Liege-Bastogne-Liege returns to its usual place in the calendar for 2021, closing out the Ardennes Classics. This year, the race will take place on the 25th April, just over six months since the last edition in October 2020, won by Lizzie Deignan of Trek-Segafredo.
As if the race wasn’t already hilly enough, the 141km course features a new, seventh, climb: the Côte de Desnié. That's in addition to the usual series of leg-breaking côtes.
All four of the previous editions of the women’s race have been won by solo riders, with Anna van der Breggen taking the first two editions from a lone split, Annemiek van Vleuten taking the third by a huge 1'39" margin and Lizzie Deignan fending off a chasing Grace Brown by just nine seconds last year.
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This year, the race is slightly longer than previous editions, at 141km long. The length of the race is less consequential than the cumulative elevation from the myriad short, sharp climbs throughout the race.
Starting in Bastogne, the route heads north towards Houffalize where the terrain is undulating until the first in a series of punchy climbs, the Côte de Wanne, coming after 56.7km and 3.6km with an average gradient of 5.1%.
Just under 10km later comes the Côte de la Haute-Levée 2.2km at 7.5% The longest climb of the race, Col du Rosier, comes next at 79.2km to go. At 4.5km with an average of 5.9%, the climb is not the hardest of the race but, if teams decide to push, it could shake up the composition of the peloton, shedding any riders who might not be on a good day.
Thirteen kilometres later, at 92.6km the peloton will be greeted by a new climb, the Côte de Desnié. Typically, the subsequent climb — the Col de La Redoute — has been the launchpad for winning moves, with riders going solo. However, at 1.6km and averaging 8.1% the Côte de Desnié could prove decisive if someone goes earlier.
If nobody chooses to roll the dice on the Côte de Desnié, however, then they are sure to have a go on the Côte de La Redoute, the most iconic climb of the race. Both Lizzie Deignan and Annemiek van Vleuten won by attacking from the top of the Côte de La Redoute, which comes at km 105.7 and is 2.1km long with an average gradient of 8.9% pitching up to 13% in places.
Photo credit: CorVos/SWPix.com
By the time the Côte des Forges comes around, around 11km later, the stats of 1.3km at 7.8% will feel harder than the stats suggest after 117km of tough racing.
The final climb is the most brutal — the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons — and if there isn’t already a rider or a breakaway out in front this will be the place to launch any last-minute moves. The climb is 1.3km long with an average gradient of 11% pitching up to 13.2% in the middle and barely dipping under 10% before the final 200m at the top. Even after the riders have crested the worst of the climb there is a false flat over the summit before a descent towards Liege with roughly 10km to go. The final run-in to the finish is flat.
After a blistering performance to set up Anna van der Breggen at La Flèche Wallonne and taking second in the sprint at Amstel Gold Race, Demi Vollering is a nailed-on favourite from SD Worx.
Lizzie Deignan of Trek-Segafredo has sat out the Ardennes so far and, although the team have not announced anything, it looks like she might not be returning to defend her title. However, if she makes the right moves and isn't sacrificed for another teammate then this opens up the race for Ruth Winder who is definitely one to watch based on recent performances.
Of course, former winner Annemiek van Vleuten of Movistar can never be overlooked although she has been missing the extra kick we're used to seeing from her as she launches long-range attacks. It's highly unlikely that she—or anyone—will manage a winning margin like the one we saw in 2019.
However, if anyone can do it then it's Grace Brown, who in 2020 spent the last fourteen kilometres chasing down Deignan. The Australian — who has come into her own as a classics rider — will be looking to go one step further up the podium this year.
Last, but never least, is Marianne Vos. The Jumbo Visma leader could't kick it with the climbers at Flèche on Wednesday but if she makes it over the lumpy course on Sunday she'll be a shoo-in for a sprint from a reduced group as we saw when she won Amstel Gold Race last week.
Some of the best climbers in the bunch will be sure to be in the mix on this terrain, too, such as Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, and Kasia Niewiadoma but they'll have to go long if they want to beat the punchier riders to the line.
Favourites: Demi Vollering, Ruth Winder, Annemiek van Vleuten, Anna van der Breggen, Grace Brown, Marianne Vos.
Outsiders: Soraya Paladin, Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, Kasia Niewiadoma, Floortje Mackaij, Elisa Longo Borghini.
How to watch Liège-Bastogne-Liège Women
The final 90 minutes of the race will be broadcast on Eurosport and GCN+.
Cover photo by Alex Whitehead/SWPix