Liège-Bastogne-Liège preview: The climbs, the contenders, the storylines, and the weather

Who might win? What are the most significant climbs? Will it be wet? Here's all you need to know about the 2022 Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Photo: DIRK WAEM/Belga/AFP via Getty Images

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Liège-Bastogne-Liège is the punctuation mark at the end of the spring classics.

From Tadej Pogačar and Annemiek van Vleuten, and Marta Cavalli and Wout van Aert, the peloton’s biggest stars are converging in the Ardennes for the last big spring fling.

Set against the steep, deep, and sharp hills of the Ardennes, the men’s and women’s pelotons take on “La Doyenne” in one of the oldest and most prestigious races in international racing.

Saving the best for last? Let’s hope so.

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Long, hard, and tactically demanding, Liège is a unique race in that it draws across the breathe of the peloton, from the one-day classics specialists, to the pure climbers, and the occasional grand tour captains.

Recent course tweaks have spiced up the action in cycling’s grand dame, and the new finish line in Liège seems to have done the trick.

Here’s everything you need to know about the men’s and women’s races Sunday:

The facts: Starts and distances for both races

Men’s race: This year is the 108th edition, at 254.7km starting and ending in Liège, with a U-turn at Bastogne. After 27 years of finishing on the hilltop in the suburb of Ans, the finish was moved back to its namesake in 2019. Tadej Pogačar is back as defending champion, who won out of an elite, five-rider group. The race starts at 10:20 (CET), and concludes around 17:00 (CET), depending on the speed.

Women’s race: This is the sixth edition, running 142.1km from Bastogne to Liège. The route takes in the eight climbs, including La Redoute and Roche-aux-Faucons. Demi Vollering will be back to defend her title with the powerful SD Worx team. The race starts at 11:30 (CET).

The route: Hills and more hills

The Côte Saint Roch, in the town of Houffalize, some 70km south of Liège.
The Côte Saint Roch in Houffalize some 70km south of Liège. (Photo: James Startt/VeloNews)

Men’s race: There are 10 official climbs, but the course is riddled with up and downs, and false flats. Narrow roads also play a factor in the final selection.

The move from the uphill finale at Ans to the flats in downtown Liège was meant to open up the race to longer attacks, and so far, the switch has delivered.

The first half of the race on the road to Bastogne is fairly routine, with the first climb coming at Côte de la Roche-en-Ardenne at 75km. The Côte de Saint-Roch in Houffalize is the one that gets all the famous photographs of riders shoulder-to-shoulder on the climb.

Things spice up after the U-turn, with a series of big climbs stacked up in the final 100km. The famed Côte de Stockeu, where Eddy Merckx once attacked, is stacked up between Côte de Wanne and the Côte de Haute-Levée.

La Redoute used to be the climb to make or break the race, but tactics have changed dramatically over the past few decades. At about 30km to go, the 2km climb at 5.9 percent still will separate the wheat from the chaff, but it’s still too far for riders to try to solo home from there.

The Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons, with ramps as steep as 11 percent with less than 15km to go, sees the race’s big accelerations. Last year, Richard Carapaz attacked to draw out the winning group.

A false flat immediately following helps drive the wedge. From there, it’s 10km to go on a long, fast downhill to the valley floor, and instead of turning up toward Ans, the final 2km of flats lead into historic Liège.

Women’s race: Since it was added in 2017, the race has quickly emerged as one of the most challenging and exciting races on the calendar. Starting in Bastogne, the race traces over much of the same terrain as the second half of the men’s race.

The 142.1km distance through the relentless hills of the Ardennes creates a unique tactical puzzle for the peloton.

There are seven categorized climbs along the way, but there’s a lot more vertical gain than that. The first official climb comes at 55km, with Col du Rosier at 86km sure to create some fissures in the bunch.

La Redoute and the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons are stacked up in the closing 30km, where the big moves will materialize.

Last year, Anna van der Breggen attacked to create the select group of riders and then helped set up teammate Vollering. She beat back Annemiek van Vleuten, Elisa Longo Borghini and Kasia Niewiadoma at the line.

The prestige: Why Liège still matters

LIEGE, BELGIUM - APRIL 25 : pictured during the UCI World Tour 107th Liege Bastogne Liege cycling race with start and finish in Liege on April 25, 2021 in Liege, Belgium, 25/04/2021 ( Motordriver Kenny Verfaillie - Photo by Vincent Kalut / Photo News
Tadej Pogačar celebrates Liège-Bastogne-Liège after his first monument victory last year. (Photo: Vincent Kalut/Getty Images)

Liège used to be one of the “big ones” for any major star. And inside the peloton, it remains one of the most prestigious races on the calendar.

It’s among the fans and media that the race’s perceived allure has grown moldy. In contrast to the cobblestone classics and all the hype around Flanders Week, it’s been harder for the races such as Liège and Fléche Wallonne to compete.

Part of the reason is momentum and buzz. There’s growing hype and expectation that builds from the “opening weekend” all the way through E3 Saxo Bank Classic to Gent-Wevelgem, Flanders, and peaking at Paris-Roubaix.

Even when coupled with Amstel Gold Race and Brabantse Pijl, the so-called “Ardennes Week” just doesn’t bring the same excitement and energy. Riders often parachute in for the races from altitude camps or other races, so it’s not as if fans or media have been following them across weeks of drama and anticipation.

Another reason is geography. On paper, the Wallonne Ardennes are much steeper and more challenging than the bergs of Flanders, but add the cobblestones, the beer tents, and the overall excitement those races engender, the races in eastern Belgium just seem a touch more gray.

Yet Liège packs a prestigious punch. Some of the sport’s biggest names are etched on the winner’s trophy. Liège is a monument, after all, and that puts the race on another level.

The favorites: Van Aert to Cavalli, Van Vleuten to Pogačar

To beat the odds, look no further than recent races. Of course, it’s a different kind of rider who will shine Sunday compared to those who were bashing the cobbles last weekend at Paris-Roubaix, but most of those riders are on the beach.

Marta Cavalli is clearly on winning form, hot off victory Wednesday at Fléche Wallonne and recently at Amstel Gold Race. SD Worx will bring a strong team, and Annemiek van Vleuten will be peeved after missing out on the win Wednesday.

The return of Pogačar for the Ardennes classics always heightens expectations, with Julian Alaphippe and Remco Evenepoel out to save Quick-Step’s spring honor. Alejandro Valverde and Philippe Gilbert will both start this race for the final time in their careers.

A few big names are missing from both races, including Marianne Vos, out with COVID, and Primož Roglič, waylaid with knee pain.

Check back to VeloNews for a deeper dive into the race favorites.

The weather: Spring showers a possibility

There could be wet roads for Sunday’s big race. Forecasters are calling for rain early, and then remaining cloudy with an 80 percent chance of showers in the afternoon. Highs will be near 60F, with winds east, northeast winds at 10 to 15 mph. That means cross-headwinds on the road back to Liège.

The residents of Houffalize, the passage of Liège-Bastogne-Liège is one of the highlights of the year.
The residents of Houffalize, the passage of Liège-Bastogne-Liège is one of the highlights of the year. (Photo: James Startt/VeloNews)

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