On-form world champion Julian Alaphilippe said he intends to atone for his embarrassing finish to the race last year and this time win the final one-day classic of the season, Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Standing in the Frenchman’s way on Sunday will be the UAE Team Emirates aces Tadej Pogacar and Marc Hirschi and Slovenian powerhouse and defending champion Primoz Roglic. The three men filled the podium places in 2020, a race Alaphilippe thought he had won as he approached the line.
Three big guns missing from the 259km, six-hour hike over 11 hills are the young Briton Tom Pidcock, Belgian giant Wout van Aert and Dutch star Mathieu van der Poel, who have all won one-day classics this season.
In October’s rescheduled Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Roglic zipped past an already celebrating Alaphilippe on the line, before the Frenchman was disqualified back to fifth place for blocking Hirschi and Pogacar in the run-in. Fresh from winning at La Fleche Wallone in midweek, Alaphilippe said he intends to make amends for that by taking the title of the 107th edition of a race known as ‘La Doyenne’ because it is the oldest of cycling’s five ‘monuments’.
Alaphilippe said his team would be key. The Belgian outfit Deceuninck Quick-Step are one-day specialists and will line up two emerging forces of the sport alongside Alaphilippe in Mauri Vansevenant and Joao Almeida.
“This is my key objective for the (classics) season,” said Alaphilippe.
“I’m going into it in top condition, with a good team and high motivation.”
“I know why I came to the Ardennes,” said the 28-year-old.
He will probably find out if he was right some 13km from the line on a short, steep 1.3km hill La Roche-aux-Faucons along the quaysides in Liege.
Valverde at 41
The extreme length and 4,500m of climbing suggest last season’s winner Roglic is an ideal candidate to be in a select final mix. He was second in the Fleche Wallonne and might have beaten winner Alaphilippe had he known the final section better. The Slovenian was outsmarted rather than out-pedalled. There will also be interest in UAE’s team strategy as Tour de France winner Pogacar and his promising new stablemate Hirschi take on this race together as team-mates for the first time. Hirschi won the Fleche Wallone in 2020 after an impressive Tour de France where he claimed a stage and came close twice. Alongside him, the 2020 Tour de France champion Pogacar is chasing a first major one-day title.
Four-time winner Alejandro Valverde also has an outside chance of marking his 41st birthday on Sunday with a famous victory. The Spaniard, who is known for his stamina as he proved with his 2018 world crown, came third at la Fleche on Wednesday. He won his first Liege title 15-years ago and, threatening to retire after the Olympics in Tokyo, the affable Movistar leader would be a popular champion. It would also bring him level with Belgian great Eddy Merckx, the only man to win the race five times.
RBA/AFP Photos: Bettini