The Women’s WorldTour’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège will close out the Ardennes Classics on April 25 in Belgium. There will be a stacked field full of high-profile contenders including double World Champion Anna van der Breggen (SD Worx) and overall series leader Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma), while noticeably absent from the roster is defending champion Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo).
The one-day Classics could, however, open up opportunities for a surprise champion on the streets of Liège.
The women’s field will contest a 140.9km route that starts in Bastogne and includes climbs over Côte de Wanne, Côte de la Haute-Levée and Col du Rosier, before taking on the more decisive climbs in the later stages of the race.
The final four short but steep ascents will include the new climb of the Côte de Desnié, and then Côte de La Redoute, Côte des Forges, and Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons, followed by a descent and a gentle rise to the finish in Liège.
Two-time winner Van der Breggen starts the race as the hot favourite after securing her seventh consecutive title at Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday and Vos is another favourite after winning Amstel Gold Race last Sunday. All eyes will also be on the 2019 champion Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) along with the powerful Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo), Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM).
Outside of the obvious favourites that will take the start line on Sunday, Cyclingnews looks at a handful of dark horse contenders who have what it takes to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Ruth Winder (Trek-Segafredo)
Ruth Winder is one of the strongest riders of the Spring Classics season in 2021. Her victory at Brabantse Pijl, just a hair ahead of Demi Vollering (SD Worx), was powerful and well timed, and a big confidence builder ahead of the Ardennes Classics.
Truthfully, she's a strong contender for any of the Spring Classics, but normally slides into selfless and important domestique duties for her teammates Lizzie Deignan and Elisa Longo Borghini.
Her most recent performance at Flèche Wallonne ended with a dangerous late-race attack on the final circuit in Huy. It forced SD Worx to burn every match available, outside of Van der Breggen, to bring her back at the base of the Mur de Huy.
Despite Winder's enormous effort, she still finished seventh, while her teammate Longo Borghini was third.
The team have a number of potential winners in Longo Borghini, Lucinda Brand, Ellen Van Dijk, while Deignan is not listed on the teams starting roster.
Amanda Spratt (Team BikeExchange)
Amanda Spratt has been relatively quiet during the Spring Classics this year, which means she could be saving it all up for the season's grand finale at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
She didn't compete in all of the cobbled Classics but had strong top-10 placings at the first two installments at the Ardennes; fourth at Amstel Gold Race and ninth at Flèche Wallonne.
She has played a dual leadership role with former teammate Van Vleuten in previous years, and was second to Van der Breggen in the 2018 edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. This year, Team BikeExchange has given her free reign to compete for the victory on Sunday.
“I am really excited for Liège it is definitely my favourite race out of the Ardennes week. I think the form has been building with each race, so it is nice to see it picking up now going into Sunday," Spratt said.
Marta Cavalli (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope)
Marta Cavalli is one of the most impressive talents of the Spring Classics campaign. She has risen to the occasion alongside team leader Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (ninth), Strade Bianche (eighth), and Tour of Flanders (sixth).
Her move into the Ardennes Classics hasn't gone quite as smoothly with 83rd at Amstel Gold Race and a DNS at Flèche Wallonne, but perhaps she only needs a short reprieve before the final push at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
She is a powerful climber, and has proven that earlier this year, and she is also one of the fastest sprinters of the Classics contenders. The Italian has what it takes to succeed over the final climbs Côte de Desnié, and then Côte de La Redoute, Côte des Forges, and Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons, and is perfectly suited to the run-in to Liège.
Demi Vollering (SD Worx)
Demi Vollering is so close to a big victory on the Women's WorldTour. She has everything she needs - the strength, speed, and team to back her up at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
The team will field former two-time winner Van der Breggen and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, but Vollering has shown that she is more than ready to take on the leadership in a race like Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
She was tipped by Van der Breggen as a potential winner at Flèche Wallonne, however, a late-race attack by Ruth Winder forced Vollering to burn her matches in the chase ahead of the Mur de Huy. Van der Breggen won the title at Flèche and Vollering finished 10th.
The finish at Liège might be better suited to Vollering, who can certainly make if over the final climbs, and is a fast finisher. She proved that much at Amstel Gold Race where she nearly pipped Marianne Vos right at the finish line.
Mavi Garcia (Alè BTC Ljubljana)
Another rider who has been quietly inching her way forward is Mavi Garcia. The Spanish champion has featured in the top 10 during her last three one-day races: sixth at Trofeo Alfredo Binda, sixth at Amstel Gold Race, and fifth at Flèche Wallonne.
What makes Garcia a contender is her willingness to lay it all on the line. She is aggressive, capable and eager to force a breakaway, and strong enough to climb with the best.
Her grit and determination are almost unbeatable. It was on full display at last year's Strade Bianche where she went on a long-range solo attack, was caught by Van Vleuten, but hung on to her wheel on the lower slopes of the final steep Via Santa Caterina and finished second at the Piazza del Campo.
Watch for Garcia to either force a long-range breakaway or be among the select group on the final in Liège.
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