A new flat, faster finish
Liège-Bastogne-Liège’s steep climbs offer up plenty of opportunities for attacks, with Bob Jungels going clear last year just after the Côte de Roche-aux-Faucons and solo-ing the final 20km to the finish line.
However, this year there has been a major shake-up to the parcours. After all, races don’t get as old as La Doyenne without maintaining a balance between tradition and innovation.
For the 2019 edition the finish line has been moved from the Liègeois suburb of Ans to Liège itself, with the final stretch now a flat sprint instead of the previous punchy last kilometre uphill.
This will favour riders suited to faster, flatter finishes, with Valverde slipping from being a nailed on favourite last year to an outside bet in 2019, despite the fact he’ll line up sporting the world champion’s rainbow jersey.
The latter half of the 256km will ensure the bunch is whittled down to a group of contenders, with nine climbs inside the final 100km meaning only the strongest will be in with a chance of winning the oldest Monument.
The women’s race will also feature this new finish after five climbs on the 138.5km long course.
Will the new finish thwart Alejandro Valverde’s attempt to equal Merckx’s record?
The Spaniard, who celebrated his 39th birthday on Wednesday, has won the race on four previous occasions and will be hoping to equal Eddy Merckx’s record of five Liège wins.
The flattening of the finish will certainly not help Valverde, but write him off at your peril. Who could have predicted he would take the rainbow jersey in Innsbruck last year, as Bala continues to defy those who claim his age will stop him from winning.
Can anyone stop Deceuninck – Quick-Step?
You’d think if a team didn’t take a reigning champion back to the race they won 12 months earlier they would be up against it to bring home a repeat performance.
Not Deceuninck – Quick-Step, though, who despite leaving 2018’s winner Bob Jungels at home boast race favourite Julian Alaphilippe as well as 2019 Paris-Roubaix winner and all-round Classics superstar Philippe Gilbert amongst their seven-man roster.
Julian Alaphilippe is the clear favourite to emerge victorious in Liège, after a stunning spring campaign which began with a win in Milan-San Remo and most recently included victory at La Flèche Wallonne. In between, he’s won Strade Bianche and taken a podium at Brabantse Pijl.
If Alaphilippe isn’t up to it, Gilbert will be looking to repeat his 2011 win (more on that later) having taken the win inside the Roubaix velodrome earlier this month through sheer strength and cunning. The Belgian has now won four out of the five Monuments and is always a threat when he lines up for a one-day race.
In terms of their main competition, Jakob Fuglsang has maintained a side-hustle whilst contracted to Astana of being Julian Alaphilippe’s shadow, finishing second to the Frenchman twice as well as the duo forged a two-pronged disaster performance in the Amstel Gold Race.
Last chance saloon for riders who’ve disappointed this spring
Should Deceuninck – Quick-Step not take home the win, there are a number of riders desperate to turn around their early season performance. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) will not take the start line in Liège, but there are others who will and carry with them underwhelming spring Classics campaigns.
Greg Van Avermaet (CCC) is the obvious pick of a rider who has gone without a win this spring. He was supposed to finish his Classics season at the Amstel Gold Race but has said his condition is good enough for him to continue through to the final Ardennes Classic.
This decision will have likely been aided by the fact Van Avermaet has only one top 10 finish, at the Tour of Flanders, from his outings at the spring Monuments this year. Even in the other Classics, the Belgian could only muster a third place finish at E3 Harelbeke and was runner-up at Omloop Het Nieuwslbad.
Michał Kwiatkowski will also be looking to take home the last ever victory for Team Sky in their current incarnation, after Tao Geoghegan Hart and Pavel Sivakovski finished the team’s stage race career in style at the Tour of the Alps.
Michael Matthews has also flirted with the top 10 on multiple occassions this spring, and Dan Martin will be hungry for another win to add to his 2013 title.
Only one Belgian winner since the turn of the millenium
Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus) recently became the first Dutch winner of his homeland’s Amstel Gold Race since Erik Dekker in 2001.
Apart from Philippe Gilbert’s victory in 2011, you have to go back to 1999 for the last Belgian winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, when Frank Vandenbroucke won.
Looking past Gilbert, a number of his countrymen could potentially turn around their nation’s luck in this race. There’s Greg Van Avermaet, and also Tim Wellens, who after last year’s Brabantse Pijl win finished third this year, as well as securing a bronze in Omloop Het Nieuwslbad.
The 22-year-old Bjorg Lambrecht (Lotto-Soudal) has also shown promise, with fourth, fifth and sixth place finishes in La Flèche Wallone, Brabantse Pijl and the Amstel Gold Race respectively. He’ll be hoping for another top 10 finish as he continues to gain experience in top-level races.
In the women’s race, which began two years ago, there has only ever been one winner, Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans), who will be hard to beat after picking up the win in the women’s Flèche Wallonne 2019.
Belgium are still looking for their first ever podium in the race, with Lizzie Deignan, Amanda Spratt, Katarzyna Niewiadoma and Annemiek van Vleuten the riders who clame close to stopping the Dutchwoman in previous editions.