Liege-Bastogne-Liege - Roglic & Alaphilippe set to lock horns again but don’t count out Pidcock
With Primox Roglic firing on all cylinders, Tadej Pogacar smarting from a loss in Itzulia, plus Julian Alaphilippe coming in scorching hot off the back of an imperious victory at La Fleche Wallonne, it's an exceedingly difficult ask to pick a winner for Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Here, we run through some of the likely winners, those with a podium shot – as well as some of the really dark horses.
Primox Roglic takes it by a nose in the 2020 edition of Liege-Bastogne-Liege after Alaphilippe celebrates early
Liege-Bastogne-Liege will be run for the 107th time on Sunday, and there is a veritable smorgasbord of potential winners, with one of the strongest fields the race has ever seen.
Picking a likely winner is a tough call, so we've broken the top ten candidates into five-star favourites, four-star side bets, three-star outsiders and then the best of the rest – or the real dark horses.
Primoz Roglic is the favourite with the bookies and it's hard to disagree with them on this one. The Slovenian is in impressive form – his second place at La Fleche Wallonne attests to that fact. Throw in the fact that Roglic is also the defending champion after that moment in 2020 when Julian Alaphilippe celebrated just a tad too early, and you have a potent looking Primoz on your hands. The aforementioned Frenchman also makes it into our five-star selection, but you have to admit that Roglic ran him very close on Wednesday, and Liege suits the Jumbo Visma rider better than the Deceuninck QuickStepper.
Is this the best finish in Monument history? Watch Roglic's famous win and Alaphilippe's howler
Our final five-star rider for Sunday is Tadej Pogacar, who has been simmering very nicely indeed so far this season. His UAE Team Emirates squad is supposed to be riding for Marc Hirschi in the Ardennes, but the Swiss' slow start to the year has meant he simply hasn't been at the races in either Amstel or Fleche. That's why Pogacar gets the five-star tag.
Max Schachmann of Bora Hansgrohe has been riding beautifully so far this season, with his dramatic final-day win in Paris-Nice perhaps his out-and-out best result. But the German has also been doing well in the one-days, notching a creditable 10th on Wednesday in La Fleche and a well-deserved podium in Amstel Gold. Liege is more similar to Amstel than Fleche in terms of its parcours, so don't be surprised to see Schachmann in amongst it once again.
Tom Pidcock's astonishing form continues, with a win in Brabantse Pijl, then second by a hair's breadth at Amstel and a top ten in La Fleche Wallonne to follow that up. The only thing that might go against the young Yorkshireman is the distance. He's relatively untested on monumental distances, only having raced the 254-kilometre Tour of Flanders before in his career. He placed 41st in that race, his second worst result of an incredible spring.
Michael Woods (Israel StartUp Nation) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) notched third and fourth at La Fleche, on a finish that is about as close to tailor made for their skillsets as it's possible to get. Both riders come to the fore on the short, sharp, steeper stuff – and so while they're clearly in good form, it's hard to credit either of them getting the outright win on Sunday in Liege. To put it another way, if they can't beat Roglic on their ideal terrain, why would they be able to do better on a course that suits them less?
Adam Yates and Richard Carapaz, both Ineos Grenadiers, will be at the race but you'd think – barring accidents – they will try and help Pidcock rather than go for it themselves. Carapaz, in particular, seems to be relishing his roles as a domestique doing some absolutely vital work for Pidcock on Wednesday.
Best of the rest
Michael Matthews of Team BikeExchange could win Liege-Bastogne-Liege on his absolute best day, but even then it would require a very specific selection to go into the finale together. There are too many guys quicker than him in this year's edition and too many who climb better to place him among the most likely names on the list.
We do not know what Marc Hirschi's level will be like on Sunday, after his team was denied a start at La Fleche Wallonne (where the Swiss was the defending champ) after a false-positive COVID test inside UAE Team Emirates. That being said, Hirschi's not shown anything like his 2020 form so far this season, so it would take something really Herculean to overturn the odds.
Jakob Fuglsang (Astana PremierTech) ought to be mentioned, but more as an acknowledgement of who he used to be rather than anything he has shown in the first five months of this year. He's the defending champion of Il Lombardia, lest we forget, but it seems to be taking him longer this year to get 'warmed up' than it has in the past.
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