Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) hopes that the new-look Liege-Bastogne-Liege will lead to plenty of attacks and what he calls 'real racing'. The Frenchman, who is the main favourite to take the title on Sunday, believes that the additional climbs and new finish could open up the race much earlier than previous editions.
Alaphilippe finished on the podium at the 2015 Liege-Bastogne-Liege but says that the city centre finish is better suited to his qualities.
"I hope it will be harder and with a lot of attacks and real racing," Alaphilippe told reporters at the team hotel in Lanaken. "I'm really happy about the new final. It's really exciting how the race can be open really early, but it depends on the wind direction. If it's a headwind in the final then it could also be difficult to attack from far.
"I'm really happy, it's a beautiful final. I prefer this final to the last one."
At the moment, the weather forecast is predicting rain for Sunday, which could play a significant factor in the race, particularly in the fast descent into Liege following the final climb. Alaphilippe says that it could make it dangerous, but he's more concerned about the wet and cold getting to him than the potential hazards on the final descent.
"For sure it could be dangerous with the rain, but it will be the same for everybody. For me it the hardest bit will be the six hours before with the rain and the cold rather than the descending. It's not a problem for me, you just have to be careful and try to not crash," Alaphilippe told Cyclingnews.
The other major challenge is the return of the trio of climbs with just under 90 kilometres to go: the Cote de Wanne, Cote de Stockeu and the Cote de la Haute-Levée. They all come in quick succession as the route twists and turns through the narrow roads.
"We did the recon this morning and you have no time to recover," explained Alaphilippe. "This period of climbing, descending and then immediately climbing and descending. I think this is really hard for everybody and to keep positioning before the climb will also be a big fight."
Alaphilippe has been a dominant force in one-day racing this season, winning three of the five that he's done and only finishing off the podium once, at the Amstel Gold Race. He kick-started things with victory at Strade Bianche and then went on to claim his first-ever monument at Milan-San Remo. On Wednesday, he charged past Jakob Fuglsang to take his second consecutive Fleche Wallonne title. His performances have made him the overwhelming favourite for the win, but he says that already having a Monument win at San Remo has helped to take the pressure off.
"It's already behind me, but it has helped me to have less pressure because winning Milan-San Remo was something that I never imagined before and I started to believe it," he told Cyclingnews. "It was a big goal for me at the start of the season, so to win was incredible, and sometimes it's still difficult to realise. It was a dream for me to win a Monument, especially this one. So now, yes I'm just looking forward to Liege after another beautiful victory at the Fleche Wallonne.
"Everybody knows that Liege-Bastogne-Liege is a race that I dream about, so yes I can maybe be part of the favourites, but I'm just focused on what I have to do. Anyway, whatever the result, I just want to do my best on Sunday and then enjoy my break after that. For sure, I go there with the big motivation."
This spring, we have rarely seen Alaphilippe on the attack without his trusty companion from Astana Jakob Fuglsang. Alaphilippe currently leads their battle 2-1 with his Strade and Fleche wins, though Fuglsang bettered him at Amstel. Alaphilippe is prepared to take on anyone in his search for victory, but he points to Fuglsang as one of the key contenders after their battles and believes that the Dane could be spurred on by his close shaves with victory.
"If a big group goes early then you never know what can happen," said Alaphilippe. "Astana has been really strong since the start of the season like Jakob Fuglsang is always fighting with me. Ok, we will see. We also have a strong team and I don't think only about one guy but if you want one name then it is easy to say Jakob. After a lot of frustration and coming close to winning then he will be really strong on Sunday."
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