We pick out the likely contenders for Sunday's Liege-Bastogne-Liege
Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday (April 27) brings the curtain down on the 2014 classics season, and one last chance for the classics specialists to make their mark. Due to the race’s climbing, they will come up against Grand Tour contenders and climbers honing their form ahead of the year’s big stage races.
Here, we rate the riders likely to shape proceedings during Sunday’s race.
For more information on the race, see our full preview of Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
Alejandro Valverde, MovistarThis season Valverde has displayed the kind of form he had before his doping suspension between 2010-2012, and therefore goes into Liege-Bastogne-Liege this weekend as the outright favourite. Before that ban he won La Doyenne in 2006 and 2008, and will be hoping to become the first three-time winner since Moreno Argentin.
Dan Martin, Garmin-SharpLast year’s winner had been quiet this season, before reminding us of his quality with an explosive ride of up Mur de Huy that sealed him second place at Fleche Wallonne. The Irishman has established himself as one of the most talented riders of the current generation, and will this year have young Tom Jelte Slagter to assist him as Ryder Hesjedal did 12 months ago.
Michael Kwiatkowski, Omega Pharma-Quick StepThe 23-year-old seems certain to win a monument one day, and it is conceivable that he could do so on Sunday. Having finished fifth and third respectively in Amstel Gold and Fleche Wallonne this week, on top of his early second place at the Tour of Basque country and win in Strade Bianche, the Pole has been one of the most consistent riders this spring, and possesses the necessary combination of climbing prowess and endurance to win La Doyenne.
Philippe Gilbert, BMCGilbert may be king of the Cauberg, but the race he cherishes the most is Liege-Bastogne-Liege, having been born and raised in these parts. However, it is not as well suited to him as Amstel Gold, and he has only won here once during his record-breaking 2011 season. A second victory isn’t beyond the Belgian, but a podium finish is more realistic.
Bauke Mollema, BelkinDespite being known as a Grand Tour rider, Mollema is enjoying his best classics season to date, with a career-best seventh in Amstel Gold followed by another career best fourth in Fleche Wallonne. Liege-Bastogne-Liege is the Ardennes Classic that suits him the best, so expect him to improve upon his sixth place in the 2012 edition.
Roman Kreuziger, Tinkoff-SaxoFollowing his Amstel Gold win last year, Kreuziger continues to relish riding for Tinkoff-Saxo, with third in Tirreno-Adriatico and fifth in Strade-Bianche his season highlights so far. If he has the form to finish eighth up the Mur de Huy, then a solo win à la Amstel Gold 2013 could be on the cards.
Vincenzo Nibali, AstanaNibali has already stated his intention to ride for the win rather than world tour points, so we can expect him to at some point launch at attack akin to his effort in 2012, where he was caught with just a kilometre to go by eventual winner Maxim Iglinsky. His form is questionable, however, having only made the top 10 once all season.
Rui Costa, Lampre-MeridaIt’s be a little early to talk of the curse of the rainbow jersey striking again, but Rui Costa has followed a series of runner-up finishes at Paris-Nice and the Volta ao Algarve with a dip in form. He has a knack for pulling off big wins and out-foxing opponents, so could register his first win in the rainbow stripes if he can rediscover his early-season legs.
Joaquim Rodriguez, KatushaUsually ‘Purito’ goes into every hilly classic as a contender, but he is struggling to recover from injury sustained at last week’s Amstel Gold race. He’s finished second here twice (in 2009 and 2013), but, set to turn 35 next month, time is running out for Rodriguez to win La Doyenne.
Carlos Betancur, Ag2r-La MondialeLike Rodriguez, Betancur would be a favourite to win were it not for his current lack of fitness. But unlike the Spaniard, Betancur is only 24-years-old, and so will have plenty of opportunities in the future to win here. The Colombian showed signs of the improvement at Fleche Wallonne on Wednesday, but Sunday will likely come too soon for him.