The last and the longest of the three Ardennes Classics, Liège–Bastogne–Liège is considered by most to be the hardest of the trilogy of races which conclude the Spring Classics.
Traditionally the fourth of five of cycling’s Monuments in the season, the race, also known as La Doyenne ('the old lady') was first raced in 1892, and has seen a who’s-who of cycling history take victory over the years.
With largely the same set of riders completing all three Ardennes Classics, the possibility for a rider to achieve ‘the triple’, winning all three races, is open to those who feel they are up to the challenge. Only two men – Davide Rebellin, in 2004, and Phllippe Gilbert in 2011 – have managed the feat in the past.
This year, the race takes place on Sunday 24th April. It will be the 108th edition.
The Ardennes Classics are an altogether different prospect from the Flemish Classics, as the peloton exchanges cobbles and short, sharp hellingen for undulating hills and longer, more gruelling climbs. Not only the longest of the Ardennes races, Liège–Bastogne–Liège features by far the greatest amount of climbing, and gains the most metres in elevation of any of cycling’s Monuments, an intimidating 4,400m.
The route travels 254.7km in total in 2022. After rolling out from the start in Liège, the race travels south to Bastogne. The first half of the race is relatively untroubled by major climbs, travelling across the undulating landscape towards the southernmost point of the loop towards the west of the Ardennes.
Once the race passes Bastogne it turns back northwards, heading back to Liège. The return leg of the journey is far trickier, with the concentration and difficulty of the climbs increasing as the race kilometres pass by.
The climbs are particularly gruelling in their frequency and gradient, including such iconic ascents as Côte de La Redoute, and Col du Rosier, the longest climb of the day at 4.4km with an average gradient of 5.9%.
The final climb, the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons, is a short but punchy ascent of 1.3km in length, with an average gradient of 11%. It’s a springboard for last gasp attacks, but anyone who can claw their way up and stay in touch stands a chance of closing down the front runners, as the climb comes just over 13km before the finish line.
The final run-in to Liège features a flat section of 5km before a 3km descent, and then a final flat over which the remaining competitors will sprint it out for the victory.
Tadej Pogačar won his first Monument at 2021’s edition of Liège–Bastogne–Liège. He would have been participating for the fourth time, having finished 18th in 2019 and 3rd in 2020, and his rapid improvement in results over the short span of time he’s been riding this race reflects his performances across the whole spectrum of cycling, from one-day to three-week dominance.
However the defending champion was a last minute withdrawal from the race, with a team spokesperson explaining that Pogačar had returned to Slovenia midweek to support his fiancée Urška Zigart's family circumstances. His replacement will be Brandon McNulty.
Tadej Pogačar at the Tour of Flanders (Image: Kristof Ramon)
One rider who proved his climbing prowess in La Flèche Wallonne was Bahrain-Victorious' Dylan Teuns. With morale high following his recent win, he'll be one to watch on Sunday. Matej Mohorič will also be part of Bahrain-Victorious' line-up, and he will be looking for moments to make a bid for a solo win.
It goes without saying that the Ardennes Classics are Julian Alaphilippe’s territory. In five participations, the Frenchman has never finished outside of the top two at La Flèche Wallonne. In six participations at Liège, he has finished in the top five four times; he’s been second twice (it would have been three times, but for his relegation in 2020’s edition of the race), but he is yet to win.
Julian Alaphilippe (Getty)
With the impressive engine of Remco Evenepoel proving at Itzulia Basque Country that he’s more than capable of delivering the world champion to the line, this could be the year for Alaphilippe to add La Doyenne to his already enviable palmares, and break Quick-Step-Alpha Vinyl’s classics season duck in the process. Evenepoel could also have the opportunity to go for a result himself, depending on how the race pans out on the day.
Team Jumbo-Visma start without Primož Roglič, who won this race in 2020, as the Slovienian rider suffers from an ongoing injury. Luckily for the Dutch team, however, they have an extremely good back-up plan in Wout van Aert, who will hope to continue his impressive Classics campaign in hillier terrain. Tiesj Benoot and Jonas Vingegaard also are part of Jumbo Visma's strong roster, both of whom have been riding well this season.
Alejandro Valverde (Getty)
Movistar bring a team that includes Alejandro Valverde, in his final year of racing. Valverde has enjoyed a love affair with the Ardennes Classics throughout his long career; he has won at Liège four times and has finished on the podium in more than half of the editions he’s finished. A final Monument victory on his swansong would be quite the send-off for ‘Bala’, but despite some decent results so far this season, he faces stiff competition to go out with such significant fanfare.
Michal Kwiatkowski (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)
For Ineos Grenadiers, the likes of Michal Kwiatkowski, Dani Martínez and Tom Pidcock could all be in with a chance of victory if luck is on their side. The British team has been incredibly strong throughout this season and, if they continue to race with the attacking style and confidence that they've shown in previous races, they could dominate this year's edition of Liège–Bastogne–Liège.
Other contenders who will be hoping to arrive in the Ardennes with good legs and steal the limelight away from the obvious protagonists could include the Israel Premier-Tech pairing of Michael Woods and Jakob Fuglsang, who are well suited to the demands of the parcours, and a selection of other riders who have shown good form so far this season including EF Education Easypost’s Alberto Bettiol, AG2R’s Benoit Cosnefroy and Bora Hansgrohe’s Sergio Higuita.
It's do or die for Quick-Step-Alpha Vinyl in the 2022 Spring Classics and we can expect the Belgian team to throw everything but the kitchen sink at this race. How many times must Julian Alaphilippe come agonisingly close to victory in Liège before he finally adds a second Monument to his collection? We reckon 2022 could finally be his year.
Cover image: Getty