Closing the Ardennes Classics week, Liège-Bastogne-Liège is the third and final race following the Amstel Gold Race and La Flèche Wallonne Femmes. It also marks the end of the spring Classics season before the stage races commence, starting with the Vuelta a España Femenina in two weeks.
Both the Ardennes races so far have been won by SD Worx’s Demi Vollering, a rider (and team) we’ve seen dominate throughout this year's Classics season. But Liège-Bastogne-Liège is no walk in the park, and over the 140km route, the women’s peloton will face many tough climbs – making it a favourable race for the climbers and puncheurs of the bunch.
The defending champion Annemiek van Vleuten will be back this year, but so will two other previous winners, including Vollering and Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo), who has just returned to racing after maternity leave. However, Van Vleuten hasn’t had the best opening to the 2023 season, not yet securing a win, so it’s questionable whether she’ll have the legs to defend her title against the hot competition.
The 2022 edition was won by Van Vleuten with a solo attack on the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons. Will we see the same this year by the Movistar rider, or will her Dutch rival have other plans? We look at the contenders who we think could finish off their Classics season with a bang.
Vollering has been on fire this Classics season, taking four first-place finishes in her last six races. She has only once not achieved a podium place this season, at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but her team still won with Lotte Kopecky. Familiar on the podium at this race too, Vollering won Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2021 and came third place in 2019, 2020, and 2022 – only once has she slipped outside of the top 10 for this race and that was in 2018 when she came 11th.
Demi Vollering has dominated the Ardennes Classics so far and will be looking to take a clean sweep on Sunday (Image by SWPix.com)
The Dutch rider’s form has never looked better and at Flèche Wallonne she looked cool, calm and collected as she made it up the brutal Mur de Huy, effortlessly pulling away from her competitors.
Vollering won this Monument in a sprint finish in 2021, but we've seen her and SD Worx dominate with solo victories this spring, so expect to see them make some moves on La Redoute or the Roche-aux-Faucons.
The German rider is proving that her move to Movistar this year was the right way to go. So far this season, Lippert has secured several top 10 finishes at some of the hardest Classics, including Strade Bianche and the Tour of Flanders. At Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, she once again proved she was able to fight for the win, sticking to Vollering's wheel for longer than anyone else to take an impressive second place. At one point it even looked like Lippert would be able to challenge the Dutchwoman's winning streak, but there was little Lippert could do on the steep gradients when Vollering put her foot down.
Lippert has had two top-10 finishes at Liège, demonstrating that she can handle the race's brutal parcours. But two-time Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner and Lippert's teammate Annemiek van Vleuten will also be next to her on the start line and may well be the rider Movistar choose to work for. Flèche Wallonne was the most finish line action we'd seen from Van Vleuten, but despite her efforts, the world champion couldn't find that final surge to keep up with Vollering. So far this Classics season we've seen Lippert have an edge over her Dutch teammate, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège could finally be moment she steps up onto the top of the podium.
Liane Lippert came seventh at Strade Bianche Donne this year (Image by SWPix.com)
Elisa Longo Borghini
Elisa Longo Borghini's palmarès speak for itself, and while she hasn't had a Classics win so far this season, she continued to be a vital part of the Trek-Segafredo team. Her best result was at the Tour of Flanders where she came third place behind Lotte Kopecky and Demi Vollering. A solid all-rounder, she'll be able to handle the many ascents that the route holds and will be a rider who could make an attack on La Redoute, like her teammate Lizzie Deignan did in 2020.
At Amstel Gold last week, the Italian was working for her younger teammate Shirin van Aranooij, who ended up placing third. Then at Flèche Wallonne, it was Trek-Segafredo's Gaia Realini's turn to go for the win. However, Longo Borghini has an impressive track record at Liège-Bastoge-Liège where she has had four top-10 finishes. She has been on the podium in 2021 when she came third place, but she will be looking to better that result. However, whether Trek-Segafredo will opt to support the younger riders in the team, we will have to wait and see.
Elisa Longo Borghini continues to be a key played in the Trek-Segafredo team (Image by Getty Images)
Perhaps sidelined in the cobbled Classics, the AG Insurance - Soudal - Quick-Step rider has seemed more at home in the Ardennes. With the races hilly parcours, this is where riders like Moolman-Pasio flourish and at Amstel Gold and Flèche Wallonne she has come within the top 10. At Liège, she has had three fourth-place finishes in 2018, 2021 and 2022. But despite all her efforts, we've never seen the South African rider convert these high rankings into wins. If she can't secure a podium spot again this year, there's a high chance we'll see her within the top 10.
