This Sunday’s Liege Bastogne Liege will be the first with the new finale. Gone are the late climbs of Saint-Nicolas and Ans and replaced instead with a more or less flat run into the centre of Liege. The old favourites are still in there though – the Cols and Cotes of Stockeu, Haute-Levee, Rosier, La Redoute and Roche-aux-Faucons.
With such a climb-heavy route but a new sprinter-friendly finish, it’s tough to say for sure how it will be raced. Riders will no longer be rewarded for waiting until the end and being the best to sprint up a hill – instead, those without a sprint will have to create some distance on the late climbs and hopefully animate the race in the process.
Liege Bastogne Liege is the final monument of the Spring Classics season, usually after this race riders start looking towards the Giro. It’s the oldest monument and often is referred to as La Doyenne – the old lady. Traditionally the race has been dominated by Belgian riders with 59 wins. Since 1980 though, there have only been 4 wins.
Alejandro Valverde has taken 4 wins by himself since 2006 – the only multiple-winner in that time. Dan Martin should have won 2 in a row in 2013 and 2014 but crashed out whilst taking the final corner in the lead back in 2014.
Liege Bastogne Liege 2019 Contenders
Men’s Liege Bastogne Liege
Alejandro Valverde is having a so-so Classics season so far by his standards, not quite at the peak of his powers. 7th at Milan-Sanremo, 8th at the Tour of Flanders and 11th at Fleche Wallonne are all solid results but we’re used to more. Even with the new route change, he should be able to get himself in the top-10 at Liege Bastogne Liege. Julian Alaphillipe, however, is winning races for fun currently. Wins at Strade Bianche, Milan-Sanremo and Fleche Wallonne have made 2019 a career-defining season. Add to that a number of stage victories or near-misses like at Amstel Gold and he’s an obvious threat.
Deceuninck-Quickstep, as usual, has a few cards to play. If Alaphilippe isn’t at the races, then they have the Paris-Roubaix winner Philippe Gilbert. He’s been an excellent supporter of the team in 2019 but grabbed his chance at Roubaix. Never one to rule out making a long-range attack stick, the new route may suit this sort of foray. They also have last year’s Liege Bastogne Liege winner Bob Jungels, who won on his own with a solo break. He’s a contender again after the way he raced the early Spring Classics – scoring him a win at Kuurne Brussels Kuurne.
Dan Martin has always been a favourite for this race since he took the win in 2013 and nearly repeated it metre by metre in 2014. An unfortunate fall on the last corner denied him victory then. In theory, the new finish doesn’t suit him as well as the old one did. We’re not used to seeing Martin go off on long solo attacks or sprinting well on the flat. We’ll see how it races but the new route disadvantages him on paper. Enrico Gasparotto might end up being Dimension Data’s lead rider after a crash for Roman Kreuziger at Fleche Wallonne this week. The similarly hilly Brabantse Pijl which has a flat-ish run-in saw him finish 7th and that may be an indicator that he can do well on this new Liege route. He managed a best of 3rd here before back in 2012.
Michal Kwiatkowski can definitely sprint but hasn’t quite had the results to show for it after a bad crash at the Tour of the Basque Country derailed his strong Spring up until that point. This parcours would suit an in-form Kwiatkowski but a brave 11th at Amstel Gold which would’ve been higher without the Van der Poel train was followed by 16th at Fleche Wallonne. It could go either way for him. Greg Van Avermaet is the sort of rider that the climbers will be hoping to drop. If he makes it to Liege with a small group he’ll be confident about being to out-sprint most of the other riders. His Sprint Classics campaign sort of trailed off after a great start, bouncing around just outside of the top-10 since E3 BinckBank. He’s close to the end of a long period of racing and may be missing a bit of top-end compared to others.
Peter Sagan has pulled out of Liege Bastogne Liege.
Peter Sagan is either bluffing really hard or isn’t having a season that he’s normally capable of. He’s now DNF-ed two big races in a row after being dropped quite a way from the finish – something pretty much unheard of in his career. Hopefully, it’s just an illness that’s been affecting him and we’ll see him back to form on Sunday.
