• Can Alejandro Valverde do the Flèche Wallonne - Liège–Bastogne–Liège double, as he did in 2006? (Getty)
Shorter by 10 kilometres, but harder - much harder. This year's Liège–Bastogne–Liège will not be without its casualties. Anthony Tan says there's only a handful in with a chance to take out Edition 101 of La Doyenne.
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25 Apr 2015 - 12:41 PM  UPDATED 25 Apr 2015 - 4:58 PM

Have they saved the best till last?

'Best' is perhaps a matter of interpretation - are you an Ardennes aficionado or creature of the cobbles?

Ask any rider who's ridden it however, and from a purely athletic standpoint, Liège–Bastogne–Liège is certainly the hardest of the Monuments. "It's an extra hour and a half of racing plus maybe 1,500 to 2,000 more metres of climbing," White said of La Doyenne when comparing it to Wedneday's Flèche Wallonne, the latter won for the third time by Alejandro Valverde. "It's the most demanding one-day Classic of the lot as far as climbing is concerned."

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On time alone, Valverde, also the winner of last year's Flèche Wallonne, took 4 hours and 36 minutes to complete a parcours of 199 kilometres; Simon Gerrans, winner of the 2014 Liège–Bastogne–Liège, took six hours and 37 minutes to win the 263km event, beating Valverde and road world champ Michal Kwiatkowski to the post, who stand out as the two big favourites this year.

"The man standing atop the podium in Ans on Sunday afternoon, after 253 gruelling kilometres, will be a rider of the finest cru."

While organisers ASO appeared to have little problem with Gerrans winning the centenary edition, like last year's Flèche Wallonne, they didn't much like such a large group coming to the finale. ASO's mindset, as is mine, is that such contests of pure athleticism should not simply be reduced to a sprint between puncheurs.

So, like Flèche, they've kept in the iconic climbs - in case of Liège, the Wanne, Stockeu, Haute-Levée, La Redoute, Roche-aux-Faucons and Saint-Nicolas - but added a touch of spice.

In comes two new climbs between the Wanne-Stockeu-Haute-Haute-Levée trifecta and the start of La Redoute - namely, the Cols du Rosier and Maquisard. And the distance between La Redoute and the Roche-aux-Faucons, the third- and second-to-last climbs respectively, has been compressed from 25 to 16 kilometres. From the Roche-aux-Faucons to the Côte de Saint-Nicolas to the finish line in Ans, the route remains unchanged.

The climbs of the 2015 Liège–Bastogne–Liège:

Km 79.0 - Côte de La Roche-en-Ardenne: 2.8 kilometre-long climb at 6.2%
Km 125.5 - Côte de Saint-Roch: 1 kilometre-long climb at 11.2%
Km 169.0 - Côte de Wanne: 2.7 kilometre-long climb at 7.4%
Km 175.5 - Côte de Stockeu: 1 kilometre-long climb at 12.5%
Km 181.5 - Côte de la Haute-Levée: 3.6 kilometre-long climb at 5.6%
Km 194.0 - Col du Rosier: 4.4 kilometre-long climb at 5.9%
Km 207.0 - Col du Maquisard: 2.5 kilometre-long climb at 5%
Km 218.5 - Côte de La Redoute: 2 kilometre-long climb at 8.9%
Km 234.0 - Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons: 1.5 kilometre-long climb at 9.4%
Km 248.0 - Côte de Saint-Nicolas: 1.2 kilometre-long climb at 8.6%

So, in short, still 10 climbs, though with a slightly truncated race distance of 253km - meaning less recovery between key pinch points and a considerably harder final 60km.

As ASO's preview reads, "the man standing atop the podium in Ans on Sunday afternoon, after 253 gruelling kilometres, will be a rider of the finest cru. Twelve months ago, Simon Gerrans prevailed ahead of Valverde and Kwiatkowski. A few months after that, the same three riders, in a different order, took gold, silver and bronze in the world championship road race in Ponferrada..."

"The one I like the most and the one that suits me best."

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)

Why he can win: Because he's on a roll - second at Amstel, first in Flèche - and he's reached the LBL podium six times before with victories in 2006 and 2008.
Why he can't: Because Michal Kwiatkowski, the man who pipped him at the post in Amstel, will do it again.
What he says: "It's a really beautiful race; maybe the one I like the most and the one that suits me best, and I dream of being in the mix there again. We have high morale but (we're) also really calm; having won this one (before) and often on the podium, we are confident we can fight again on Sunday."

Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick Step)

Why he can win: Because it's a race that's made for Kwiato.
Why he can't: Because Valverde will beat him in a sprint (as happened last year, the pair finishing second and third behind Gerrans). Because it has been 28 years since Moreno Argentin won LBL wearing L'Arc-en-Ciel. Because he's 11 years Valverde's junior, who brings to the table a bucketload of race smarts.
What he says (to himself, looking in the mirror on race day): "I will be there in the final. I am ready to win La Doyenne."

Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha)

Why he can win: Because he's twice finished second before (2009, '13).
Why he can't: Because his 12-year LBL palmarès is highly erratic - everything from creditable to crap.
What he says (to himself, looking in the mirror on race day): "Quite frankly, I'm sick of Valverde taking all the limelight. He's a self-absorbed wheel-sucker; my style is far more exciting to watch - plus I'm a good bloke."

Daniel Martin (Cannondale-Garmin)

Why he can win: Because he lives for Liège–Bastogne–Liège, a race he conquered in 2013 and almost won last year if not for a fall on the final left-hand corner.
Why he can't: His crash in Flèche Wallonne threw a spanner in the works, but he looked (sort of) okay afterwards.
What he says (to himself, looking in the mirror on race day): "I'd kill to win another Doyenne..."

"It will be a fight between those who can cope with the distance."

Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo)

Why he can win: Because he's in good nick, it's his main objective, and it's one of the few times this season he'll get to ride for himself.
Why he can't: It's been a while between drinks for Roman; two years and counting since he won the 2013 Amstel Gold Race...
What he says: "Liège is my big goal during the Ardennes classics. I've been looking forward to this race, as it matches my qualities as a rider better than Amstel and Flèche. I felt pretty well in these races and my ambition is to be there in the finale on Sunday. I have trust in my team-mates and I believe that we can be competitive. It's different from Amstel and Flèche. It's less about positioning and an explosive sprint at the end and more about simply having the legs and handling the longer climbs and distance. For sure, after 200 kilometres, riders will start to drop off and it will be a fight between those who can cope with the distance."

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)

Why he can win: Because he's looked jumpy throughout the Ardennes. Feels a bit like the spring of 2012 for Nibbles, where he finished second to (doper) Maxim Iglinskiy in LBL.
Why he can't: All his attacks, impressive as they've been, have so far come to nought.
What he says (to himself, looking in the mirror on race day): "Stop joshing around and go win yourself a Monument!"