Silvia Persico has been nipping at the heels of SD Worx in the hopes of defying the team's dominance they've had so far. The UAE Team ADQ rider put in a brave performance at the Tour of Flanders, then she beat Demi Vollering at De Brabantse Piji in a six-woman sprint, taking her first victory of the season.
In the two Ardennes Classics races we've had so far, Perisico hasn't been able to keep quite as close to the wheel of SD Worx, but she has come inside the top 10 of both races. Despite being better in a sprint finish, she showcased her abilities to put in a punchy effort when needed on the Mur de Huy, starting the climb in the middle of the bunch and clawing her way to eighth – not a bad attempt considering it was her Flèche Wallonne debut. It will also be the Italian's first time riding Liège-Bastogne-Liège too, so she may lack the knowledge it takes to win here. But if she can hang on until the end, Perisco may have the edge if it boils down to a sprint.
Silvia Persico stood out against a sea of SD Worx jerseys at the Tour of Flanders this year (Image by Getty Images)
Up to her usual consistent self, Niewiadoma has been in the final mix of many races this season. She placed fourth at Amstel Gold, 11th at Fléche Wallonne, fifth at the Tour of Flanders and sixth at Strade Branche. Always in touching distance of a victory, the Canyon//SRAM rider is often on our list of contenders.
Niewiadoma had strong race at Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, keeping with the riders who made attacks on the Mur. However, on the steepest gradients of the final ascent, she was swallowed up by those riders who just had held back some reserves.
At Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Niewiadoma has achieved third place (2017), fourth (2021), sixth (2019), ninth (2022), 14th (2021) and 19th (2020). Having been a part of the professional peloton for 10 years, she has the knowledge of how to place highly in these races, knowing where riders are most likely to attack. Whether she can put words into action and finally secure a win is a question we are looking to have answered. Canyon//SRAM also have dark horses Soraya Paladin and Elisa Chabbey, who are very strong cards the team can play.
Kasia Niewiadoma came fourth at this year's Amstel Gold Race (Image by SWPix.com)
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig
The Danish champion hasn't had the best of luck so far this year, and while she managed to come in 10th at Amstel Gold, her misfortune continued as Flèche Wallonne where she was involved in a crash that took her out of the running. She thrives on the Ardennes terrain, previously taking three top-10 finishes at Liège for her team FDJ-Suez. She put in the performance of her life at Strade Bianche, beating Van Vleuten over the Via Santa Caterina, and after her fourth-place finish on the white roads, Ludwig said she had her eyes on the Ardennes. Will it be third time lucky for the 27-year-old rider? She certainly has the form.
SD Worx have a pool of talent they can choose from and Marlen Reusser is another rider who may be in with a chance of victory if Vollering is out of action. Last year she was the only rider who could stay with Annemiek van Vleuten as she ripped up the La Redoute, and she also won this year's Gent-Wevelgem with an impressive solo victory.
Juliette Labous (Team DSM) put in a good performance at Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday and has proven she has the legs for the demanding climbs with sixth at Flanders. Her teammate Pfieffer Georgi will also be another option for the team. The British rider has been a key player in the cobbled Classics, winning Classic Brugge-De Panne, but at Amstel Gold last Saturday, she showed us that she will continue to be a rider to watch in the hillier Classics too.
EF Education-TIBCO-SVB made their mark at Paris-Roubaix Femmes with Alison Jackson taking a surprise win, but the Canadian won't be on the start of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The teams best bet will be Veronica Ewers who came 12th at Flèche Wallonne.
If Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig's misfortune continues, FDJ-SUEZ will have Grace Brown (two-time runner up), Évita Muzic and Loes Adegeest to call upon. Other riders to watch will be Kristen Faulkner (Jayco-Alula) and Mavi García (Liv Racing TeqFind). Both riders seem in good form and have the climbing abilities needed for a race like Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but it is a question of whether they have the wherewithal needed to land a top result at this savage race.
Our Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes 2023 prediction:
With two wins already in the bag, Demi Vollering will be looking to secure the Ardennes hattrick and with the form she is currently on, we're predicting she'll add this title to her palmarés for a second time.
*Cover image by SWPix.com