Some things don’t change. Even with a completely different finish to Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes this year, Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) will start the 138 kilometre race as the outstanding favourite once again.
The relentless logic that dictates the 29-year-old champion will continue to be Liège’s key reference point has remained steady in 2019 after Van der Breggen won Flèche Wallone for a fifth straight time on Wednesday. Factor in her two Liège-Bastogne-Liège victories in 2017 and 2018, and history, as well as expectations, are certainly on Van der Breggen’s side.
“The pressure is the same as always,” Van der Breggen told Cyclingnews on Saturday, “two years ago, one year ago, they’re watching me anyway.
“In these races I need to make the difference on the hard parts where nobody can follow me, and that will stay like that.”
Yet she admits that the 2019 Liège final is a very different beast to other years and that even if the ultimate result is – for her – hopefully the same, on such an unpredictable route the attacks will likely start earlier than other years. It is, she reflected, no bad thing to have a different race after two years on the same route – a remark which puts into context how timely the change was for the men’s race, which last finished in central Liège in 1991.
As for her own Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team, although Van der Breggen is the standout favourite, the team have very different cards to play, something underlined by Annika Langvad’s third place at her debut Flèche Wallonne.
“We have some good climbers in the team, they are not so experienced as my previous team-mates, which is really fun to race with, but it’s also different in a tactical situation,” Van der Breggen argues to Cyclingnews.
“We can make some mistakes sometimes because [team-mate] Katie [Hall] didn’t race much before in Europe and for Annika [Langvad], it's her fourth road race. So what can you expect anyway? And that’s fun, even if it’s difficult sometimes, we can miss some groups and it takes some years to understand how it goes tactically and how not to miss breaks which we should not miss. But I like racing with them - they’re both really strong.”
As Van Der Breggen points out, too, with such a different, potentially wide-open finale having a lot of options on the table – rather than being focussed on a single leader – is definitely an advantage for Boels-Dolmans to have. On top of that, the weather is currently forecast to be very cold, just one degree centigrade at the start, and it's very possible that there will be some heavy rain showers later in the day, which could mix things up even further.
“It could be a totally different race to Amstel and Flèche, the weather bit like this in Europe one week 20 degrees next zero,” Van der Breggen observes. "And that’s difficult to handle, especially in just one week.
“The race becomes way more about right food and clothing and eating more because you burn up so much fuel keeping warm. So the weather will be a big factor. It will also be difficult for Annika and Katie because they are less experienced with that, but we will try to teach them about that as much as possible.
“For the rest it’s a mindset, that it will be cold and it will be raining. But that makes it a different race, too - and I think that’s interesting.”