Bored of the Giro d’Italia already? Well, strange times make for a strange schedule in 2020, meaning that tomorrow sees the oldest monument of all steal the limelight for the day; Liége-Bastogne-Liége. Lumpy, bumpy and lasting 257km, ‘La Doyenne’ remains an energy sapping contest of pure survival.
The route is relatively familiar in its climbs, though tweaks in recent years have taken the shine off the likes of Côte de La Redoute, shifting potential race winning importance onto the steep ramps of the Côte de La Roche-aux-Faucons instead. Despite lacking any long climbs, the race manages to clock up more than 4000m of ascending, which will only feel tougher with the potential of crosswinds and rain thrown into the mix.
The favourite for many will be Marc Hirschi, who won La Flèche Wallonne with a brutally strong performance, proving that his form has carried over well since Le Tour de France and a podium placing at the world championships. His stage win at Le Tour was tailored perfectly to his talents, which are mirrored once again here, tasking the other riders with beating an in form Hirschi on his favoured terrain. Team Sunweb have impressed with their tactical nous during the restart of the season, and could once again seek to load the key moves with riders and give a further advantage to Hirschi ahead of the concluding fireworks.
It will be a tough ask for the recently crowned world champion Julian Alaphilippe to make this monument his first win in the rainbow bands, having decided not to race since his impressive win at Imola. As is often pointed out, the Frenchman is not one for middling performances, so he will either prove rusty when vanishing out the back door or christen his new jersey in style. The finale’s design does offer him good opportunities to either attack with the ambition of going solo to the line or matching the moves of an elite group and pinning everything on his sprint finish.
Last year produced a great ride from Maximilian Schachmann, who will be eager to go even better in 2020, especially after a world championship road race which saw him active during the latter moments. It might prove best for the German to ride relatively defensively, as if he can match all the key moves without going into the red, he will be tough to beat in a sprint for the line.
Both Primož Roglič and Tadej Pogačar are lining up for this year’s race, but it does seem like a huge ask for them to replicate their Tour de France form here, especially as fatigue looks to be creeping up on them since the world championships. The former could be dangerous if allowed to go solo late in the day, as will be extremely difficult to bring back once over Côte de La Roche-aux-Faucons. Pogačar looked strong in the final moments of La Flèche Wallonne, but simply could not match the strength of those around him as the surge to the line began.
Michal Kwiatkowski seems to have tailored his form well for this contest and offers plenty of consideration, especially given his attacking options and immense depth of team support. Solo, elite group or even a larger sprint all see him near the top of the pile as a favourite. A stage win at Le Tour de France, combined with top ten placings at both the world championships and La Flèche Wallonne, suggest the Polish rider will be eager to get amongst the attacks late on.
Undone by poor positioning at La Flèche Wallonne, Michael Woods shall certainly be motivated to make up for it here and hope to improve on his second place finish from 2018. He should be less fatigued than many of his rivals as a result of missing Le Tour de France and has a team which should be able to support him well into the day’s decisive moments. The Canadian’s greatest issue is that, no matter the situation he could win from, it seems that there is bound to be someone else better suited to taking the win. However, a monument is a draining affair mentally too and a lapse of concentration by the bunch could be capitalised upon rapidly by Woods.
Looking better, but still not at his best, Dan Martin will be hoping to win here again. Richie Porte produced a strong showing at La Flèche Wallonne and could threaten with a solo move. Damiano Caruso is an interesting prospect after an impressive ride at the world championships. Michael Valgren has pedigree at U23 level with two victories.
1st Marc Hirschi 2nd Maximilian Schachmann 3rd Michal Kwiatkowski