Sergio Henao to work with. Kwiatkowski remains a favourite despite an iffy Spring Classics season which lacks any real results of note. He’s still a tough one to rule out because we’ve seen what he’s capable of. Henao finished 11th in Fleche Wallonne and 18th in Amstel Gold, he should be in the mix but not necessarily for the outright win. Astana will have the one-two punch of Jakob Fuglsang and Michael Valgren to work with. Fuglsang managed 8th in Amstel Gold when Valgren won and 16th in Fleche Wallonne. Valgren’s 50th in Fleche Wallonne may be a sign that he’ll be working for others unless the opportunity strikes. The race situation where an elite breakaway needed to be corralled and brought back may have had a hand in that result too.
UAE’s Dan Martin will be hoping for a strong result in a race he’s traditionally been strong in. He won the race in 2013 and had a real chance to beat Simon Gerrans in 2014 until he fell off going round the last corner. Unfortunately, we’ve seen nothing like that sort of form from him in 2018. A DNF in Amstel Gold and a very disappointing 61st in Fleche Wallonne. Some sort of miracle may need to happen for him to be up there this year.
It’s impossible to rule out the 2011 winner, Philippe Gilbert. Whilst he’ll probably be working for Alaphilippe, Quickstep have sent numerous attacks up the road this Spring so we may see something on the Cote de la Redoute which already has his name plastered all over it by supporters stationed there.
The GC contenders always have a shot at Liege Bastogne Liege. The hilly parcours potentially favouring them, especially if they commit to attacking racing. AG2R’s Romain Bardet (which I’ve spelled correctly this weekend) has had a good Spring with 2nd in Strade Bianche and 9th in Fleche Wallonne. A 2nd place in the Tour du Finistere last week also shows that he’s doing well in one-day races at the moment. Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin will have a chance if Matthews isn’t there at the end. He’s not raced since Milan Sanremo a month ago though, so we may see some race rustiness from him.
Team Sky also have 2016 winner Wout Poels to use. Last able to ride for himself in the Ruta del Sol, he finished 2nd overall with a stage win. If he’s let off the leash, we could see him finish strongly again. BMC’s Dylan Teuns was unlucky on the Mur de Huy this week, he was placed well but a mechanical at the bottom of the climb saw him treading water as everyone breezed past. His final position of 30th doesn’t reflect how that finish could’ve been for him. Finally, Lotto also have Tiesj Benoot. He may be past his best form after a particularly good Spring, but he’ll be there as an elite helper for Tim Wellens and may strike out on his own.
Liege – Bastogne – Liege 2018 Outsiders
If Dan Martin falters again, UAE will be hoping former world champion Rui Costa can step up. He finished in the top-20 in Fleche Wallonne, but will require some luck to finish much higher than that in Ans. It’s a similar situation for Bahrain Merida’s Enrico Gasparotto. If Nibali isn’t there at the end, he may be allowed to go for the win – he finished 3rd in Amstel Gold so the legs still have it. If he’s not pressganged into working for Valverde like he was for a lot of Fleche Wallonne, Mikel Landa has a chance to get a result. It’ll require the unlikely scenario of Valverde not being there at the finish though.
Lotto Soudal’s Jelle Vanendert was supposed to be a lead-out man for Tim Wellens on the Mur de Huy but ploughed on and claimed 3rd for himself. He also finished 10th in Amstel Gold to show his own form. Also on a run of good form and rolling back the years is Mitchelton’s Roman Kreuziger. His Ardennes season has been particularly good with 2nd in Amstel Gold and 4th in Fleche Wallonne.
He’s had a fairly quiet season so far with only three races, but Sky’s Geraint Thomas is a contender provided he can stay upright. In stage races he’s finished 3rd in Tirreno Adriatico and 2nd in the Volta ao Algarve so far this season. Direct Energie’s Lilian Calmejane has been tearing it up in the French races this season. He won Paris Camembert won two weeks ago and 10th last week in the Tour du Finistere. He’s not had quite the same results at Worldtour level so far but he stands a chance here.
Liege – Bastogne – Liege 2018 Prediction
1 – Vincenzo Nibali
2 – Alejandro Valverde
3 – Julian Alaphilippe