The lumpy one-day classics keep coming with the calendar’s oldest Monument arriving on Sunday afternoon. Despite often falling to the bottom of the excitement rankings, it was the first one-day race I attended live and an event I’ll always look forward to. Moreover, this year I feel I can genuinely get behind four of my favourite cyclists. I genuinely believe Julian Alaphilippe will lose this one, and am more confident than with my wild punts for La Fleche. This is the hardest race of the Ardennes week and the non-stop gradients should deliver a winner at a healthier price.
The Bridesmaid: Jakob Fuglsang (6/1*)
Jakob Fuglsang’s price will likely fluctuate from the time of writing to the time riders roll out of Liege. He was a brave second to Alaphilippe in Strade Bianche, third at Amstel Gold, and a closing runner-up on the Mur on Wednesday. The Olympic silver-medallist has transitioned from solid GC threat to one-day menace without much fanfare and has been a sprint finish away from notching up some huge wins. Liege suits Fuglsang who is knocking on the door of the top tier of climbers. Astana are also in brilliant form and have the power to control the race. A lot of us will be on Fuglsang on Sunday; will he leave the Ardennes with a win?
In The Bet Slip: Romain Bardet (50/1) & Vincenzo Nibali (25/1)
When Nibali won the Tour back in 2014 he was one of my favourite riders and Bardet, fifth that year, was one of my favourite prospects. Following my heart has proved a successful tactic with both riders, and I’ll be back on board for Liege. Bardet is the far more consistent but has struggled to turn top tens into the top step of the podium in the spring classics (he was third in Liege last year). Nibali is the polar opposite, disappearing for much of the season before striking at his chosen target. The two have also differed greatly in their approach to Liege. Bardet was thirteenth at La Fleche and I was shocked to see his 50/1 price for a race far more suited to his style. He’s solid EW value. Nibali, however, has been riding in the Alps in preparation for the Giro; I’m hoping that adding Liege to his collection of Monuments is at the forefront of his mind. I’ll happily take the gamble.
The Curve Ball: Rui Costa (100/1)
Prime Rui Costa was a brilliant Ardennes performer. He was ninth in 2013 before beating Alejandro Valverde and Joaquin Rodriguez (who both finished on the podium at that year’s Liege) at the World Championships. He was fifth in 2015 and third the following year. Unfortunately, the last few years have been difficult for him and there’s been no real explanation as to why his form has dropped. The switch to UAE has been difficult but he does occasionally threaten to land another big result. He was slower than team mate Diego Ulissi up the Mur, but there’s been enough promise this year to suggest he could be UAE’s best chance at Liege. 100/1 is big.
Just Missed Out: Davide Formolo (50/1)
I’ve fancied Davide Formolo for this race for a long time. He’s another with an increasing interest in the one-day racing and was strong on the final circuit of La Fleche before failing to get up the Mur with any great haste. Unfortunately, I’m restricting myself to four punts and the young Italian just misses out on the cut. Furthermore, Bora may go all-in on Maximilian Schachmann, although I doubt the German has the legs to win this race so soon in his career.