This Sunday (April 26) Liege-Bastogne-Liege will pull down the curtain on the Spring Classics, and it?s a final act you shouldn?t miss.
The oldest and the hilliest of the April Classics, there are eleven classified climbs in the 2009 Liege-Bastogne-Liege, as well as the 1.5 kilometre-long drag up to the finish in the grimy suburb of Ans.
The Stockeu (km 178), the Redoute (km 226), the Roche aux Faucons (km 241) – introduced in 2008 and which proved to be a key climb – and the Saint-Nicolas (km 255.5) are the best-known and most challenging of these ascents. Each one steadily whittles down the size of the peloton.
By the Saint-Nicolas, just five kilometres from the finish, assuming a break hasn?t gone clear, the front group will normally already be shredded down to around just half a dozen survivors.
Picking a winner, though, after such a tough course that is a mere 261 kilometres long is no easy task.
Top favourite this year has to be the controversial Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d?Epargne), who has finished first, second and first in the last three years.
The Spaniard finished 21st in Amstel and seventh in Fleche Wallonne, so he?s clearly in reasonable shape although he?s done far less racing in 2009 than in 2008.
On Sunday, Valverde is expected at the very least to make a challenge. However, his upcoming trial in Italy on May 11 for alleged links to Operacion Puerto, the Spanish anti-doping investigation, could cast a long shadow over any success.
Other big names taking part are Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank), possibly his brother Frank (Saxo Bank), Damiano Cunego (Lampre), Ivan Basso (Liquigas), and Olympic gold medallist Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
They’re not the only ones who’ll be challenging on Sunday. Christian Pfannberger (Katusha) isn?t exactly a household name, but he finished fifth in Liege last year and was up there in Fleche.
Similarly Joaquim Rodriguez (Caisse d?Epargne), Simon Gerrans (Cervélo), Robert Gesink (Rabobank) and Amstel winner Sergei Ivanov (Katusha) are all outsiders who could shine. Nor can Fleche Wallonne champion Davide Rebellin (Diquigiovanni), four times a L-B-L podium finisher and the outright winner in 2004, be ruled out of the running.
Local hopes for Belgium?s first victory in L-B-L since 1999, when Frank Vandenbroucke destroyed the field on the Cote de la Redoute, are largely based on Philippe Gilbert (Silence-Lotto).
Gilbert has yet to take a single win for his new team this season, but Liege might just be where he makes the breakthrough.
Warm, dry weather is forecast and should make for a fast course. But even so, Liege-Bastogne-Liege will remain one of the toughest and most exciting Classics of the season.
We’ll be covering Liege-Bastogne-Liege in full on the Cycling Weekly website and in the magazine
Sunday, April 26
Finish: Ans (Liege)
For a full climb-by-climb analysis of the race route, read our Climbs of Liege-Bastogne-Liege article.
2008 Alejandro Valverde (Spain)
2007 Danilo Di Luca (Italy)
2006 Alejandro Valverde (Spain)
2005 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan)
2004 Davide Rebellin (Italy)
2003 Tyler Hamilton (USA)
2002 Paolo Bettini (Italy)
2001 Oscar Camenzind (Switzerland)
2000 Paolo Bettini (Italy)
1999 Frank Vandenbroucke (Belgium)
1998 Michele Bartoli (Italy)
Alejandro Valverde wins the 2008 race. Photo: Luc Claessen
|Liege-Bastogne-Liege on TV|
Sunday, April 26: 5-6.10pm, highlights, British Eurosport
Sunday, April 26: 1-4pm, live, British Eurosport HD
2009 Spring Classics: The Cycling Weekly hub – reports, photos, results and more
The Climbs of Liege-Bastogne-Liege, part one
The Climbs of Liege-Bastogne-Liege, part two
Cycling Weekly rider profiles
Valverde takes Liege for second time: 2008 race report
Liege 2008 photo gallery