CYCLING Preview: Ardennes Classics week finishes with Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday

Four-time Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner Alejandro Valverde (ESP) (Photo: Usuario Barcex via Wikimedia)

One of the most intense weeks in cycling finishes on Sunday with the third UCI World Tour race in eight days with the 105th edition of Liege-Bastogne-Liege in Belgium. The build-up:

21 April: Amstel Gold Race (NED)
1. 6:28:18 Mathieu van der Poel (NED)
2. 6:28:18 Simon Clarke (AUS)
3. 6:28:18 Jakob Fuglsang (DEN)
4. 6:28:18 Julian Alaphilippe (FRA)
5. 6:28:18 Maximilian Schachmann (GER)

24 April: La Fleche Wallonne (BEL)
1. 4:55:14 Julian Alaphilippe (FRA)
2. 4:55:14 Jakob Fuglsang (DEN)
3. 4:55:20 Diego Ulissi (ITA)
4. 4:55:22 Bjorn Lambrecht (BEL)
5. 4:55:22 Maximilian Schachmann (GER)

Now for Sunday, this famed race of 256 km has 13 returning medal winners:

● Alejandro Valverde (ESP) ~ Winner in 2006-08-15-17; second in 2007-14
● Philippe Gilbert (BEL) ~ Winner in 2011
● Dan Martin (IRL) ~ Winner in 2013; second in 2017
● Wout Poels (NED) ~ Winner in 2016
● Bob Jungels (LUX) ~ Winner in 2018
● Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) ~ Second in 2012
● Julian Alaphilippe (FRA) ~ Second in 2015
● Michael Albasini (SUI) ~ Second in 2016
● Michael Woods (CAN) ~ Second in 2018
● Enrico Gasparotto (ITA) ~ Third in 2012
● Romain Bardet (FRA) ~ Third in 2018
● Rui Costa (POR) ~ Third in 2016
● Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) ~ Third in 2014

Valverde’s four wins ties him for second-most in the race’s history; Belgium’s Eddy Merckx won five times and Valverde could join him; he finished eighth at Ronde van Vlaanderen and 11th in La Fleche Wallonne, so another title would not be totally unexpected.

But there are loads of contenders, and Alaphilippe is going for his fourth win of the season, while Gilbert won Paris-Roubaix a couple of weeks ago. Climbers like Nairo Auintana (COL), Adam Yates (GBR), Dutch star Tom Dumoulin and reigning Tour de France champ Geraint Thomas (GBR) are all possibilities.

Liege-Bastogne-Liege is the fourth of the five “Monument” races held each year, having started way back in 1892. The final Monument won’t come until mid-October with Il Lombardia in Italy. The course is hilly and difficult; it starts at 73 m and finishes at 69 m, but in between are climbs to 520 m in Bastogne and 587 m at the Cote de Mont-le-Soie, plus a dozen others. The race finishes on a major descent and then a flat finish into Liege.

Look for results here.

The women’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege race will be third ever and includes a hilly, demanding course of 138.5 km, with five major climbs. The build-up:

21 April: Amstel Gold Race (NED)
1. 3:25:48 Kasia Niewiadoma (POL)
2. 3:25:48 Annemiek van Vleuten (NED)
3. 3:25:58 Marianne Vos (NED)
4. 3:25:58 Annika Langvad (DEN)
5. 3:25:58 Soraya Paladin (ITA)

24 April: La Fleche Wallonne (BEL)
1. 3:17:04 Anna van der Breggen (NED)
2. 3:17:05 Annemiek van Vleuten (NED)
3. 3:17:08 Annika Langvad (DEN)
4. 3:17:18 Marianne Vos (NED)
5. 3:17:20 Demi Vollering (NED)

The same cast of characters have been among the top finishers in the first two editions of the women’s race:

● Anna van der Breggen (NED) ~ Winner in 2017 and 2018
● Annemiek van Vleuten (NED) ~ Third in 2018
● Kasia Niewiadoma (POL) ~ Third in 2017
● Lizzie Deignan (GBR) ~ Second in 2017
● Amanda Spratt (AUS) ~ Second in 2018

The route starts at 520 m in Bastogne, then moves through a series of modest descents and climbs, with the five tough climbs in the last 80 km of the race. The finish is also downhill from the last climb in Liege into the city center.

Look for results here.