Liège-Bastogne-Liège Preview: Two Suitors for the Old Lady

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La Doyenne Set for April 21, 2024

LIÈGE, Belgium (April 19, 2024) — The 110th Liège–Bastogne–Liège will bring down the curtain on a phenomenal spring classics campaign in which two men have been head and shoulders above the rest. Mathieu van der Poel is set to face his second La Doyenne (6th in 2020), in which he hopes to take the fight to the winner of the 2021 edition, Tadej Pogacar.

However, Tom Pidcock’s triumph in the Amstel Gold Race and Stephen Williams’s victory in La Flèche Wallonne rammed home the point that it is not always a top favorite who wins the race.

The French contingent will be racing under different banners, with Kevin Vauquelin leading the charge for Arkéa–B&B Hotels, Benoît Cosnefroy for Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale, Guillaume Martin for Cofidis, the triple threat Gaudu-Madouas-Grégoire for Groupama–FDJ and Romain Bardet for dsm–firmenich. The likes of Maxime Van Gils, Santiago Buitrago, Mattias Skjelmose and Tobias Johannessen are also serious contenders.

22/04/2023 – Liège Bastogne Liège – Liège / Liège (258,1 km) – EVENEPOEL Remco (SOUDAL QUICK-STEP) – Photo © A.S.O./Maxime Delobel

This Ardennes week has already gone down in history, with Tom Pidcock bagging the first ever British win in the Amstel Gold Race and Stephen Williams following suit in La Flèche Wallonne, where he proved to be the toughest of the 44 riders who overcame a combination of rain, snow, hail and bone-chilling temperatures to finish the race. They will both be back on the road on Sunday, joined by Simon Yates, making a British treble a distinct possibility.

It is easier said than done, however, as Tadej Pogačar and Mathieu van der Poel, the two most successful classics specialists in the current peloton, are returning to action in the last entry of the Ardennes series. The world champion’s second triumph in Roubaix Velodrome brought his monument tally to six, while the ultra-competitive two-time Tour de France winner has been stuck at five since he claimed Il Lombardia last autumn. The Slovenian champion is always hungry for more, but that does not mean he has got any slower. “Pogi”, in a league of his own in Strade Bianche and the Volta a Catalunya, has only missed the mark once this season, in Milan–San Remo (third).

In this bout between two champions with undeniable panache, it remains to be seen who will strike further out on the road to Liège. A fortnight ago, MVDP dropped his rivals in the Orchies cobbled sector, 60km from the line, while Pogačar capped an 80km solo raid in Piazza del Campo in Siena in his first race of the season. Who can do better?

22/04/2023 – Liège Bastogne Liège – Liège / Liège (258,1 km) – EVENEPOEL Remco (SOUDAL QUICK-STEP) – Photo © A.S.O./Billy Ceusters

The top-billed fight will feature these two alpha predators, who did not have to cope with the bitter cold on the road to Huy yesterday, but there will be no shortage of riders eager to fish in troubled waters. Both the Amstel Gold Race and La Flèche Wallonne were a stark reminder that the top favorites do not always end up at the top of the podium. Both the polar explorers of Wednesday and some of those who succumbed to the frosty conditions have a real shot at victory on Sunday… provided that they can stop shivering.

Dylan Teuns and Mattias Skjelmose are just two examples of riders who have what it takes to vie for the win in mild weather. Among those who were unable to match “Stevie” on the Mur de Huy are a host of Frenchmen, who represented 50% of the top8… and of the top18!

France will be pinning its hopes on Kevin Vauquelin, whose performance in Huy evoked fond memories among the tricolores. In 2015, Julian Alaphilippe made a splash with second place in La Flèche Wallonne, right behind Alejandro Valverde. At the time, he was just a few weeks older than the 22-year-old Norman is now. Romain Grégoire (seventh) also helped put the new French generation on the map, but the old guard made an impact too, with Benoît Cosnefroy in fourth place and Guillaume Martin in tenth. Romain Bardet, who is fighting for the top honors in the Tour of the Alps, will join their ranks in a bid to take another podium spot in Liège (third in 2018).

Liège–Bastogne–Liège is also a key race for the host nation, which hopes to have found potential successors to Remco Evenepoel in Maxim Van Gils, following his third place in Huy, and Tiesj Benoot (ninth). Colombia has yet to taste glory in this race, but Santiago Buitrago, third last year, stood gallantly against the forces of nature yesterday (fifth). Nordic cyclists (with 11 Norwegians and Danes among the 44 finishers of La Flèche Wallonne) have also been dealt a decent hand, with aces such as Tobias Johannessen (sixth in La Flèche Wallonne) and the winner of the 2019 edition, Jakob Fuglsang.

25 Teams: Main Contenders

Australia
  • Jayco AlUla: S. Yates (Gbr), Craddock (USA)
Bahrain
  • Bahrain Victorious: Buitrago (Col), Bilbao (Esp), Poels (Ned)
Belgium
  • Soudal Quick-Step: Vansevenant, Van Wilder (Bel)
  • Lotto Dstny: Kron (Den), Van Gils (Bel)
  • Intermarché–Wanty: Calmejane (Fra), Zimmermann (Bel)
  • Alpecin–Deceuninck: Van der Poel (Ned), Kragh Andersen (Den)
  • Team Flanders–Baloise: Bonneu, Maris (Bel)
  • Bingoal–WB: Vliegen, Meens (Bel)
France
  • Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale: Cosnefroy, Lapeira (Fra), Gall (Aut)
  • Groupama–FDJ: Gaudu, Madouas, Grégoire (Fra)
  • Cofidis: Martin (Fra), J. Herrada, I. Izagirre (Esp)
  • Arkéa–B&B Hotels: Vauquelin, Champoussin (Fra)
  • TotalEnergies: Burgaudeau, Doubey (Fra)
Germany
  • BORA–hansgrohe: Higuita (Col), Jungels (Lux), Vlasov
Israel
  • Israel–Premier Tech: Williams (Gbr), Woods (Can), Fuglsang (Den), Teuns (Bel)
Kazakhstan
  • Astana Qazaqstan Team: Lutsenko (Kaz), Charmig (Den)
The Netherlands
  • Team Visma | Lease a Bike: Benoot (Bel), M. van Dijke (Ned)
  • Team dsm–firmenich PostNL: Bardet (Fra)
Norway
  • Uno-X Pro Cycling Team: Johannessen, Eiking, Leknessund (Nor)
Spain
  • Movistar Team: Formolo (Ita), Aranburu (Esp)
  • Equipo Kern Pharma: Galván, Ruiz (Esp)
United Arab Emirates
  • UAE Team Emirates: Pogacar (Slo), Hirschi (Sui), Ulissi (Ita)
The United Kingdom
  • Ineos Grenadiers: Pidcock (Gbr), Kwiatkowski (Pol), Fraile (Esp)
The United States
  • Lidl–Trek: Sjkelmose (D), Mollema (Ned), Bagioli (Ita), Skujiņš (Lat)
  • EF Education–EasyPost: Carapaz (Ecu), Healy (Irl), Powless (USA), Urán (Col)

© A.S.O / Maxime Delobel

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