The last few weeks have roared past and we’re already at the Old Lady, Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The Ardennes have been in a losing fight with our favourite cobbled races for as long as I can remember, and the shuffling of both Amstel Gold and Paris-Roubaix only made things harder for the rolling climbs of Wallonia to find column inches this year.
Thankfully, most would agree that the last four editions of Liège have been brighter than most of the slogs from the mid-2010s. That’s in large part due to the exciting selection of young GC riders who want to attack the Monument. Alongside climbers and puncheurs, this year we welcome everything-man Wout van Aert to the race. Whilst his legs on a day like this are untested, his participation will bring a smile to the face of fans who want the biggest names in cycling all of the time. If he is anywhere near his Tour de France level, he’ll be one of the leading protagonists.
Small tweaks to the route mean the final advertised climb – the Cote de la Roche aux Faucons – is slightly further from the finish, which should now be flatter and faster. This is good for the finishers and bad for ‘GC guys’.
Regrettably, I ran out of time to post before Paris-Roubaix. I actually picked and backed winner Dylan Van Baarle, and hopefully made enough noise on Twitter to prove that was the case. That result gives me a chance to go 3-from-4 in the Monuments this year (nothing from Sanremo, Van der Poel in Flanders).
How have the recent Liège winners done at La Flèche?
La Flèche and Liège share a long history and number of winners. In 2016, Wout Poels came fourth at La Fleche before winning Liège, and a year later Alejandro Valverde did the double. Liège solo winner Bob Jungels was only 41st at La Flèche in 2018, but 2019 winner Jakob Fuglsang had come a close second at the battle of the Huy. Interestingly, neither of the past two winners (Roglic & Pogacar) have ridden La Flèche. However, Roglic was likely resting from his World Championship ride during the adapted 2020 calendar, and Pogacar was due to start last year before his team was forced to withdraw. So, what does all this mean for Wednesday’s winner Dylan Teuns? I would be shocked if he wasn’t in the top ten and anything around 20/1 is brilliant value.
The Winner – Daniel Martínez (22/1)
On first glance at this pick, you’ll likely demand to know why and how I think Daniel Martínez will defeat Tadej Pogacar (3/1) and Julian Alaphilippe (6/1). The former is the best rider in the world, and the latter is the best finisher after a hilly ride round Belgium. Much like my predictions for the cobbled races, I think the peloton has finally got the message that to beat the superstars you cannot be anywhere near them in the final kilometres. UAE certainly have the strength to control the bunch but I’m not sure they will want a boring race or for Pogacar to be surrounded ahead of the relatively flat finish. I think we’ll see some early attacks and I don’t think the present version of Alaphilippe will enjoy them. Ineos are flying right now. Daniel Martinez is flying right now. The Itzulia winner will attack into a small late break, descend beautifully, and win by eight seconds. That’s the prediction. He finished fifth on Wednesday, so that fits with our recent winners.
Eyes Out For – Tiesj Benoot (33/1) & Romain Bardet (40/1), Valentin Madouas (175/1).
Quick shout outs now and I’ll be backing them all. Van Aert will lead for Jumbo on his reputation alone. That could be great for teammate Tiesj Benoot who seems capable of drifting from Flanders to Wallonia with as great an ease as any rider on the World Tour. He’ll need a bit of luck, but I fully expect him to be involved. Romain Bardet has just won a very interesting edition of the Tour of the Alps, albeit without a stage win to his name. He was super consistent throughout the race’s many climbs and looks ready for a serious Giro charge. His climbing legs can’t be disputed nor can his love of this race (sixth in 2017, third in 2018). My favourite Frenchman was very nearly my main pick for the race, but I worry he doesn’t quite have the acceleration to shake himself free of faster finishers. Lastly there’s Valentin Madouas. The FDJ rider was a sensation in Flanders, but that performance seems to have removed all memory of his previous climbing performances from the minds of the bookmakers. If he starts, 175/1 EW could be big fun.