• (L-R) Anna van der Breggen, Julian Alaphilippe and Annemiek van Vleuten (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
On Sunday, Julian Alaphilippe will have his first outing in the rainbow jersey, at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and one of cycling’s best rivalries, Anna van der Breggen versus Annemiek van Vleuten, will write another chapter.
Matt Keenan

3 Oct 2020 - 12:25 PM 

With the Amstel Gold Race cancelled due to the rise of COVID cases in the Netherlands, this is the last of the Ardennes classics. It’s the climbing classics grand final.

Women’s Race

Despite being the oldest men’s classic on the calendar, there have only been three editions of Liege for the women. The first two were won by van der Breggen and last year by van Vleuten.

After making it six Fleche Wallone wins in a row on Wednesday, van der Breggen will start as the favourite on Sunday, backed up by the incredible Boels-Dolmans team.

But the nature of the course, 136.5km from Bastogne to Liege, provides more opportunities for tactical surprises than the Mur de Huy finish at Fleche.

The last climb, the Cote de la Roche-Aux-Faucons, is 15km from the finish line. It’s close enough to be the launching pad for the winning move but far enough for a chase to bring a breakaway back. The perfect spectating scenario.

Significantly, van Vleuten didn’t race on Wednesday to focus on Liege.

Despite out-sprinting Elisa Longo Borghini to claim the silver medal at the world championships with a fractured wrist, I’m not expecting van Vleuten to be waiting for a sprint with anyone on Sunday.

Like she did last year in Liege and at the world championships, I’m expecting a trademark Annamiek attack. Grace Brown and Lucy Kennedy will be her key teammates at Mitchelton-Scott.

Trek-Segafredo tried to make the race hard at Fleche-Wallone, which I thought was the right tactic.

I think they should do the opposite on Sunday. If they just follow and keep Lizzie Deignan with the leaders, she can win a sprint from a small group, as she showed at La Course when she beat Marianne Vos.

But Vos is unlikely to make the same mistake twice and, as with every race she starts, she’ll be heavily marked. Her CCC teammates also need to try and make the race easy.

In complete contrast, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig will need the race to blow apart. Her FDJ teammates, Brodie Chapman and Lauren Kitchen, will play big roles. Without packing much of a sprint, she needs to get on the van Vleuten train and breakaway.

Just for a little more Dutch, among the favourites, Demi Vollering is another contender.

Third last year, third at La Course and third at Fleche-Wallone - the 23-year-old won’t have much team support in the finale but she’ll have less pressure than the other big favourites.

Men’s Race

After winning the world championships, Alaphilippe skipped Fleche-Wallone, which he’s won twice, to focus on getting his first win at Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

He is absolutely the favourite. He won the worlds solo and when he won Milano-Sanremo last year, he out-sprinted a group that included Peter Sagan and Wout van Aert.

Plus, he’s Julian Alapanache.

Tadej Pogacar, Primoz Roglic, Richie Porte and Mikel Landa - first, second, third and fourth from the Tour de France - are all starting.

And yet, I’m not picking any of them for the win. Having raced everyday for the yellow jersey at the Tour, they’re carrying more fatigue than the guys who were targeting stage wins.

However, I still expect Pogacar to try to attack.

The two big challengers to Alaphilippe are the revelation of 2020, Marc Hirschi, and Michal Kwiatkowski.

Hirschi won with patience and power at Fleche-Wallone. And Alaphilippe only just beat him on Stage 2 of the Tour, into Nice.

He’ll have the youngest team in the race supporting him, including Perth’s Robert Power and Michael Storer. The on-the-road experience will be provided by Tiesj Benoot and the Sunweb team will be just fine.

Kwiatkowski has twice finished third at Liege but he’s won plenty, including getting the better of Peter Sagan and Alaphilippe in a sprint to claim the 2017 Milano-Sanremo.

Max Schachmann is the next on the list of contenders. He didn’t race on Wednesday, was ninth at the world championships and seventh at Il Lombardia. 

Others I expect to see near the top end of the result sheet are Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Dan Martin (Israel StartUp Nation), Michael Woods (EF Pro Cycling), Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) and Greg van Avermaet (CCC).

Chris Froome is also amongst the starters. This will be his seventh participation in the race. His previous best is 36th, in 2013.

I’m looking forward to seeing where he’s at ahead of the Vuelta a Espana, which starts Tuesday October 20 on SBS VICELAND.

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It's time for the 2020 Liège–Bastogne–Liège - women's and men's races - LIVE, FREE and in HD on SBS VICELAND from 8.30pm (AEDT) Sunday, or live stream right here via SBS On Demand.