Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2017 preview: seven riders who could win La Doyenne

Alejandro Valverde bids for a fourth victory, but faces competition from Classics hard men, fellow former winners and a few Grand Tour contenders

With Team Sky’s defending champion Wout Poels ruled out injured, Liege-Bastogne-Liege could see a new winner crowned on Sunday (April 23).

Three-time former winner Alejandro Valverde – who warmed up for the race by winning La Fleche Wallonne for the fifth time on Wednesday – has designs on becoming only the third man to win La Doyenne, the oldest of the five Monuments, four times, however.

Wout Poels sprinted to Team Sky’s first ever Monument win at last year’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege but will miss out this year through injury (pic: Sirotti)

The fourth of the five Monument races will also see Milan-San Remo champion Michal Kwiatkowski and Paris-Roubaix winner Greg van Avermaet bidding for more Monument success this year.

Were it not for him suffering a ruptured kidney at the Amstel Gold Race, Tour of Flanders champion Philippe Gilbert – another former Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner – would also have been involved.

– Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2017: TV schedule –

As it is, even without Gilbert and Poels, a fittingly stellar line-up will take on the climbs of La Redoute, the Cote de la Roche-aux-Faucons and Cote de Saint-Nicolas en route to the uphill finish in Ans.

We’ve picked out the leading contenders for Sunday’s race…

Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky)

Like London buses, Team Sky waited an age for their first Monument win – delivered at this very race by Wout Poels last year – and then promptly snatched their second at Milan-San Remo this year.

And the man who delivered that second win, Michal Kwiatkowski, has been in supreme form in 2017, also winning at Strade Bianche, finishing runner-up behind Philippe Gilbert at the Amstel Gold Race and then clocking a top-ten finish at La Fleche Wallonne on Wednesday.

Michal Kwiatkowski bids to make it two Monument wins in 2017 following his Milan-San Remo success (pic – Sirotti)

The former world champion had a quiet first year with Team Sky – E3 Harelbeke win aside – but he has more than made up for that with his form so far in 2017.

The 26-year-old has been on the podium for, in 2014 in what proved to be a dress rehearsal for the World Championships, and in Poels’ absence will lead Team Sky’s charge for at least another podium on Sunday.

A strong supporting cast at Team Sky also includes Sergio Henao – a former top-ten finisher in Liege – Diego Rosa and British duo Peter Kennaugh and Tao Geoghegan Hart.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)

Alejandro Valverde is the undoubted king of the Mur de Huy, now winning the last four consecutive editions of La Fleche Wallonne, and five in all.

And yet of those four wins, only his 2015 success was followed by Liege-Bastogne-Liege victory – the final one of his three wins at La Doyenne.

Alejandro Valverde won at La Fleche Wallonne for the fourth consecutive year (pic – Sirotti)

Clearly, Valverde is a serious contender at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and last year was the first time since 2012 he hadn’t been on the podium in Ans, but even with three wins he has been unable to dominate the race like he does La Fleche Wallonne.

The slightly easier finish may be a factor in that – the uphill finish in Ans is tough, but nothing on the Mur de Huy where Valverde has come to the fore so often – meaning more rivals have a chance.

But you can never count the veteran Spaniard out, and with another former Fleche Wallonne winner Daniel Moreno among his supporting cast, Movistar will be among the teams to watch again.

Daniel Martin (QuickStep Floors)

While we’re talking former winners, Daniel Martin is another serious contender out to ensure there’s no new name added to the Liege-Bastogne-Liege roll of honour.

The Irishman’s win came back in 2013, and he has found himself beset by crashes and misfortune since.

Daniel Martin was second at La Fleche Wallonne and will lead QuickStep Floors at Liege-Bastogne-Liege (pic – Sirotti)

But with Philippe Gilbert and Julian Alaphilippe out of Sunday’s race, Martin – who was runner-up at La Fleche Wallonne – will lead the QuickStep Floors charge to Ans.

For a rider supposedly blessed with the luck of the Irish, Martin has too often been dealt a bad hand by the cycling gods, but Sunday could be his chance to change that.

The 30-year-old certainly has the form – he was also third at Paris-Nice and sixth in Catalunya prior to the Ardennes Classics – now he just needs a touch of fortune too.

Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing)

Could Greg van Avermaet really be a contender at Liege-Bastogne-Liege? History suggests not, but the Belgian is one of the men of the hour and certainly has the skillset.

He has not raced La Doyenne since 2013, and has only been in the top ten once, in 2011, but he says he’s feeling good and has nothing to lose on Sunday.

Greg van Avermaet says he has nothing to lose at Liege-Bastogne-Liege (pic – Sirotti)

He is not BMC Racing’s only ace for the race – Dylan Teuns, third at La Fleche Wallonne, will also be involved – but he’ll definitely be an interesting rider to watch.

He knows he has the ability to get over the climbs with the front men, and he has relished an uphill finish in the past.

And Van Avermaet has the form – winner of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix, and second at Strade Bianche and the Tour of Flanders.

After finishing 12th at the Amstel Gold Race, he has had an extra week to recover from the efforts of Paris-Roubaix and prepare for Liege-Bastogne-Liege. He’s an outside but you would be foolish to count him out.

Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates)

The perennial contender, Rui Costa was third last time out and fourth in 2015, but has been quiet of late since winning the Abu Dhabi Tour.

Costa’s penchant for tough days in the saddle came to the fore when he won the rainbow jersey in 2013, but he has so far been unable to follow his World Championship win with a Monument success.

Rui Costa was third last time out (pic – Sirotti)

His ability to do so, however, is undoubted – though questions will be asked of his form after finishing 38th at the Amstel Gold Race and 31st at La Fleche Wallonne.

With one eye on the Giro d’Italia, it could be the Portuguese 30-year-old has dialled it back of late – but on form he is a contender for sure.

Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale)

Romain Bardet has made some big noises about Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and have never finished lower than 13th in his four starts in the race you can understand why.

An outsider, definitely, but he has said himself anything is possible in the race, and he proved at last year’s Tour de France he can handle a war of attrition if the going gets tough.

Romain Bardet has expressed his love of Liege-Bastogne-Liege – a race he has never finished lower than 13th place (pic – Sirotti)

He may also feel he still has a point to prove after his Paris-Nice disqualification for taking a tow from the team car after crashing on stage one of a race he was initially viewed as being among the favourites for.

Vincenzo Nibali, another rider with a penchant for the hilly classics like Bardet, but who won’t be at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, did exactly the same after his Vuelta a Espana disqualification in 2015 – winning at the Giro di Lombardia.

There’s nothing quite like a Monument win to get your fans back onside…

Adam Yates (Orica-Scott)

Speaking of outsiders, Orica-Scott have a number of interesting cards to play, including former winner Simon Gerrans.

Last year’s runner-up Michael Albasini is also in their ranks, as are British twins Adam and Simon Yates. Though Adam has one eye on the Giro and Simon is now focussing on the Tour de France, they both have one-day wins to their names to show what is possible.

Adam Yates could be an outsider, and has proved before he has the pedigree for big one-day races (pic – Sirotti)

When Adam Yates won the Clasica San Sebastian in 2015 he proved he is not just a serious GC contender but one capable of winning the tougher one-day races too.

And with a fourth place at the Volta a Catalunya under his belt – proving he is fully over the illness which cost him a shot at the Tirreno-Adriatico title when he was second overall at the time – he has the form too.

No British rider has ever won Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and while Yates winning would be a shock, there’s no reason he can’t be the one to change that record.


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