As ever, Liége-Bastogne-Liége comes as the crescendo to a week of Ardennes racing, a gruelling 253km finale to draw the curtain over another year of racing in this unique corner of Europe. One of the only monuments to still trace a familiar route between the towns which comprise its name, Liége-Bastogne-Liége pivots around a familiar set of climbs in recent history; Cote de La Redoute, Cote de la Roche-aux-Faucons and Cote de Saint-Nicolas. One difference this year is the inclusion of a late cobbled climb in order to add further pressure to controlling the race with 3km remaining; Rue de Hal averaging 10.5% for 600m looking an ideal springboard for a late attack.
Alejandro Valverde once again demonstrated his apparent infallibility to anticipate the Mur de Huy perfectly and win Flèche Wallonne during the week, now making him the clear favourite for today’s race as a result. The question mark over the weather here could be the biggest risk factor for Valverde, the Spaniard has set his mind on entering the Giro d’Italia in top form and should the race become an attritional affair it is easy to see him falling out of contention. Regardless, he remains the rider to beat and will feel confident of bettering most rivals in a sprint after 253km of racing.
Irishman Dan Martin has a great love of this race and is unfortunate to have not already won this more than his sole victory in 2013. He excels on this type of terrain and can certainly match Valverde on the hills, but now finds an added dynamic in his new teammate Julian Alaphilippe, a man who could hamper any chase for Martin with his presence as nobody will wish to tow him into contention. Such a situation would play neatly into Martin’s hands and motivate him to strike out solo in the final kilometres.
Julian Alaphilippe is the perfect alternative to Etixx-Quick Step’s plans with Dan Martin, the young French rider has grown into a specialist for the Ardennes in the last couple of seasons and is now one of the biggest threats to Valverde in a sprint. He chased the Spaniard home for second place at Flèche Wallonne during the week and is clearly in great condition for this last battle at the Ardennes. Etixx will look to set him up as part of an elite group with the hope of him being the fastest man remaining as the line approaches.
Alongside the three obvious contenders above, there is a supporting cast of interesting outsiders who could prove dangerous if given too much freedom late on. The likes of Romain Bardet, Rui Costa and Warren Barguil all have the required talents to conjure up unexpected showings and cause a surprise win at the penultimate monument of the year; after which the wait begins to Autumn’s Il Lombardia.
1st Dan Martin 2nd Julian Alaphilippe 3rd Alejandro Valverde