Classics season draws to a close on Sunday with the finale of the Ardennes triple at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
The six-and-a-half-hour slog through the hills of Wallonia brings together Classics contenders and GC riders for the 257km battle over terrain that is rarely flat, save for the finish in Liège city centre.
Famous hills such as the Côte de Wanne, Côte de Stockeu, Côte de La Redoute, and the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons are packed into the second half of the brutal course, with 175 men heading out on Sunday morning to fight for victory at the fourth Monument of the season, the oldest of the lot.
Six past winners will be among those hoping for glory in Liège on Sunday afternoon, while plenty more will be aiming to add their name to an honour roll that stretches all the way back to 1892. Here are our five favourites and five outsiders for the 2022 at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Julian Alaphilippe (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl)
The world champion is a consistent contender at Liège, to the extent where it's something of a surprise that hasn't yet won the race. He's come close, though, finishing second and fourth at the old finish in Ans, taking second to Pogačar last year, and also being demoted from a second place he thought was a first in 2020.
Alaphilippe is out to save QuickStep's Classics season this Sunday, saying on Friday that he feels no pressure ahead of the task. It's the last chance and he's best placed to do it, coming off a fourth place at Flèche and a stage win at Itzulia earlier in the month. A realistic scenario would see him come to the finish with a small group, a position he can excel from, though a position he hasn't yet won from here.
Remco Evenepoel will come into the race as the team's co-leader-slash-second option. After taking sixth at Brabantse Pijl, he worked for Alaphilippe at Flèche, and the pair look to form a versatile one-two punch should they both be at the front of the race in the final.
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma)
Van Aert is making his Liège-Bastogne-Liège debut this Sunday, but the Belgian is immediately installed among the favourites given there's little he can't turn his hand to, even a Classic with the elevation gain of a Grand Tour queen stage.
He made a successful comeback from a Covid-19 layoff at Paris-Roubaix, finishing in second place despite his team insisting he'd only be able to work for his teammates. So expectations are now equally as high for Sunday's race.
Despite never having raced Liège before, Van Aert is perhaps the number one rider others will want to try and drop before the final, with his fearsome sprint the strongest finishing weapon of any other major contender. Teammates Tiesj Benoot and Jonas Vingegaard can be considered outsiders in their own right and given Jumbo-Visma even more options during the 257km race.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
The oldest man on the start line by over two years, Valverde is set to turn 42 on Monday. He heads to his final Liège-Bastogne-Liège seeking a fifth win to equal Merckx's record tally, and even at his advanced age remains among the top favourites for victory.
He has three wins so far this season – at smaller races such as the Challenge Mallorca and Gran Camiño – but second places at Strade Bianche and La Flèche Wallonne have shown he is still a top contender at WorldTour Classic level.
Sunday will be his 16th appearance at the race, having only missed out in 2020 (rescheduled due to the pandemic) and 2011 (his doping ban) since 2005. He has the experience and a near-unmatched knowledge of the route, plus a quick finish, a liking for the short, sharp hills, and the form.
Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious)
The Slovenian champion has La Flèche Wallonne winner Dylan Teuns on his team, the pair set to take co-leadership roles at Bahrain Victorious with both looking in form and almost equally as likely to score a result on Sunday.
Mohorič edges it for our selection, though, given he's finished in that front group at the new flat finish in Liège. Two years ago, he finished fourth behind winner Primož Roglič, while Teuns' best result at the race was a distant ninth in 2019.
He's versatile, having won Milan-San Remo and finished fifth at Paris-Roubaix this spring, though the lack of a finishing sprint is perhaps the main weakness for both him and Teuns. You'd imagine that a win for either man would involve them getting away on the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons or, particularly in Mohorič's case, on the descent back into Liège. Mikel Landa, Jack Haig, and 2016 winner Wout Poels will provide the support.
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) – OUT
The reigning Liège-Bastogne-Liège champion will now not be racing on Sunday after he announced the news midday on Saturday before the team presentation in Liège.
Pogačar was the obvious choice as the main favourite before he announced he wouldn't be racing following the death of his girlfriend Urska Zigart's mother. So far this spring he had seven victories to his name and top-five placings at both Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders.
His 12th place at the midweek La Flèche Wallonne was a rare misstep this spring, the Slovenian just outpowered on the steep slopes of the Mur de Huy. He said afterwards that he didn't see it as a sign of weakness ahead of Liège, noting that he finished ninth two years ago before taking a podium spot at La Doyenne.
Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe)
Vlasov is another debutant at the race and comes into his first participation in Liège from an impressive debut at La Flèche Wallonne. He was best of the rest behind the top two of Teuns and Valverde there, the latest good result in a strong start to his Bora-Hansgrohe career.