Jakob Fuglsang, however, is in great form. He’s starting to get a reputation as Julian Alaphilippe’s lead-out man, seemingly attacking first only for Alaphilippe to come round him to win. He’s had 1 stage win and 1 Overall win in 2019 but also 14 top-10 results. He’s a safe bet for another top-10 and a real chance for the podium.
Lotto has the dual-threat of Tim Wellens and Bjorg Lambrecht. Wellens started the Classics with 3rd at Omloop het Nieuwsblad before going on to finish 10th at Strade Bianche and 3rd at Brabantse Pijl. A rider who won’t be put off by the climbs, his comparative lack of sprint will probably hurt his chances of actually winning. Bjorg Lambrecht has come alive during the Ardennes Classics after a quiet start to 2019. He’s managed 5th at Brabantse Pijl, 6th at Amstel Gold and 4th at Fleche Wallonne. He’s a long-shot for the podium but out-sprinting some of the group that finished Amstel Gold together shows some potential for a higher result.
Valentin Madouas started the 2019 season off well with a pair of 2nd place finishes in French races. He then raced well to finish 11th Overall in Paris-Nice and 17th Overall in the Tour of the Basque Country with some high stage finishes. Only 22, his 8th place at Amstel Gold equalled his highest WorldTour one-day race result. Michael Matthews is a good favourite for Liege Bastogne Liege. He’s had a decent Classics season with 6 top-16 results with a peak of 4th at Brabantse Pijl. Provided he can make it over the climbs, something he’s managed to do in the Ardennes so far, he’ll be a front runner for the sprint in Liege.
There’s a trio of traditionally more GC candidates. Bahrain’s Vincenzo Nibali had a solid defence of his Milan-Sanremo success with 8th place but has finally come alive in 2019 at the Tour of the Alps this week. He’s managed 3 top-10 stage finishes and is 4th Overall currently. The climbs shouldn’t be a problem but the sprint finish might see him pipped by someone like Matthews if he’s still there. Romain Bardet has been decent in the Ardennes so far with 9th at Amstel Gold and 13th at Fleche Wallonne. He’s another for whom the climbs won’t present a problem but the sprint finish will.
Finally, Tom Dumoulin will be another option for Sunweb. Liege Bastogne Liege will be a lead-in to the Giro d’Italia for the Dutchman. After a good start to 2019 with 6th Overall at the UAE Tour, 4th Overall at Tirreno Adriatico and 11th at Milan-Sanremo. Based on Milan-Sanremo he’s another who might struggle to out-sprint non-GC riders.
Women’s Liege Bastogne Liege
Annemiek van Vleuten has never won an Ardennes Classic somehow. In theory the hilly sprint finishes suit her but her great rival (usuall) has always managed to beat her to the win. With the change in parcours for Liege Bastogne Liege also the case for the women’s peloton, it gives her more of a chance. Remarkably consistent, she’s finished 2nd in each of her last 3 races. She’ll be supported again by Amanda Spratt who finished 2nd on the old LBL parcours. She’s finished just outside the top-10 in the Ardennes with two finishes of 11th place.
Anna van der Breggen won Fleche Wallonne this week in the World Champions jersey – it was her 5th consecutive win in that race. She’s also won the last 2 editions of Liege Bastogne Liege. Now with a flatter finish, this may work against her compared to her rivals, but she’s strong enough to disappear on one of the final climbs and reach the finish on her own. Annika Langvad is having an amazing first proper season on the road. She’s finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th in her three races in 2019. She’ll definitely be a contender but will also be working for van der Breggen – so far she’s been able to both race for herself and her leader.
Marianne Vos has only finished 56th in her previous attempt at Liege Bastogne Liege. She’s been in great form though in the Ardennes this year, starting off with 12th at Brabantse Pijl, 3rd at Amstel Gold and 4th at Fleche Wallonne. The new flatter finish in Liege may help her get on the podium like in Amstel Gold. Her star teammate is Ashleigh Moolman who has finished 4th and 6th here in the past. She missed out at Amstel Gold when she crashed whilst sprinting but finished 7th on the Mur de Huy at Fleche Wallonne this week.
