LIÈGE’21 Preview: Who is Hot For La Doyenne?


Liège-Bastogne-Liège Preview: The oldest Monument on the race calendar – Liège-Bastogne-Liège will be run this Sunday and, as always, it brings out a mix of Grand Tour riders and the hilly Classics specialist fro a royal Walloon battle. Ed Hood has a look at the route, history and who is hot for the ‘the longest serving, most experienced lady’.

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Snow on Sunday – let’s hope not

How come the race and the Flèche Wallonne are called, ‘Ardennes Classics’ – I thought that the Ardennes were around Oudenaarde in Flanders?
It’s a little confusing, yes but the ridge at Oudenaarde is the ‘Flemish Ardennes,’ the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège races take place further to the south in the French speaking Wallonia region. I’ll borrow from Wiki to elaborate;

    The Ardennes is a region in southeast Belgium that extends into Luxembourg, Germany and France, the rugged terrain encompasses rolling valleys, meandering rivers, extensive caves and dense forests crisscrossed with hiking paths.

Liège’21 route

Liège – Bastogne – Liège, does it really do that?
Yes, indeed, it leaves the former ‘coal and steel town’ of Liège and heads south to Bastogne at 100 kilometres before, as Super Tramp might say, ‘Taking the Long Way Home’ back to Liège to complete 259K.

The oldest and probably the hardest Monument

‘Bastogne,’ weren’t there big battles there in World Two?
Yes, the ‘Battle of the Bulge,’ and the parcours is dotted with reminders of those dark days; tanks, memorials, defence works. The German’s launched a desperate but eventually abortive counter-attack against allied forces in December 1944 aimed at reaching the port of Antwerp and driving a wedge between US and British forces; it lasted four weeks with 20,000 US serviceman losing their lives in freezing conditions. The US defence of Bastogne is now the stuff of military legend; on 22nd December Major-General Anthony McAuliffe, holding the besieged city was called upon by the Germans to surrender. He replied ‘Nuts!’ and when asked for clarification responded ‘Go to hell!’

Liège 1914 – The war was coming

Why do they call the race, ‘La Doyenne?’
‘La Doyenne’ is French meaning, ‘the longest serving, most experienced lady,’ the race is the oldest of all the Monuments with the first edition won by Leon Houa in 1892 as an amateur event with Houa also winning the first professional event in 1894. This will be the 107th running of the race – bear that in mind when suggesting that the Strade Bianche should be branded a ‘Monument.’

Liege - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Greg LEMOND pictured during Luik - Bastenaken 1986 - Luik - photo Cor Vos © 2018
How hard Greg?

I’ve seen pundits say it’s the hardest of all the Monuments but Milano-Sanremo is longer and Flanders and Roubaix have all those cobbles?
All very true but the second half of this race is unrelenting with one tough climb on gnarly roads, after another, La Roche-en-Ardenne climb comes around 75K in then the Cote de Saint-Roche at 123K but inside the final 100 kilometres there are nine categorised climbs; and whilst these aren’t Alpine passes neither are they ‘bergs’ to be climbed purely on power. The Col du Rosier for instance at 197K is some 4.4 kilometres long – if you can’t climb then you can’t win, it’s that simple.

millar van der poel
La Redoute, not as decisive as it used to be – Robert Millar and Adri van der Poel

Isn’t La Redoute the decisive climb, though?
Not so much now, albeit used to be. There are still two climbs after La Redoute, the Cote des Forges and the tough Roche-au-Faucons where Jakob Fuglsang sparked his winning move in 2019, whilst last year an elite group of five sprinted it out.

2020 Liège finish – Good for Roglič – Not so much for Alaphilippe

Doesn’t it finish in that horrible retail park anymore?
Thankfully, no. It was an incongruous finish to a great race, taking the race back into the city rests much easier with traditionalists – including me.

Hoogvliet - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - archief - archive - stock - Eddy Merckx - foto /Cor Vos ©2008
Eddy – Who else?

Give us some statistics then. . .
As said above, the race goes way back to 1892. ‘Recordman’ on five victories is, unsurprisingly, Eddy Merckx, he also took a second and third place in the race to give him seven podium finishes. Another man with seven podium finishes is still pushing those pedals – Alejandro Valverde has four wins, two second places and a third to his credit. Sharing four wins is dapper Italian, Moreno Argentin, a man who was virtually unbeatable in an uphill sprint at the end of a hard race.

Moreno Argentin – Pure class on a bike – Can the World champion win in 2021?

There are quite a few previous winners on the start list, can any of them win again? There are actually six past winners lining up.

