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The Soudal Quick-Step star lines up as defending champion, and all eyes will be on how Evenepoel handles the incandescent strength of Pogačar in the final race of the spring classics ends with a crescendo.
The team confirmed Thursday that Julian Alaphilippe will start after being sidelined since a crash at Tour of Flanders. Other starters include Andrea Bagioli, Mauro Schmid, Pieter Serry, Ilan Van Wilder, and Louis Vervaeke.
Will it be enough for a title defense? The Belgian team is hoping so.
“Remco comes here from an altitude training camp and will be very motivated, especially as he will be present at the start as the defending champion and owner of the rainbow jersey,” said sports director Geert Van Bondt. “He can count on good teammates, who have a strong condition, and this makes us confident.
“We will see what role Julian will have. He knows the course and this race suits him perfectly, and the most important thing is that he can now train pain-free and be at the start. We’ll also need to see if the wind and the rain expected on Sunday can influence the race, but as we said, the confidence is there.”
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Soudal Quick-Step needs a big ride from Evenepoel to help make up for what’s been a largely flat spring classics campaign for the traditional classics powerhouse.
Victory from Tim Merlier in the semi-classic Danilith Nokere Koerse in March is the only significant victory all spring for the so-called “Wolfpack.”
Last year, Evenepoel won with a long-distance attack to save the team’s spring season.
The stakes are even higher this weekend with the all-but-unstoppable force of Pogačar, who’s won Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold Race, and Flèche Wallonne coming into Sunday’s big race.
Evenepoel is excited for the chance to square off against Pogačar for the first time in 2023.
“Liège-Bastogne-Liège was special last season. I came at the start without too many expectations, but we had a plan – and that was to go for the win – which we executed perfectly,” Evenepoel said Thursday. “For sure, the crash in the bunch that took out two of my teammates wasn’t ideal for us, but we found a way to handle that stressful moment and we remained focused on our goal.
“That victory was the biggest of my career at that point, a moment I’ll never forget.”
A win Sunday, while racing in the rainbow jersey, against Pogačar and the rest of the field might be even bigger.
Soudal Quick-Step for Liège-Bastogne-Liège
Ilan Van Wilder