Amstel Gold Race, La Flèche Wallonne and then La Doyenne – it’s a perfect build-up in one week’s time. Liège-Bastogne-Liège is the last hilly Classic of the spring campaign and it really is a war of attrition. One by one you see favourites getting dropped while travelling the Ardennes’ hills. Typically, the race comes down to a sprint of a select group – that is, if you can still talk of a proper sprint after such an onslaught. Who has enough juice left for a jump or a sprint after such a demanding race?
Yes, of course the name of Alejandro Valverde springs to mind. The Spaniard won four editions and only needs one more win to reach the same level as record holder Eddy Merckx. It would be a brilliant birthday present if he treats himself, as he turns 38 the day after the race.
Valverde won Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2006, 2008, 2015 and 2017. Last year, he bested Daniel Martin in a two-up sprint, while 3 seconds later Michal Kwiatkowski sprinted to third place ahead of Michael Matthews, Ion Izagirre, Romain Bardet and Michael Albasini.
Other former winners – who are still racing – are Wout Poels (2016), Simon Gerrans (2014), Daniel Martin (2013), Philippe Gilbert (2011) and Davide Rebellin (2004). The latter is the only non-contending former champion.
Daniel Martin took the win in 2013 after his then team Garmin dominated the finale. Martin is not afraid of taking up responsibility when necessary and is lethal when he gets a sniff of victory. Yet, he often finds Valverde in his way…
Tim Wellens kicked off his hilly campaign by winning Brabantse Pijl solo, while Michael Valgren won this season’s second Ardennes Classic. In the Amstel Gold Race he outsmarted big names Sagan and Valverde to pocket his second win of 2018 (after Omloop Het Nieuwsblad).
Michal Kwiatkowski and Julian Alaphilippe have good credentials in the current season as well. The Pole won the Volta oa Algarve and the Tirreno-Adriatico, while the Frenchman won the first two stages in the Tour of the Basque Country before he italicized his fine form last Wednesday by winning La Flèche Wallonne.
Favourites 2018 Liège-Bastogne-Liège
***** Alejandro Valverde, Julian Alaphilippe, Michael Matthews, Vincenzo Nibali
**** Tim Wellens, Ion Izagirre, Romain Bardet, Roman Kreuziger
*** Daniel Martin, Michal Kwiatkowski, Tom Dumoulin, Davide Formolo
** Michael Albasini, Tiesj Benoot, Rui Costa, Bauke Mollema, Jelle Vanendert
* Michael Valgren, Philippe Gilbert, Alexis Vuillermoz, Marc Soler, Rafal Majka
Liège–Bastogne–Liège 2018: Route maps, height profiles and more
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