Liege-Bastogne-Liege Preview 2021

Rouleur preview the 2021 edition of Liege-Bastogne-Liege. ‘La Doyenne’, or ‘The Old Lady’, was first raced in the 19th century

Taking place on Sunday the 25th April, Liege-Bastogne-Liege is the race every puncher dreams of winning. The race is scattered with hilly terrain meaning the winner must be very capable when the road goes uphill.

The 2020 edition finished in controversial fashion. Julian Alaphilippe crossed the line first and celebrated, but had he won? The Frenchman had impeded Marc Hirschi and Tadej Pogacar who had launched their sprint to his left meaning he was demoted to the back of the group. It didn't matter though, Alaphilippe had forgotten about Roglic, who sprinted through the line and just pipped Alaphilippe on the road. 

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A day to forget for Alaphilppe, but Primoz Roglic had won the first monument of his career.

Alaphilippe Celebrates at Liege Bastogne LiegeAlaphilippe celebrates at the 2020 edition of Liege-Bastogne-Liege as Roglic sprints past (Image credit: CorVos/SWpix)

Route

Over 260km in length, Liege-Bastogne-Liege is a brutally long day in the saddle with the winner often finishing in around 6 and a half hours.

No single climb is longer than 5km, yet over 4200 vertical metres will have been climbed by the finish. The first 150km, although featuring hilly terrain throughout, will most likely be used to form the day’s breakaway as teams look to gain an early tactical advantage or just some TV time.

The Côte de la Mont-le-Soie appears with 100km still to go, but this will be one of the hardest 100km on the calendar. Favourites could use any of the following climbs to launch an attack or send a teammate up the road, though it is more likely the pace will remain high and the leading contenders will sit in with such a distance back to Liege.

The Côte de Stockeu (1km @ 12.8%) is short but nasty. The Col du Rosier (4.5km @ 5.7%) is the longest single climb in the race. Crossed with 60km to go, we could well see a major selection made at this point. The Côte de la Redoute (2.3km @ 7.5%) is synonymous with LBL, and with 35km remaining is a great opportunity for those feeling good to press on.

If we don’t have a solo rider ahead by the time we reach the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons, we will undoubtedly see last-ditch attacks. We then have a 9km descent into Liege, where it will either be a sprint or we’ll witness a solo rider celebrate across the line.

Liege Bastogne Liege profile 2021Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2021 profile (Image credit: La Flamme Rouge)

The weather may also have an impact. Should we see windy and wet conditions, it’s more likely that we’ll see a solo winner as Jakob Fuglsang demonstrated in 2019.

Contenders

Primoz Roglic will be back to defend his crown. It was Roglic’s debut at La Doyenne last year so he enters this season with a 100% record at the race. He is one of the strongest punchers in the world which he demonstrated at La Flèche Wallonne earlier this week despite just being pipped to the line by Julian Alaphilippe. We can’t be certain whether he’d have beaten Hirschi and Pogacar last year had they not been impeded, but Roglic isn’t a man you’d want to challenge in a sprint, particularly at the end of a tough race.

Roglic’s countryman Tadej Pogacar will be back with vengeance this season. The Slovenian finished third last time out after Alaphilippe’s demotion. Somehow, Pog has done what seemed unthinkable and improved in 2021 — after winning the Tour de France last year, Pogacar has won the UAE Tour and Tirreno-Adriatico this season. UAE-Team Emirates missed out on La Flèche Wallonne this week after a positive COVID-19 test, though that may only succeed in making Pogacar even more hungry at La Doyenne.

Pogacar won’t be alone, though. Last year’s runner-up Marc Hirschi made the shock move to join UAE Team Emirates this season. Hirschi went from being relatively unknown to one of the stand-out riders across last season, a breakout performance. His 2021 campaign hasn’t been without issues thus far, though, as his season start was setback by injury. However, if he has gained form by the time The Old Lady comes around he’ll be among the favourites. 

Liege Bastogne Liege 2021 PodiumLiege-Bastogne-Liege 2020 podium (Image credit: CorVos/SWpix)

We have somehow made it this far into the contenders section without mentioning the best puncher in the world and current World Champion. Julian Alaphilippe again demonstrated this at La Flèche Wallonne where he claimed his third win in a row. Alaphiliippe is one of the stars of the sport, but his showing at LBL last year tinged an otherwise great season for the Frenchman. On paper, the parcours at Liege-Bastogne-Liege suit Alaphilippe down to a tee. He broke out at the age of 23 when he finished 2nd in 2015 behind four-time winner Alejandro Valverde. Liege still eludes him, despite thinking he had won last year, even if only for a few seconds. Alaphilippe will win here sooner or later, but will 2021 be his year?

Israel-Start Up invigorated their Ardennes team when they signed Mike Woods to partner Dan Martin. The Irishman is a former winner winning in 2013, though he has missed out on a top-10 in all of the previous three seasons. On the contrary, Woods has been in the top-10 every year since 2017, but is yet to win a monument. Both have the ability over the hills but will need a great day to beat any of the aformentioned contenders.

Alejandro Valverde's tally of four wins at LBL is only surpassed by Eddy Merckx and Valverde can tie the all-time record with one more victory. The Spaniard turns 41 on the day of Liege, maybe his birthday can inspire him to one more spectacular performance in the Ardennes? His third-place finish at La Flèche Wallonne indicates his form is exactly where it needs to be.

Favourites: Julian Alaphilippe, Primoz Roglic, Tadej Pogacar, Alejandro Valverde

Outsiders: Bauke Mollema, Warren Barguil, Ide Schelling, Romain Bardet, David Gaudu

Prediction

After missing out on La Flèche Wallonne due to circumstances outside of his control, Tadej Pogacar will be more than ready to make ammends this weekend — he and his team actually decided to recon Liege on the day of La Flèche. Pogacar was impeded in the finish by Alaphilippe last season, and with Marc Hirschi around to help him out, Tadej Pogacar is our pick to win Liege-Bastogne Liege.

How to Watch the Race

The race will be shown live on Eurosport and GCN+ for UK viewers from 12:25 BST.