And welcome to our live rolling blog from Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the third monument of the season following the postponement of Paris-Roubaix and the last WorldTour race of the spring classics campaign.
Liège-Bastogne-Liège is a lumpy affair, featuring numerous horribly steep climbs deep in the heart of the Belgian Ardennes. While the race may lack some of the romance of the cobbled classics – particularly the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix – it is widely regarded as one of the toughest one-day races in the WorldTour.
Although there are just 11 recognised climbs — Côte de la Roche en Ardenne, Côte de Saint-Roch, Côte de Mont le Soie, Côte de Wanne, Côte de Stockeu, Côte de la Haute-Levée, Col du Rosier, Côte de Desnié, Côte de La Redoute, Côte des Forges and Côte de La Roche-aux-Faucons — the route offers riders few opportunities to recover between the short, but vicious, climbs that pepper the course.
Within the final 36 kilometres of the 259.1km route three nasty little climbs — Côte de La Redoute, Côte des Forges and Côte de La Roche-aux-Faucons — all with average gradients of around eight per cent or more that will test the riders and end the hopes of those not strong enough to stay within distance of the key protagonists.
Unlike Flèche Wallonne, the midweek race where the winner is almost exclusively decided upon the final ascent of the Mur de Huy, Liège-Bastogne-Liège does at least have some jeopardy involved, making it a fascinating spectacle. In fact, last year’s race where Primoz Roglic pipped the new world champion Julian Alaphilippe to victory as the Frenchman prematurely counted his chickens was, arguably, the best one-day race of 2020. Which is saying something.
Watching brief . . .
The women’s race, the 140.9-kilometre run from Bastogne to Liège, got under way at 7.50am (BST) while the men’s race starts at 10.15am.
Those lucky enough to have subscriptions can watch the action on Eurosport or GCN Race Pass. If you cannot watch the race on TV, or your smartphone, then you can follow the action here – bookmark this page and return at around 1pm to follow the action with us.
Riders to watch out for
The good news for cycling fans is that almost all of the big names will be racing today, though unfortunately for fans of British riders man-of-the-moment Tom Pidcock (Ineos Greanadiers) was forced to pull out on the eve of the race. Having crashed around 28km from the finish of Flèche Wallonne, the 21-year-old did remarkably well to chase back on with help from team-mate Tao Geoghegan Hart and in fact managed to take sixth. However, having sustained a few bumps and bruises it was decided to give today’s race a swerve.
On the starting line, though, is the aforementioned defending champion Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) who has a strong looking team riding in support of him, while Alaphilippe leads the charge for Deceuninck-Quick Step. Alongside the world champion is a supreme young talent who goes by the name of Mauri Vansevenant and although just 21, like Pidcock, the Belgian rider from Ostend looks like a real star and one that appears at home in the hilly Ardennes.
Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar, who finished third here last year, is broadly expected to be leading the UAE Team Emirates line-up, thoughg only because his new team-mate Marc Hirschi who was second in Liège in 2020, has yet to exhibit the form that made the young Swiss one of the hottest properties around.
Jakob Fuglsang, who landed his first monument at Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2019, is in action today, the Dane though may end up being overshadowed by Spanish team-mate Alex Aranburu who has secured a series of impressive results, including a stage at Itzulia Basque Country and seventh at Milan-Sanremo before narrowly missing out on top-10 finishes at Amstel Gold and Flèche Wallonne.
Wout Poels, another former winner, is here with Bahrain Victorious team-mates Matej Mohoric (fourth in 2020) and Dylan Teuns while the ageing, and quite possibly past it, Philippe Gilbert will be in action with fellow Belgian and Lotto-Soudal team-mate Tim Wellens.
Speaking of veterans, the four-time winner Alejandro Valverde celebrates his 41st birthday on Sunday and is honouring the occasion by pinning on the number 41 to the back of his Movistar jersey. Having finished third at Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday one suspects the Spaniard is not simply turning up for the birthday cake, he will be wanting something to wash it down with.
There are a stack more who could do something given the right circumstances. Young Frenchman David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) arrives is good form, while Benoît Cosnefroy (Ag2rCitroën) has been threatening for some time, but has not quite managed to. Yet.
Michael Woods is another perennial favourite for these races featuring steep and spicy climbs, and one suspects his Israel Start-up Nation team will be throwing their full weight behind the Canadian in the absence of Dan Martin. Esteban Chaves (BikeExchange), Maximilian Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic) all certainly have it within themselves to challenge.
For those keen on looking out for the Britons, Simon Carr (EF Education-Nippo) is worth watching, as is Ben Tulett (Alpecin-Fenix) who, at the age of 19 years and 242 days, is the youngest rider at this year’s race and having finished 12th at Flèche Wallonne is clearly a man for the steep stuff. Oh, he’s also a cyclo-cross rider. Of course he is. Mark Donovan (DSM) was 54th at Flèche Wallonne, James Knox (Deceuninck-Quick Step) looked good there too.
Following the withdrawal from Pidcock their starting line-up, Ineos Grenadiers has three British riders with Adam Yates expected to he handed freedom to chase his own ambitions, while Giro d’Italia champion Tao Geoghegan Hart – coincidentally the 26-year-old sealed that memorable maglia rosa six months ago today – is, I understand, very fond of racing the Ardennes. The ever-reliable Luke Rowe will, one assumes, be on road captain-domestique duties.