He started his season with a win at the Volta a Valenciana and also counts podium spots at the GP Indurain and Itzulia Basque Country among his April results. The Russian stage racer hasn't yet been among the top finishers at such a long Classic before but did finish third at Il Lombardia two years ago.
There's a first time for everything, though, and at his first time racing the Classics in Belgium he's already up there among the biggest contenders. One thing that might hold him back from the big win may be his lack of sprint – in that regard he might've preferred the old finish in Ans rather than the current flat run into the city centre.
Dani Martínez (Ineos Grenadiers)
Ineos head to Liège-Bastogne-Liège with a trio of potential leaders, though it's the Colombian Martínez who might be the strongest man on the roster currently. He heads into his fourth participation at the race having won Itzulia Basque Country and taken fifth place at La Flèche Wallonne.
Michał Kwiatkowski has 10 appearances under his belt and has finished on the fringes of the top 10 at the past three, while he has played more of a team role at the one-day races since his Amstel Gold Race win. Tom Pidcock, meanwhile, is making his debut, though his form is in question after he was dropped early at Flèche before DNFing.
It's Martínez who looks the man most likely on Sunday, then. Ineos Grenadiers will hope to rely on strength in numbers, though, with the team's other two potential co-leaders having stronger sprints. Geraint Thomas, Laurens De Plus, Omar Fraile, and Carlos Rodríguez round out what looks like the strongest squad in the race.
Michael Woods (Israel-Premier Tech)
With only three wins so far in 2022, including Patrick Bevin's Tour of Turkey triumph, Israel-Premier Tech haven't enjoyed a great start to the new season, and they could really do with a big result as they battle against potential relegation from the WorldTour in 2023.
Woods is the man most likely to do that on Sunday, at the race he finished second at in Ans in 2018. He's been a very consistent finisher at Liège, scoring top-10 results at five out of his six starts, and he's in form, having finished sixth at La Flèche Wallonne.
The Canadian is a rider who loves the short, steep climbs of the Ardennes, and he should be up there once again this weekend, even if backing him against a Van Aert or Valverde in the sprint is a long shot. 2019 winner Jakob Fuglsang is also racing, but with 16th at Amstel Gold Race his top recent result, the Dane doesn't look to have the form to challenge here.
Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco)
Matthews is, at this point, a reliable 'outsider' pick for a major Classic, the Australian having all the tools to succeed at a Monument, but never quite being able to pull off that top, top result.
This year alone, the Australian has taken fourth at Milan-San Remo, 11th at the Tour of Flanders, and seventh at Amstel Gold Race, also finishing seventh at Brabantse Pijl before a bout of illness ruled him out of La Flèche Wallonne.
The big question ahead of the weekend is how well he has recovered from that because he's shown time and again that he can be there or thereabouts at these long, tough one-day races. Back in 2017 he finished fourth at Liège, just missing the podium a few seconds behind winner Valverde. If he's able to hang with the accelerations from the likes of Pogačar and Alaphilippe on Sunday, there's little doubt he will come away with an even better result.
Søren Kragh Andersen (Team DSM)
The versatile Dane is another man who has all the tools for success at Liège, but who hasn't yet put it all together for that one big Classics win. Sunday will mark only his second participation at the race, which has been set up as the main goal of his spring.
The big question mark, though, is one of form. He was in the top 10 at both Milan-San Remo and Gent-Wevelgem but has seemed to fade rather than build-up in recent weeks, taking 29th at Amstel Gold Race and 40th at La Flèche Wallonne.
He wouldn't be in that very top tier of favourites regardless, but it's hard to really gauge how Kragh Andersen is doing ahead of Sunday's race. He likes the hills and has a good finish, so it wouldn't be a shock to see him among the leaders, but equally it wouldn't be a shock not to see him at all.
Benoît Cosnefroy (AG2R Citroën) likely stands somewhere between an outsider and a favourite, his second places at Amstel Gold Race and Brabantse Pijl still fresh in the memory.
Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) only has La Flèche Wallonne in his legs since Paris-Nice and likely isn't quite at the level to contend over 257km just yet.
Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ) enjoyed a strong Flanders Classics campaign and his punchy style should suit Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Fellow Frenchman Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic) is in good form and has twice finished in the top 10 here.
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Daniel Ostanek is production editor at Cyclingnews, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later being hired as staff writer. Before Cyclingnews, he was published in numerous publications around the cycling world, including Procycling, CyclingWeekly, CyclingTips, Cyclist, and Rouleur, among others. As well as reporting and writing news and features, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content throughout the season.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, and has interviewed a number of the sport's biggest stars, including Egan Bernal, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, and Anna van der Breggen. Daniel rides a 2002 Landbouwkrediet Colnago C40 and his favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Vuelta a España.
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