Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Liège-Bastogne-Liège | Pogacar and Van der Poel are going to fight it out, right? – a preview

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The duo have not played too often this season. Tadej Pogacar made the conscious choice not to race much in the spring, he wants to keep his powder dry for the double Giro-Tour, which he has set his sights on. Pogacar comes to Liège with only nine days of racing – including the Strade Bianche and Tour of Catalonia (four stage wins and the final classification!) – in his legs.

His friend and opponent Mathieu van der Poel has not raced much either. We recorded six racing days for him. But we can estimate that the races he competed were impressive. After winning the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, the absolute top form in the Amstel Gold Race appeared to have disappeared again. However, it may also be that Van der Poel secretly sees more merit in LBL this year, although he only rode that race once before (in 2020).

That year the battle for victory was literally decided on the finish line. Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe was already cheering, but Primoz Roglic threw his front wheel over the finish line just before. Van der Poel finished sixth. Although not exactly built for the Walloon climbs, the current world champion already indicated at the time that he would return one day to take a shot at victory.

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Liège-Bastogne-Liège | Evenepoel waves to the camera and celebrates victory early

Old and familiar

For the oldest classic on the WorldTour calendar, it all looks ‘old and familiar’. The 2024 edition of La Doyenne is 255 kilometers long and, as always, visits the regular stopping points. While it is always a bit quiet on the way to Bastogne, the drivers then face quite a few climbs and climbs. The Saint-Roch, Wanne, Stockeu, La Redoute and Roche-aux-Faucons are the well-known names that usually hurt the peloton a lot.

Until 2019, LBL finished in the hideous industrial town of Ans, but the finish now has a lot more grandeur. The return to the center of Liège means that the Côte de Saint-Nicolas, but the Côte de la Roche-Aux-Faucons, is no longer the last significant climb. Although the pimple appears 13 kilometers from the finish, and afterwards it is largely flat (and especially slightly descending), this has not had a negative impact on the honors list. It has not just become a sprinters’ race. Almost without exception, the classic is won by a big name with climber’s legs.

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Liège-Bastogne-Liège | Watch Evenepoel’s equally decisive and powerful attack here

Without a doubt new winner

After two consecutive victories by Remco Evenepoel, one thing is certain: La Doyenne will have another winner in 2024. Evenepoel was one of the victims of the much-discussed crash in the Tour of the Basque Country. However, this does not mean that a new name will climb to the podium. Because the winner of 2021 is the big favorite this time: Tadej Pogacar.

The Slovenian unintentionally knew that all eyes were on him after the fall of many Tour favorites in the Tour of the Basque Country. What will that accident mean for the chances of Jonas Vingegaard, Primoz Roglic and Remco Evenepoel, among others, in July, and how much can Tadej Pogacar (who is missing in the Basque Country) now call himself number 1 contender in the Tour de France? There were no answers to those questions in recent weeks, partly because Pogacar was quietly preparing – at height – for the coming months. In Liège-Bastogne-Liège he returns to the peloton, as the main contender.

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Liège-Bastogne-Liège | Remco Evenepoel wins for the second year in a row – These are the highlights

To wait long?

Pogacar took control of the race on the Côte de la Roche-Aux-Faucons in 2021. In Liège he then sprinted away from Julian Alaphilippe and David Gaudu. Evenepoel did not wait that long in the past two years. In 2022 he set off on the Côte de la Redoute, for a solo of almost thirty kilometers. Evenepoel also soloed to victory in the last edition, but now he waited a little longer before making his decisive exit.

At that moment he was no longer bothered by Tadej Pogacar. The leader of UAE Team Emirates had a trilogy in mind after his victories in the Amstel Gold Race and the Flèche Wallonne, but had already fallen in the first hours of the race. His broken wrist would not only cost him LBL, but also break him later in the season.

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Cycling | Monuments battle Pogacar vs Van der Poel: 9 victories in Monuments in pictures

Opponents

The question is who can make it difficult for Pogacar and van der Poel. The winner of the Amstel Gold Race, Tom Pidcock, also had his sights set on the Ardennes diptych, but dropped out in the Flèche Wallonne due to the cold. Pidcock cannot be denied courage, which could be an advantage in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He certainly won’t want to let Pogacar out of his sight for a second.

Michael Matthews, Dylan Teuns and Mattias Skjelmose – along with many others – also suffered from hypothermia on Wednesday. Stephen Williams was still chattering at the finish line on the Wall of Huy, but he did so as the winner. The climber from Team Israel Premier Tech had already started the year great with a win in the Tour Down Under, but confirmed in the Flèche Wallonne that from now on he must always be taken into account. He can probably forge a nice plan together with Dylan Teuns.

On Wednesday, Benoit Cosnefroy, Tiesj Benoot and Guillaume Martin, among others, also came into focus. Richard Carapaz also looked remarkably fresh on the final climb. Tobias Halland Johannessen had put his red-yellow colleagues from Uno-X to work, but failed in the end. The big question is what he can do on Sunday.

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Walloon Arrow | Stephen Williams wins the tough Flèche Wallonne with a devastating attack on the Wall of Huy

Question marks

There are at least as many question marks about riders who did not ride the Flèche Wallonne, with the exception of Pogacar and Van der Poel. The question is how Wout Poels comes out of the Tour of the Alpes. The Dutchman sat in the front row there almost every day. His teammate Santiago Buitrago, third in Liège last year and fifth in the Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, can also be counted among the outsiders.

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Amstel Gold Race | Tom Pidcock wins after crazy final – Fastest of a group of four

The hills in a row

Eleven climbs are categorized as such in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and many more bumps await the riders in the hilly Ardennes. In the final, the Côte de la Redoute, Côte des Forges and Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons will serve as judges.

The eleven climbs:
Côte de Bonnerue (2.5 km at 5.2%), another 178 km
Côte de Saint-Roch (1 km at 11.2%), another 137 km
Côte de Mont-le-Soie (1.7 km at 7.9%), another 93 km
Côte de Wanne (3.6 km at 5.1%), another 85 km
Côte de Stockeu (1 km at 12.5%), another 78 km
Côte de Haute-Levée (2.2 km at 7.5%), another 74 km
Col du Rosier (4.4 km at 5.9%), another 60 km
Côte de Desnié (1.6 km at 9.4%), another 47 km
Côte de la Redoute (1.6 km at 9.4%), another 34 km
Côte des Forges (1.3 km at 7.8%), another 23 km
Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons (1.3 km at 11%), another 13 km

The circumstances

Although the weather in the Walloon Ardennes is almost never extremely nice, it was of course very bad last Wednesday in the Flèche Wallonne. Hail, snow, driving rain and cold – bitter cold – the peloton had to deal with on the way to the Wall of Huy. That was crazy to many. Several teams only had riders with DNF after their name in the final ranking, none of their riders finished.

Ultimately, about 40 drivers were included in the results. The question is to what extent they suffered too much along the way, and whether that will have an effect on their performance on Sunday. Not very good weather is forecast for this weekend either. It may be slightly warmer (10 degrees) and drier (a few showers), but it won’t be really great.

The start in Liège is Sunday morning at 10:10 am, the finish is planned for 4:30 pm.

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Liège-Bastogne-Liège | Primoz Roglic wins in extremis

EUROSPORT STARS

** Santiago Buitrago, Tom Pidcock, Tiesj Benoot, Stephen Williams, Richard Carapaz

* Wout Poels, Benoît Cosnefroy, Mattia Skjelmose, Marc Hirschi, Maxim Van Gils, Dylan Teuns

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