Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2016: form guide

Defending champion Alejandro Valverde favourite for La Doyenne

The season’s fourth Monument, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, pits hilly Classics specialists with the climbers on Sunday (April 24).

Mountain men like Chris Froome and Richie Porte have been tempted by La Doyenne in a season which also includes a hilly Olympic road race.

Alejandro Valverde earned his third Liege-Bastogne-Liege title in 2015 (Pic: Sirotti)

But it is defending champion Alejandro Valverde who leads the contenders, bidding for a fourth victory in the oldest of the five Monument races.

– Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2016: TV schedule – 

Arnaud Demare, Peter Sagan and Mat Hayman won at Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, respectively, so who will be joining them on the list of this year’s Monument winners?

We’ve taken a closer look at the form book ahead of Sunday’s race.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)

Defending champion Alejandro Valverde geared up for Liege-Bastogne-Liege in perfect style, winning at La Fleche Wallonne after Movistar drove the pace throughout the day.

In his post-race interview, however, he did concede that – with a bad weather forecast – it could be a very different occasion at Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Alejandro Valverde made it four La Fleche Wallonne wins on Wednesday, and bids for a fourth Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday (pic: Sirotti)

Realistically, however, Valverde is the man in form, the defending champion and the undoubted favourite for Sunday’s race.

The Spaniard should find no problems with the addition of the cobbled Cote de la Rue de Naniot climb just 2.5km from the finish – his worry will be somebody using the street as a platform for a late, winning attack instead.

Nevertheless, with the Giro d’Italia on the horizon, victory at Liege-Bastogne-Liege would be the perfect way to prepare for the 35-year-old.

Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2015: winner
Ardennes Classics 2016: Amstel Gold Race – N/A; La Fleche Wallonne – winner
Other 2016 highlights: Ruta del Sol – stage win, winner overall; Vuelta a Castilla y Leon – two stage wins, winner overall

Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep)

Second last year, second at La Fleche Wallonne two years running – it’s little wonder Julian Alaphilippe bangs his bars in frustration whenever he crosses the finish line behind Alejandro Valverde, as he must be getting pretty sick of it.

Etixx-QuickStep played their double card at La Fleche Wallonne, with Alaphilippe and Dan Martin taking second and third but Valverde was simply too good.

Etixx-QuickStep boast a two-pronged attack in Alaphilippe and Martin (pic: Sirotti)

But – beyond the frustration for the 23-year-old Frenchman – it was another good Ardennes Classic result and proof Alaphilippe has hit form at the right time.

Eighth at De Brabantse Pijl, behind race-winning team-mate Petr Vakoc, and sixth at the Amstel Gold Race, it has been getting progressively better for the Etixx-QuickStep man.

Valverde is once again the man to beat – something Alaphilippe has, so far, been unable to do – but there’s a first time for everything.

Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2015: second
Ardennes Classics 2016: Amstel Gold Race – 6th; La Fleche Wallonne – 2nd
Other 2016 highlights: De Brabantse Pijl – eighth

Dan Martin (Etixx-QuickStep)

Normally when we do these previews, we only pick one rider per team, but Etixx-QuickStep have already given a taster of what they could do on Sunday with a two-pronged attack.

Dan Martin hit the front on the Mur de Huy before, as the Birmingham-born Irishman faded, Alaphilippe took over – only for Alejandro Valverde to soar past both of them.

Dan Martin attacks on the Mur de Huy – the former Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner bids for his third Monument win this year (pic: Sirotti)

But with the introduction of the Rue de Naniot climb, having options in the finale could prove very handy – and both Alaphilippe and Martin will expect to be at the sharp end of the peloton.

Martin has won in Ans before – one of four former winners, alongside Valverde, Philippe Gilbert and Simon Gerrans due on the startline on Sunday.

He skipped the Amstel Gold Race in order to arrive at La Fleche and Liege-Bastogne-Liege in top shape – a podium on Wednesday set the tone, now a third career Monument win would cap a strong start to life at Etixx-QuickStep.

Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2015: DNF
Ardennes Classics 2016: Amstel Gold Race – N/A; La Fleche Wallonne – 3rd
Other 2016 highlights: Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana – stage win; Volta a Catalunya – stage win

Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky)

Michal Kwiatkowski’s E3 Harelbeke win raised hopes the Pole could be the man to end Team Sky’s hunt for a Monument win.

They missed out on the cobbles of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, but Kwiatkowski’s strength has always lay with the Ardennes Classics.

Michal Kwiatkowski also found the going tough at the Amstel Gold Race and was dropped before the final climb of the Cauberg (pic: Sirotti)

He won the Amstel Gold Race in 2015, but found the going tough on the Cauberg this time out and missed La Fleche Wallonne to build form for La Doyenne.