Canyon SRAM’s Katarzyna Niewiadoma has enjoyed the Ardennes, winning in Amstel Gold and following it up with 6th at Fleche Wallonne. She’s been on the podium before on the old parcours and in her current form, is a good shout to make it again now. Bigla’s Cecile Ludwig Uttrup has had her best Spring Classics season. 5th at Strade Bianche, 3rd at Trofeo Alfredo Binda and the Tour of Flanders, 6th at Amstel Gold and 8th at Fleche Wallonne – she should be a solid shout for another top-10 here. Another rider having a career Spring Classics campaign is ParkHotel’s Demi Vollering. She’s never raced Liege Bastogne Liege before but finished 7th in Amstel Gold before improving on that to finish 5th at Fleche Wallonne. A young rider, she’s announcing herself as a serious contender.
Sunweb have a number of contenders once again, Lucinda Brand appears to be the one in the best form, particularly since Rivera is having a Sagan-esque struggle for form. 3rd at Dwars Door Vlaanderen and 9th at the Tour of Flanders before finishing 17th at Amstel Gold. It could be down to Leah Kirchmann or Floortje Mackaij too – both did well in finishing in the top-10 at Brabantse Pijl and reasonably high in Amstel and Fleche.
Liz Deignan is coming back into form in her return to the peloton with two results around 20th place. Between her, Elisa Longo Borghini and Ellen van Dijk, Trek will have quite a few options. Longo Borghini went for a long attack at Amstel Gold before finishing 14th. There are others in better form more likely to make the top-10. Ellen van Dijk did a long attack of her own to win Dwars Door Vlaanderen before finishing 5th at the Tour of Flanders. Her 2nd Overall at the Healthy Ageing Tour might help overlook the 36th place at Amstel Gold in her most recent race.
Finally, TIBCO’s Alison Jackson did well to break into the top-10 at Amstel Gold with 9th place. She’s someone who will try to get over the hills with the lead group and once in a sprint situation stands a really good chance. She’s someone who will be close to the bottom reaches of the top-10 again.
Liege Bastogne Liege 2019 Outsiders
Men’s Liege Bastogne Liege
Dan Martin was unable to finish Fleche Wallonne after some illness, if he struggles again, Diego Ulissi will be able to step up. He finished 3rd in this week’s Fleche Wallonne and his best result of 2019 (2nd in a stage of the Basque Country) was also on an uphill finish. With Liege now no longer on an uphill finish that may prevent him getting on the podium again but his form will get him close to it. Enrico Battaglin is an all-or-nothing rider who may try and exploratory breakaway on one of the climbs. 25th at Amstel Gold is respectable but 3rd on the same stage of the Basque Country that Ulissi did well on. He’s definitely someone who could attack on a climb and try and stay away in the finale.
Patrick Konrad is probably now the Bora leader in fairness to him, now that Sagan won’t be racing. After strong stage racing results at the Tour of the Basque Country with 4 top-10 results, 7th at Fleche Wallonne this week was a great result. He shouldn’t have a problem with the climbs and is a bit of a better sprinter than most of the climber sort racing. There’s a chance of a truly high finishing position.
With Adam Yates crashing hard at Fleche Wallonne, Daryl Impey may present Mitchelton-Scott’s best chance. His 15th at Amstel Gold was a strong follow-up to 4 top-10 finishes at Volta a Catalunya. A rider that can get over climbs reasonably well and also have a sprint, he’s probably a Michael Matthews clone that’s not quite as strong – however the new parcours is one that could suit him.
Women’s Liege Bastogne Liege
FDJ’s Shara Gillow isn’t having an amazing 2019 but scored her highest finish of 13th at Fleche Wallonne this week. She’s been 7th and 9th at Liege Bastogne Liege before and that’s something she could potentially repeat if she’s finally coming into form. Boels-Dolman’s Chantal Blaak appears to have had her peak of form earlier on this Spring. Her last two races have been a DNF and a 43rd. Too strong a rider to completely ignore, she’s definitely behind teammates van der Breggen and Langvad in contention for Liege Bastogne Liege.
Park Hotel also have the Brabantse Pijl winner Sofie de Vuyst who has been outshadowed by Vollering in the last 2 WorldTour races. She’s a rider who can finish in the top-20 no problem unless she finds herself helping Vollering achieve another super-high result.
Liege Bastogne Liege 2019 Prediction
1 – Julian Alaphilippe
2 – Jakob Fuglsang
3 – Vincenzo Nibali