Valverde – too old? Maybe not

Alejandro Valverde [Movistar & Spain] who we mentioned above has won this race four times but despite his recent win in the GP Indurain and strong showing in the Tour of the Basque Country and Amstel it’s unlikely he can win again; there are too many ‘Young Turks’ – and those pesky Slovenians. His most recent win, 2017 at 36 years 363 days makes him the race’s oldest winner.

Phil Gil has a fine palmarès, but…

Philippe Gilbert [Lotto Soudal & Belgium] won in 2011 and has five top 10 finishes to his name but at 38 years-of-age it’s difficult to see hum usurping Valverde as the oldest winner.

2013 was a long time ago for Dan Martin

Dan Martin [Israel Start-Up Nation & Ireland] won in 2013 but is another we think it would be difficult to repeat that performance.

Liège 2019 went to the Dane

Jakob Fuglsang [Astana & Denmark] won in 2019 and whilst this year his form hasn’t been notable he’ll be working to ‘peak’ for the Ardennes races no doubt, albeit his Amstel looked like the 0% alcohol version to us.

Wout Poels – winner in 2016

Wout Poels [Bahrain Victorious & The Netherlands] won in 2016 and is still a very capable rider but see comments above re. ‘Young Turks’ and Slovenians.

No Liège for Bob

Bob Jungels [AG2R Citroën & Luxembourg] won in 2018 and whilst we’re not saying his best days are behind him at 28 years-of-age, Patrick Lefevere has the knack of letting riders go just at the right moment – Jungels won’t be riding on Sunday as a result of his crash on Sunday at the Amstel Gold Race. The Luxemburger suffered a slight cranial trauma without any symptoms, but during his training session on Monday, it was apparent that he had not fully recovered.

Roglič looked strong in Amstel

Primoz Roglič [Jumbo Visma & Slovenia] after writing off the chances of five of the previous winners we come to another man who can most certainly repeat last year’s win. His current form broaches no questions; three stage wins in Paris-Nice with the GC his until fate [karma?] intervened and he landed on the tarmac, twice. Then came a clean sweep of GC, points and mountains in the Tour of the Basque Country prior to an impressive but mechanically compromised ride in the Amstel. He’s backed by a very strong team – including Gesink, Oomen, and Vingegaard; the man can win.

Pogačar – What can you say

You mentioned ‘Slovenians,’ plural?
That other dude would Tour de France winner, Tadej Pogačar [UAE Team Emirates]; in 2021 he’s won the UAE Tour and Tirreno then placed third in The Basque Country. He was third into Liege last year and like his compatriot has a strong team behind him with the likes of Formolo and Costa – plus another young man who we’ll come to in a moment.

Hirschi hasn’t shown much yet this year

How about those ‘Young Turks’ you mentioned?
Aforementioned Mr. Tadej Pogacar’s Swiss team mate, Marc Hirschi at 22 years-of-age falls firmly into this category; he was second here last year after winning the Flèche-Wallonne. He’s had no results of note thus far in 2021 but be in no doubt his ‘peak’ will be planned for The Ardennes albeit he didn’t display a frothing head in the Amstel. The UAE Team Emirates will not start Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, due to two cases of covid in the team, we wait to see if they will start in Liège. An outsider whose jib we like the cut of is 21 year-old American Matteo Jorgensen but he may be sacrificed on the Movistar altar for high priest, Alejandro. Faun-Ardeche Classic and Basque Country stage winner, David Gaudu [Groupama FDJ & France] is 24 years-old and worth watching. As I write this, small but perfectly formed phenomenon Pidcock T. is not on the INEOS Grenadiers start line up for Liège but by the time you read this he may well have won the Flèche after utterly dazzling performances in the Brabantse Pijl and Amstel – it would be surprising if the team doesn’t change the game plan?

Gaudu has some good form at the moment

And the rest?
Le Champion du Monde, Monsieur Alaphilippe [Deceuninck – Quick-Step] blew this one last year with a sprint irregularity and premature victory salute so will be out to make amends for sure but was another not displaying any sparkling bubbles in the Amstel.

Alaphilippe – Not 100% yet

On paper, slight French climbers, Guillaume Martin [Cofidis] and Romain Bardet [DSM] should be suited to this race but. . .

guillaume martin
Guillaume Martin could do with a big result

Canada’s Michael Woods, [Israel Start-Up Nation] has an excellent record when gravity intervenes and has made the podium here, he’ll be in the mix having ridden strongly in the Amstel.

Woods – Outside bet?

Where can we get additional form clues?
Watch the Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday – and remember to put a few Euros on Pidcock. . .

Jupiler is brewed in Liège, but the frites have to be Flemish

# The race tipple?
It can only be Jupiler, brewed at Piedboeuf Brewery in the Jupille-sur-Meuse neighbourhood of Liège; the highest selling beer in Belgium, with around 40 percent share by volume. For live action go to SteepHillTV. #

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