Confirmed starting list
Ag2r-Citroën (Fra) Benoît Cosnefroy (Fra), Tony Gallopin (Fra), Dorian Godon (Fra) Ben O’Connor (Aus), Aurélien Paret-Peintre (Fra), Michael Schär (Swi), Greg Van Avermaet (Bel).
Astana-Premier Tech (Kaz) Alex Aranburu (Spa), Stefan de Bod (SA), Omar Fraile (Spa), Jakob Fuglsang (Den), Hugo Houle (Can), Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz), Luis León Sánchez (Spa).
Bahrain Victorious (Brn) Eros Capecchi (Ita), Jack Haig (Aus), Heinrich Haussler (Aus), Matej Mohoric (Slo), Domen Novak (Slo), Mark Padun (Ukr), Wout Poels (Hol), Dylan Teuns (Bel).
BikeExchange (Aus): Brent Bookwalter (US), Esteban Chaves (Col), Lucas Hamilton (Aus), Christopher Juul-Jensen (Den), Tanel Kangert (Est), Michael Matthews (Aus), Mikel Nieve (Spa).
Bora-Hansgrohe (Ger) Cesare Benedetti (Ita), Matteo Fabbro (Ita), Wilco Kelderman (Hol), Patrick Konrad (Aut), Maximilian Schachmann (Ger), Ide Schelling (Hol, neo-pro), Andreas Schillinger (Ger).
Cofidis, Solutions Crédits (Fra) Fernando Barceló (Spa), Rubén Fernández (Spa), Simon Geschke (Ger), Jesús Herrada (Spa), Guillaume Martin (Fra), Anthony Perez (Fra), Rémy Rochas (Fra).
DSM (Ger) Nikias Arndt (Ger), Tiesj Benoot (Bel), Mark Donovan (GB, neo-pro), Chris Hamilton (Aus), Andreas Leknessund (Nor, neo-pro), Martijn Tusveld (Hol), Kevin Vermaerke (US).
EF Education-Nippo (US) Jonathan Caicedo (Ecu), Simon Carr (GB, neo-pro), Lawson Craddock (US), Sergio Higuita (Col), Alex Howes (US), Hideto Nakane (Jpn), Michael Valgren (Den).
Groupama-FDJ (Fra) Bruno Armirail (Fra), William Bonnet (Fra), David Gaudu (Fra), Mathieu Ladagnous (Fra), Valentin Madouas (Fra), Rudy Molard (Fra), Romain Seigle (Fra).
Ineos Grenadiers (GB) Richard Carapaz (Ecu), Eddie Dunbar (Irl), Tao Geoghegan Hart (GB), Michal Golas (Pol), Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol), Luke Rowe (GB), Adam Yates (GB).
Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux (Bel) Jan Bakelants (Bel), Ludwig De Winter (Bel), Quinten Hermans (Bel, neo-pro), Maurits Lammertink (Hol), Lorenzo Rota (Ita), Kevin Van Melsen (Bel), Loïc Vliegen (Bel).
Israel Start-up Nation (Isr) Guillaume Boivin (Can), Omer Goldstein (Isr), Reto Hollenstein (Swi), Daryl Impey (SA), Krists Neilands (Lat), Guy Sagiv (Isr), Michael Woods (Can).
Jumbo-Visma (Hol) Robert Gesink (Hol), Lennard Hofstede (Hol), Paul Martens (Ger), Sam Oomen (Hol), Christoph Pfingsten (Ger), Primoz Roglic (Slo), Jonas Vingegaard (Den).
Lotto-Soudal (Bel) Philippe Gilbert (Bel), Sébastien Grignard (Bel, neo-pro), Tomasz Marczynski (Pol), Sylvain Moniquet (Bel, neo-pro), Tosh Van der Sande (Bel), Harm Vanhoucke (Bel), Tim Wellens (Bel).
Movistar (Spa) Jorge Arcas (Spa), Matteo Jorgenson (US, neo-pro), Lluís Mas (Spa), Enric Mas (Spa), Gonzalo Serrano (Spa), Alejandro Valverde (Spa), Carlos Verona (Spa).
Qhubeka-Assos (SA) Sander Armée (Bel), Fabio Aru (Ita), Sean Bennett (US), Simon Clarke (Aus), Sergio Henao (Col), Robert Power (Aus), Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita).
Trek-Segafredo (US) Julien Bernard (Fra), Nicola Conci (Ita), Niklas Eg (Den), Alexander Kamp (Den), Bauke Mollema (Hol), Michel Ries (Lux, neo-pro), Toms Skujins (Lat).
UAE Team Emirates (UAE) Rui Costa (Por), David de la Cruz (Spa), Davide Formolo (Ita), Marc Hirschi (Swi), Vegard Stake Laengen (Nor), Brandon McNulty (US), Tadej Pogacar (Slo).
Alpecin-Fenix (Bel) Jimmy Janssens (Bel), Xandro Meurisse (Bel), Kristian Sbaragli (Ita), Ben Tulett (GB), Otto Vergaerde (Bel), Louis Vervaeke (Bel), Philipp Walsleben (Ger).
Arkéa-Samsic (Fra) Warren Barguil (Fra), Thibault Guernalec (Fra), Kévin Ledanois (Fra), Lukasz Owsian (Pol), Laurent Pichon (Fra), Alan Riou (Fra), Diego Rosa (Ita).