Miguel Indurain has said that he does not expect the newly revised route of Liège-Bastogne-Liège to present any extra challenges for Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) when the world champion battles for a record-equalling fifth win.
For the first time in 27 years, Liège-Bastogne-Liège dispenses with the ultra-steep Côte de Saint-Nicolas and the final grinding ascent to Ans, with its 256-kilometre route returning to a more traditional format. This spring, the three final climbs will be the emblematic Côte de la Redoute, the Côte des Forges and – although this is a more recent addition – Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons, prior to a fast descent into a flat finish in Liege.
Valverde did not win last year's Liège-Bastogne-Liège or Flèche Wallonne after multiple triumphs in both races, but Indurain is convinced the 2018 world champion remains the reference point in La Doyenne.
"This year's route is like a return to the classic format of Liège with a finish in the city centre," Indurain told Cyclingnews, "but although Alejandro did very well on the re-designed route [to Ans], this classic format would be good for him too.
"He's got the power to get over the climbs, and of those riders who can manage to do that, he's got one of the fastest finishes. It'll be a sprint finish for the strongmen, and that'll suit him. For Alejandro, it doesn't change that much."
Indurain has given the thumbs-up too, to Liège’s return to its roots: "It [Ans] was a good finish, but in the centre of Liege, there'll be more people watching, so in that sense it'll make for a better atmosphere."
Indurain's knowledge of small group sprints in Liege and the final part of the route is deep. In 1991, the last edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège to finish in the city centre, he placed fourth behind Moreno Argentin, in what the Spaniard's best-ever result in a Monument.
"This was the Classic that suited me the best, although the cold wasn't so good for me in those races, but I finished fourth once there in a breakaway," Indurain said. "But I didn't have the strength to finish it off and they beat me in the sprint."
The Navarra-born racer also has strong recollections of the Côte des Forges, reintroduced this year. "It was where I attacked in the Tour in 1995, I got away and caught [ONCE rider and future US Postal director Johan] Bruyneel, who was in an earlier move."
Indurain claimed second that day behind Bruyneel on the same finishing straight in central Liege, the Boulevard d'Avroy, where La Doyenne will finish this year, in what was the Spaniard's first key move en route to a record-equalling fifth Tour de France victory.
Indurain's links to cycling and sport in general continue to be strong. As well as following the sport closely, earlier this week he was at the Trade Fair in Madrid, IFEMA, where he was involved in the promotion a cyclo-tourist event finishing on Ezaro, the ultra-steep climb in Galicia, north-western Spain, often used in recent editions of the Vuelta a España.
Together with other former athletes, Indurain also helped to unveil the sporting calendar for the island of Ibiza in the Balearics.
Asked about the future of Spanish cycling, Indurain told Cyclingnews that it was too soon for Spanish fans to expect that Enric Mas (Deceuninck-QuickStep) would win the Tour de France this year.
"He's ready for the race, but when it comes to winning, I'd say there are still a few years before that could happen. He needs to gain experience first. But he's certainly got the qualities needed by a future winner, or at the least to fight for GC,” Indurain said.
"There would seem to be a new generation of Spanish racers coming through: Mas, Mikel Landa and Marc Soler (both Movistar Team), the Izagirre brothers (Astana Pro Team). And that's encouraging."