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 before the Grand Tour season commences. The race through the Ardennes is a war of attrition with pre-race favourites getting dropped along the way. The Ardennes’ hills account for roughly 4,500 metres of vertical climbing.
Although the finish returns to the centre of Liège – which means less elevation gain in the finale -, this does not imply an easy sprint finish. But with the race stripped of the hilltop finish in Ans the chances for the likes of Sagan and Matthews definitely go up. In Ans, the race typically came down to a sprint of a select group, which will still be the most likely scenario. Who has enough juice left for a jump or a sprint after such an onslaught? Or will we see a Jungels-like late attack? Last year, the Luxembourger accelerated at the top of Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons and soloed to victory, which was the first solo-win in Liège-Bastogne-Liège since 2012.
Valverde won Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2006, 2008, 2015 and 2017. The Spaniard only needs one more win to reach the same level as record holder Eddy Merckx. Other Liège winners that are still racing are Jungels (2018), Poels (2016), Dan Martin (2013), Gilbert (2011) and Davide Rebellin (2004). The 47-year old simply refuses to retire, although he will, like Bob Jungels, not compete in Liège-Bastogne-Liège 2019. The other former winners do.
Alaphilippe is on fire this season. He started winning in the Vuelta a San Juan and has been doing so ever since. His tally adds up to nine victories with wins in the Strade Bianche, Milan-San Remo and La Flèche Wallonne (this week) standing out. The Frenchman is not afraid of taking up responsibility when necessary and is lethal when he gets a sniff of victory.
Matthews is another pre-race favourite. The Australian started off his 2019 campaign quite late in Paris-Nice, where he crashed out of the race. Yet, he pocketed two stage victories in the ensuing Volta a Catalunya. Matthews finished a fine fourth in La Doyenne 2017 and the new finish suits him even better.
Favourites 2019 Liège-Bastogne-Liège
***** Michael Matthews, Julian Alaphilippe
**** Michael Woods, Michal Kwiatkowski, Philippe Gilbert, Adam Yates
*** Jakob Fuglsang, Maximilian Schachmann, Alejandro Valverde, Tom Dumoulin
** Wout Poels, Enric Mas, Greg Van Avermaet, Diego Ulissi, Romain Bardet, Tim Wellens
* Vincenzo Nibali, Dan Martin, Geraint Thomas, Alexey Loetsenko, Davide Formolo