Alejandro Valverde goes into Liège-Bastogne-Liège as favourite after his Flèche Wallonne win, but who will challenge him for the win on Sunday?
He’s just by far the strongest rider up the Ardennes hills, so it will take a moment of inspiration, some good fortune or some great tactics to hold off the Movistar man’s charge.
The ease he climbed the Mur de Huy with on Wednesday sent out a sign to his rivals for LBL – the length of the race (253km) could be a factor, but the climbs almost certainly won’t be.
Having left Cannondale for Etixx-Quick Step, Martin hopes to have more opportunities to be in contention at the business end of races and proved that to be the case with a good showing at Flèche Wallonne.
He led Valverde most of the way up the Mur de Huy before seeing the Spaniard waltz past him, but third place for Martin was a fine result.
Martin’s teammate Julian Alaphilippe also pushed past him on the Mur de Huy to finish second (again) to Valverde on Wednesday and will be hoping to break his runner-up streak in the Ardennes on Sunday.
He came second in both Flèche and LBL last year – both to the same rider – and looks certain to become Valverde’s successor as King of the Ardennes.
Can he get a win so young, though? He certainly can. We’ve been wondering about his fitness after a long illness this winter, but his climb at Flèche showed there’s absolutely nothing to worry about.
Another former winner to keep in the frame is Simon Gerrans. The Orica-GreenEdge rider didn’t enjoy defending his title last year, crashing and injuring himself for the third time in as four months at the start of the season.
He’s been in decent form this season without ever really shining through. He won another Tour Down Under and then claimed a pair of top-10 finishes in tough stages at both the Volta a Catalunya and Tour of the Basque Country.
Eleventh at the Amstel Gold Race wasn’t exactly what we expected of him, but he’s the kind of guy who can spring from nowhere to claim a race win.
Having won the Amstel Gold in 2013, Kreuziger has finished in the top five of LBL on the last two occasions and he’s been on solid form in the Ardennes so far this year.
Twelfth in Amstel Gold, 11th at Flèche – that only means one thing…he’ll be 10th at LBL. But I’m pretty sure he’ll be disappointed with 10th.
Other than a stage at the USA Pro Challenge last year, the 2013 Amstel Gold is the last race Kreuziger has won, so he may not be a tip for the LBL title, but a podium place is well within his capabilities.
Steve Cummings has made a name for himself in recent months for his late but lethal breakaways to win races, but can he do it again at LBL?
If Cummings can get a lead up the final climb of the day there’s nothing stopping him from taking it all the way to the line in Ans. His breakaway at Flèche Wallonne will have given him the hard miles in his legs, now it’s time to use them to win a race.
Rui Costa has pretty much given up on challenging for Grand Tours, which leaves him with the Classics and the Tour de Suisse to challenge for.
He gave it a pretty good shot at LBL last year, sticking with the attacks up the final climb and sprinting to fourth place behind Valverde, Alaphilippe and Joaquim Rodriguez.
Costa is a frustrating character in that he often doesn’t place well when you expect him to and when he’s not one of the favourites he takes the win – see the 2013 World Championships for example.
It’s been a rollercoaster season for Warren Barguil. A crash with a car in training left him out of action until late March and since then he’s seen his form get better and better.
Fifteenth at Amstel Gold may not sound great, but it’s better than many people were expecting from the young Frenchman, and ninth at Flèche was a very good result.
The climbs in LBL will suit him more and he’s at quite long odds with some online bookmakers, so a top-five finish could well be on the cards for Barguil.