Nevertheless, having finished third in 2014 before going on to be crowned world champion in Florence, on a course not dissimilar to the hilly Classics, Kwiato has every right to be considered a contender.

Team Sky have other options – it will be interesting to see how Chris Froome goes, with the hilly Olympic road race on the horizon, and Wout Poels went well and La Fleche but Kwiatkowski appears the main man.

Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2015: 21st
Ardennes Classics 2016: Amstel Gold Race – DNF; La Fleche Wallonne – N/A
Other 2016 highlights: E3 Harelbeke – winner; Trofeo Serra de Tramutana – 2nd; Trofeo Pollenca-Port de Andratx – 2nd; Tirreno-Adriatico – eighth

Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida)

Fourth last time out, Rui Costa was well-placed at La Fleche Wallonne but couldn’t make it count on the Mur de Huy.

It was further proof of the Portuguese former world champion’s form though, after a strong start to the season which has lacked only one thing – a win.

Rui Costa was fourth at Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2015 (pic: Sirotti)

Top ten finishes at the Tour of Oman, Paris-Nice and Tour of the Basque Country show Costa is on the right track, and his fourth place 12 months ago prove he can be a contender at Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

His world championship win, of course, was his biggest one-day victory but Classics success beyond that has been hard to come by for Costa.

Nevertheless, both he and Diego Ulissi were in the top ten at La Fleche Wallonne, and Lampre-Merida will be hopeful of a podium finish this time out.

Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2015: fourth
Ardennes Classics 2016: Amstel Gold Race – 17th; La Fleche Wallonne – 10th
Other 2016 highlights: Tour of Oman – fifth overall; Tour of the Basque Country – seventh overall; Paris-Nice – tenth overall

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha)

Joaquim Rodriguez has been on the podium three times at Liege-Bastogne-Liege – including last year – without yet winning La Doyenne.

But the veteran Spaniard proved his form with a strong showing at La Fleche Wallonne, where Katusha were particularly active in the run-in to the Mur de Huy, and Purito lit it up on the final climb.

Joaquim Rodriguez attacked on the Mur de Huy at La Fleche Wallonne but ultimately ran out of legs (pic: Sirotti)

Ultimately he ran out of legs on the climb, and finished well back just days after crashing out of the Amstel Gold Race, but the attacking intent was there and bodes well for Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Typically of Rodriguez’s career as a whole, the diminutive Spaniard has been on the podium many times during the Ardennes Classics but has just one La Fleche Wallonne victory to show for it.

If he can show similar form to Wednesday, but find the legs to finish the job, this could represent one of his final chances to change that.

Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2015: 3rd
Ardennes Classics 2016: Amstel Gold Race – DNF; La Fleche Wallonne – 28th
Other 2016 highlights: Tour of the Basque Country – fifth overall

Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE)

Winner in 2014, Simon Gerrans missed out after a crash last season – a recurrent story in his season.

But the Australian stormed right back into form at the start of 2016, winning the Tour Down Under for the fourth time and major target number two will be reclaiming the top step of the podium at Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Simon Gerrans won his fourth Tour Down Under in January (pic: Sirotti)

Orica-GreenEDGE rode strongly at the Amstel Gold Race, but did not get the result to show from it, but take another strong team to La Doyenne.

Both Adam Yates and Simon Yates will ride, in what could be an audition for an Olympics berth for the two Brits.

Gerrans leads the team, however, and after watching fellow Aussie veteran Mat Hayman claim the last Monument, Paris-Roubaix, attention now turns to the 35-year-old.

Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2015: DNF
Ardennes Classics 2016: Amstel Gold Race – 11th; La Fleche Wallonne – DNF
Other 2016 highlights: Tour Down Under – two stage wins, winner overall.

Other riders to watch

The mix of Classics specialists and Grand Tour riders attracted to Liege-Bastogne-Liege means there are a number of riders who need watching closely on the run-in to Ans.

First among those is former winner Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing), who is struggling with a hand injury but should never be discounted.

Vincenzo Nibali won his first Monument last autumn (pic: Sirotti)

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) won his first Monument at the Giro di Lombardia last autumn, meanwhile, and has been on the podium at Liege-Bastogne-Liege in the past.

Lotto-Soudal will attack in the finale – it’s what they do best – and Tim Wellens was the man to stretch the legs with a late dig at La Felche Wallonne.

Amstel Gold Race winner Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty Groupe-Gobert) looks to be in the form of his life too, having added to that win, and his second place at De Brabantse Pijl, with a fifth place at La Fleche Wallonne.

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